The importance of education and conscientization: Part II on labour self-management

Part II

The importance of education and conscientization: Part II on labour self-management

Ajamu Nangwaya participated in the recent Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy 2013, speaking about the potential for worker self-management in the City of Jackson, Mississippi, following the historic election Chokwe Lumumba as mayor. This article, Part 2 of 2, is based on Ajamu Nangwaya's presentation to the conference, and is part of our ongoing focus on labour and workers' issues this week on (Read Part I here:

The people have been long exposed to the capitalist approach to economic development and it is quite fair to assert that the ideas of capitalism are dominant on the question of economic efficacy. The people might have critique of capitalism but it is generally seen as the only game in town, especially with the demise of the former Soviet Union and with it bureaucratic, authoritarian state socialism. In this context Marley's exhortation to the people to "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery / None but ourselves can free our minds" is very instructive.

The preceding verses from Marley implicitly call on us to engage in critical education about oppression and emancipation. As worker self-management practitioners and/or advocates our educational programmes would also provide the necessary knowledge, skills and attitude to operate worker cooperatives, other social enterprises and the enabling labour self-management structures. Therefore, the educational initiatives would be directed at facilitating worker self-management and the social economy and political/ideological consciousness-raising.

In carrying out this educational programme, the method of teaching and learning should mimic the democratic economic development method that we are pursuing. We are not seeking to reinscribe authoritarian, leadership-from-above ways of teaching and learning. I believe ancestor Ella Baker, advocate of participatory democracy and an organizer within the Afrikan Liberation Movement in the United States, was onto something when she declared, "Give people light and they will find a way." [1]

We are not seeking mastery over the people. The goal is to engender in the laboring classes an appreciation and consciousness of the transformative possibilities and to move toward their realization.

Paolo Freire in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed reminds us, "Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people -- they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress." [2]

One of the admirable features of labour self-management is its commitment to placing the power of economic self-determination in the hands of the worker-cooperators. Education has long been an instrument for igniting the passion for emancipation within the radical or revolutionary sections of the labour self-management movement. Mayor Lumumba is very much aware of the educational task ahead in developing the social economy:

    And this will bring about more public education and political education to the population of the city, make our population more prepared to be motivated and organized in order to participate in the changes which must occur in the city of Jackson in order to move it forward. We say the people must decide. 'Educate, motivate, organize.' [3]

Mayor Lumumba and his civil society allies can carry out the following educational initiatives to advance worker cooperatives and the social economy:

- Hire worker cooperative educators and developers among the staff of the Office of Economic Development.

- Execute professional development education of all city personnel with economic and business development responsibilities.

- Educate institutional actors such as hospitals, educational institutions and the city’s bureaucracy on the economic virtue of purchasing from worker cooperatives and other social enterprises that are located in Jackson.

- Organize labour self-management and social economy workshops for all relevant elected municipal officials and their staff.

- Develop a public education campaign to educate the people about worker cooperatives, labour self-management and the social economy.

- Enlist the support of the United States Worker Cooperative Federation, regional worker cooperative federations and cooperative educators in designing a worker cooperative/labour self-management education training manual and programme.

- Develop a three-year social economy and worker self-management education pilot project in an elementary, junior high and high school.

- Infuse materials on the social economy and labour self-management in all business and economics courses in the elementary and secondary school curricula.

- Engage in dialogue with the colleges and universities in the city of Jackson to add courses and programmes on the social economy and labour self-management.

- Work with colleges and universities and the state on workforce adjustment or retraining programmes that prepare workers for cooperative and labour self-management entrepreneurship

Technical assistance

 Jackson's Business Development Division provides prospective business operations with advice on preparing their business plans, site selection and access to financial resources. Its role and that of other entities within the city's bureaucracy should be enhanced to provide business formation and development technical assistance to prospective worker cooperatives and other social economy businesses. The City of Jackson's technical assistance provision role could include the following:

- Work with civil society groups and the postsecondary institutions in the region to create a civil society-based technical assistance provider organization that would facilitate the formation and development worker cooperatives and other social economy businesses.

- Sell a city-owned building at the nominal price of $1 to a community-based labour self-management and social economy technical assistance provider.

