The idea of democracy, even if not the full practice, has broad support in the political sphere. Can We Do It Ourselves: A Film About Economic Democracy asks why this is not the case in the economic sphere. This hour-long documentary, made by Swedish filmmakers Patrik Witkowsky, Jesper Lundgren, André Nyström and Nils Säfström features an array of thinkers and doers, breaking down core concepts around how firms and our entire economy, would function under an alternative economic system guided by the fundamental tenants of shared ownership and shared decision-making.
Highlighting a few cooperatives, the film utilizes existing examples to make an argument for the social and economic benefits of economic democracy. Watch the documentary below and read the Q&A with one of the filmmakers, Patrik Witkowsky, to get a sense of some of the insights that didn’t make it into the final cut.
What are the most challenging questions you found economic democracy thinkers and doers to be wrestling with?
One of the most challenging questions is how to create economic democracy on a large scale. There is little to no controversy around people setting up their own worker-owned firms. When turning to political reforms and legislation, there is controversy. I personally have a hard time seeing economic democracy grow into something that truly changes society without some form of political reform. Reforms that probably need to be demanded by organizations and movements from below.
What do you understand as the next frontier for economic democracy after three years of working on this film?
On a more visionary level, the “first step” is to strive for a market economy of worker-owned firms. After, or in combination with that, I think you need some macro level economic democracy. If you take Sweden’s wage-earner funds, that originally was supposed to create economic democracy on both the firm level and structural level, the idea was that workers should have, not only the right to influence decisions in the firm, but also the right to influence investment decisions in the economy as a whole. How to balance bottom-up decision making, with large structural democratic decision making, is another challenging question.
You can also talk about “the rules of the game”. That means asking questions like how many hours do we want to work each week, what do we want to produce, and how should the firms be allowed to behave.
In the USA, a significant proportion of worker owners are women of color. What connections if any did you see or hear being made around social and racial justice and economic democracy and after making this film how might you interest a poor unemployed single mother in economic democracy?
This is not a film specifically for marginalized people, but neither for middle class people. It is a film about an alternative economic system, for everyone to reflect upon.
Obviously, it is the poorest people that are in the biggest need of a new economic system. But I also wanted to make a film for the shrinking “middle-class”, where many are spending their lives taking orders on a daily basis and doing work that they often struggle to find meaning with. I think large parts of this group also feel very excluded, both in Sweden and in the U.S. Probably a central cause behind the Trump-phenomenon.
I think democratic rights in the workplace is a good thing for everyone with a job, and, as is mentioned in the film, it has good spin-off effects into other areas that affects even the unemployed – such as better respect for the local environment, less inequality, more capable citizens to hold public institutions and politicians accountable. But unemployed people can also pool together resources and set up their own enterprises. In Sweden there is a new promising development with “social cooperatives,” most of them worker cooperatives, which are often non-profits and with a particular focus on people that, for different reasons, have a hard time getting a job. They also seem to have a good effect on people coming out of prison.
Then one can finally talk about a basic income derived from natural resources and land values as part of economic democracy. In a labor-managed market economy, the idea is that the people who actually do the work get the fruits of their labor. But since “no man made the land”, those fruits ought to be shared – meaning not only given to landowners and shareholders of oil companies, but even to poor people who have an equal claim to it. This is the theme of our next film.
Post by Nse Umoh Esema.