Letters to LIFE
reprinted with permission
Reviewing the review of The Take
by Russ Christianson - April 2005
[In response to an email enquiry from LIFE --prompted by a viewing of the documentary "The Take", Russ Christianson shared his knowledge of co-ops in Canada and also reviewed the review of The Take.]
A very interesting and stimulating review. I don't disagree with you that
our work-obsessed society cuts many people out, and has resulted in a
serious imbalance between work and leisure, and unemployment,
under-employment, and over-employmen, and of course almost entirely leaves
the ecology out of the equation.
The key question is not how work provides meaning and income for people, but
rather what purpose or what positively creative project (either individual
or collaborative) can be facilitated for people. I have no doubt that there
are many policies and programs that could provide these "purposeful"
opportunities - including a guaranteed income. And, I would still rather
have a democratically controlled factory than a corporately controlled
Our consumer-society, which is being quickly exported to all corners of the
globe, is not sustainable. We either have, or will hit the ecological wall
this millennium (just as the very under-reported United Nations' M.A. report
has told us so clearly). The argument about production, productivity,
economic growth and GDP will become irrelevant as the basics of clean water,
food, shelter, heat, energy and clothing become everyone's raison d'etre.
In order to move towards a guaranteed income, we will require a C-change in
values and attitudes, away from the myth of global competition, economic
growth, and greed; towards global co-operation, sustainable living, and
sharing. Co-operatives of all kinds are not perfect (like any human
creation), but they are a step in the right direction and embed these "sustainable" values within their organizations worldwide. So, it all
distils to co-operation and sharing.
And, you're absolutely right, our societies need to ask basic questions
about what to produce, why produce it, and who benefits (people and other
species) from its production. Our "progress" obsessed society and economy
does not ask these basic questions when it introduces new products and
technologies. It operates on the assumption that all new technologies and
products are good, and that we have to keep moving to produce more and more.
Of course, as you say, this will be a downward spiral.
So, to remain hopeful and purposeful, it is worthwhile to support people who
are trying to break out of the shackles of global competition and economic
growth obsession. I would argue that this includes any group of people who
are taking steps towards furthering democratic structures, including worker
co-ops. I suggest that we all try to work together as natural allies (those
in the G.I. movement and the co-op movement) rather than fighting against
each other because "only our solution is the right solution". Let's face
it, there will be many solutions and many new innovative ways (many that
have not yet been thought of) to organize ourselves in our challenge to
build a truly sustainable way of living. Embracing a diversity of solutions
and processes - some that go further, and some that only represent
baby-steps - just as natural systems do, will be important.
Over the past twenty years, Russ Christianson has helped launch over thirty co-operatives in a wide variety of sectors, including travel, housing, retail, distribution, food processing, energy, health, construction, forestry, and manufacturing. In 2003, he was given the "Outstanding Contribution to the Ontario Co-operative Association Award" for his dedicated service to the co-operative movement.