- Aid the technical assistance provider to create a labour self-management and social economy incubator to increase the survival rate of these firms.

- Provide assistance and advice on the identification of business creation opportunities and the development of feasibility studies and business plans.

- Provide training and development opportunities to social enterprises that would allow them to bid for city contracts

Financing labour self-management

One of the most serious challenges faced by small businesses is their limited access to investment and working capital. We have to find creative ways to build organizations that are able to mobilize capital for labour self-management and other social economy projects. The City of Jackson currently provides grants and incentives to businesses so as to attract investment dollars. It can expand the criteria to include worker cooperatives, other cooperatives and social enterprises. Some of the financial instruments that could be explored are:

- Encourage worker cooperatives and other cooperatives to apply for its matching business grants Small Business Development Grant Program and the Storefront Improvement Grant, which provides up to $15,000 to recipients.

- Create a Social Economy Development Grant Program that provides up to $30,000 to worker cooperatives and other social economy firms that employ at least seven employees, invest at least $100,000 (20 per cent of which can be sweat equity) and employ at least 75 per cent of the workers from within Community Development Block Grant eligible area.

- Create a Social Economy Feasibility and Business Plan Grant that provides a 1:1 matched funding grant of up to $10,000.

- Create a credit union that is committed to facilitating cooperative entrepreneurship and community economic development.

- Collaborate with credit unions to expand their capacity to serve as agents for cooperative economic development.

- Work with civil society organizations to create a cooperative and social enterprise loan fund. The revolving loan fund Cooperative Fund of New England could be used as a model for the provision of start-up and working capital to social economy entities.

- Capitalize the cooperative and social economy loan fund with a $300,000 grant over four years that would be matched at a 2:1 ratio from foundations, trade unions and other social movement organizations and/or other levels of government.

- Procure funding for a labour self-management and social economy incubator that is operated by a civil-society-based organization.

- Seek funds to support the matched savings instrument called the Individual Development Accounts. Prospective worker-cooperators would use their accumulated savings to capitalize their labour self-managed enterprises. This programme would develop the business plan through its accompanying educational component.

Procurement and equal opportunity programme function

 - Create procurement opportunities for worker cooperatives and other social economy businesses, including those with a few worker-cooperators or employees and a small annual turnover.

- Establish business or contracting set-asides that are exclusively directed at worker cooperatives and other social economy businesses.

- Include worker cooperatives in equal opportunity or affirmative action business programmes established by the city.

- Develop sub-contracting opportunities for cooperative businesses on the city’s infrastructure development projects.

- Develop the creative capacity to ensure that labour self-managed and social economy firms are able to participate in business opportunities with the City of Jackson.


We have to build the road as we travel. All of our organizing work should be directed at developing the capacity of the oppressed to act independently of the structures of domination. The Lumumba administration, the Jackson People's Assembly and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement have an opportunity to use the resources of the municipal state to advance labour self-management and the solidarity economy.

The worker cooperative movement and progressive entities across the United States should support the civil society forces in Jackson in their effort to build the supportive organizations and structures to engender labour self-management and the solidarity economy. The labour self-management and social economy work being advanced in Jackson ought to be geared toward the purpose of social emancipation and to place the people in the driver's seat in creating history.

I would like to close with a statement by the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta who captures the spirit in which we ought to wage struggle and create a participatory-democratic culture within the movement for emancipation:

    We who do not seek power, only want the consciences of [the masses]; only those who wish to dominate prefer sheep, the better to lead them. We prefer intelligent workers, even if they are our opponents, to anarchists who are such only in order to follow us like sheep. We want freedom for everybody; we want the masses to make the revolution for the masses. The person who thinks with [her] own brain is to be preferred to the one who blindly approves everything.... Better an error consciously committed and in good faith, than a good action performed in a servile manner. [4]



[1] Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker & The Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 105.

[2] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed – 30th Anniversary Edition. (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005), 178. Retrieved from

[3] Monica Moorehead, “People’s Assembly’s platform brings mayoral victory for Chokwe Lumumba,” Workers World, June 11, 2013,

[4] Cited in Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. (Oakland: AK Press, 2009), 184.