Creating a world where workers thrive

Good work is key to a shared economy

In the new normal, no one must sacrifice personally in order to do purposeful work that is meaningful to them. Community leaders, activists, makers and healers are all justly compensated for their time and talent. I do not have to leave my community or sacrifice my ideals working for an extractive corporation to find dignified work at a living wage. And my needs around health care, childcare, elder care, and planning for retirement are not limiting factors when deciding where to live, work, and play.  

To create these opportunities for meaningful employment, wide-reaching health care and employment policy reforms have created an environment where workers can thrive. Universal healthcare has taken insurance needs out of the equation for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and other workers. A universal basic income has provided a pathway out of poverty. Paid sick and family medical leave has allowed workers the time for selfcare and no longer allows illness to financially ruin families. And labor law reform to expand collective bargaining has grown the ranks of unions, which have expanded to include a growing number of white-collar workers in industries like tech, health care, and the nonprofit sector.

These changes in the everyday lives of working families have also created more opportunities for meaningful participation in decisions about my community. My neighbors and I control all decisions made about land use in the community, with participatory long-term planning and community control over zoning and tax incentives. We also play a meaningful role in participatory budgeting, where we decide democratically how to spend public revenue. And structural reforms to districting, campaign finance, and voting access have allowed for direct democracy where we can easily hold our representatives accountable.

This new normal has allowed models of collectively owned, locally controlled businesses to thrive, facilitated by a combination of innovation in policy and organizational development. Public ownership of fossil fuel reserves is financing a rapid transition to a zero-carbon energy economy. A tax on Wall Street trades has significantly cut down on speculation and is driving new resources into local infrastructure projects. And changes to the charitable tax code has unlocked new investment resources previously bottled up in charitable endowments. A proliferation of democratically-governed financing vehicles are helping to deploy these resources in a way that’s aligned with community interests. CDFIs are held accountable to the communities they invest in, and banks and health care systems are held accountable for how they use their community benefit funds.

Another reason local, community-owned businesses are thriving is that corporations no longer have unchecked power to strangle small businesses. Their political power to block reforms has been limited due to campaign finance reform. And anti-trust laws have helped to break up monopolies over technology, the internet, and online retail. This has created an environment where cooperatively-owned businesses can be competitive, especially when bidding for large purchasing contracts with public institutions.

And lastly, reparations have brought black and native communities to the front of the line when benefitting from these policy changes and new investment. Direct financial payments and new access to lending and land ownership have opened up local wealth-creating opportunities in many of the most vulnerable communities in the United States. And free college tuition has created new pathways out of poverty for many young people.

Bridging the urban/rural divide

Achieving this new normal will require a multi-racial coalition that can transcend perceived race/class and geographic divides to create the conditions where a shared ownership economy can thrive. I imagine a coalition that can unite urban dwellers and racially complex exurbs with rural communities of color and the white working class. This coalition would be united around a common agenda that puts the everyday needs of working families first. Wealthy interests have long exploited perceived racial grievances and difference to divide and conquer workers, and that includes cultural difference between urban and rural communities. Our coalition would be rooted in race-forward policy reforms that improve quality of life for both the rural/suburban and urban working class while addressing a long history of racial injustice.

A multiracial coalition of working people across geographies will direct their energy towards this vision because they have far more in common than the reactionary right would have them believe. And we have already seen examples of the incredible power wielded by urban/rural coalitions working across racial boundaries, particularly in the Midwest. In Missouri, a coalition of black activists and populist farmers passed a wave of progressive reforms at the ballot in 2018, including campaign finance reform, redistricting reform, ending Right to Work, and raising the minimum. Yet at the same time, the top Democrats on the ticket lost handily, demonstrating that working class voters will break across ideological and party lines to support their interests.

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