For good reason, the world of work is rarely seen as a liberatory space, but can it become so? This webinar in our Remaking the Economy series looks at the workplace of today while exploring how our work lives might be transformed to support health and wellbeing, promote restorative justice, and provide not just “jobs” but livelihoods.
Alissa Quart is a journalist and director of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. In the discussion, Quart asks what has been learned from the experience of COVID-19. Amid the pandemic, Quart notes, Americans “saw people who were essential and then they unsaw them again. So, I am trying to figure out whether solidarity and collectivism is going to win in the end, and this kind of awareness, seeing the unseen labor, or are we just going to go back to this, like, confusion of what’s important.”
For her part, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, author of Collective Courage: A History of African American Economic Thought and Practice, notes that building a more positive and humane future of work requires a values-centered approach. As Gordon Nembhard puts it, “We often talk about the seven principles of co-ops but not the values of co-ops. But the values of co-ops are really what matter… I think that is what is really going to get us transformed to a new paradigm and to new ways of being.”
Emily Kawano of the US Solidarity Economy Network draws out the difference between jobs and livelihoods. Today’s economy, of course, is structured around jobs, but Kawano notes there are other ways paths to achieve livelihoods, holding up Cooperation Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi, as an example of using community production—ranging from community gardens to high-tech 3-D printing-based manufacturing—as an integrated strategy to support overall well-being. “Thinking about livelihood,” Kawano says, “really supports this belief that we are, that part of us at least is hard-wired to work together; we’re social beings, we’re cooperative, and we engage in mutual aid. It is very consistent with a vision and the values of a solidarity economy.”
Additional topics covered in the discussion include the following:
- What work in a solidarity economy might be like, and how a solidarity economy would deal with contemporary challenges such as automation
- How practices from the system of incarceration affect the broader world of work and to what extent worker co-ops can disrupt those patterns
- Actions philanthropy and nonprofits can take to improve the world of work
- Visions of what a restorative future of work could look like
Jessica Gordon Nembhard, “Incarcerated Workers’ Co-ops: New Frontier for the US Cooperative Movement?” Co-Producing Justice: International Social Economy Network, Glasgow, Scotland: December 17, 2018.
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Jessica Gordon Nembhard, “How Prisoner Co-ops Reduce Recidivism: Lessons from Puerto Rico and Beyond, NPQ, May 19, 2020.
Jessica Gordon Nembhard, “Racial Equity in Co-ops: 6 Key Challenges and How to Meet Them,” NPQ, October 21, 2020.
Emily Kawano and Adam Simpson, “Episode 16: ‘Resist & Build’: Discussing the Solidarity Economy,” The Next System Podcast, February 12, 2018.
Emily Kawano and Julie Matthei, “System Change: A Basic Primer to the Solidarity Economy,” NPQ, July 8, 2020.
Shannon Henry Kleiber, “A Parenting Movement Emerges from the Pandemic” [interview of Alissa Quart], To the Best of Our Knowledge, May 22, 2021.
Ann Larson, “My Pandemic Year Behind the Checkout Counter,” NPQ, March 24, 2021.
Arwa Mahdawi, “For the struggling middle class, Alissa Quart has a message: you’re not alone,” Guardian, June 20, 2018.
Alissa Quart, Astra Taylor, and Brittany M. Powell, “How we can truly repay our frontline health workers: clear their debts,” Guardian, July 2, 2020.