Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dorothy Day

On this Memorial Day I thought I would post a brief biography of one of the great American pioneers of economic democracy: Dorothy Day.

“We believe in loving our brothers regardless of race, color or creed and we believe in showing this love by working for better conditions immediately and the ultimate owning by the workers of their means of production.” - Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was born on November 8, 1887 in Brooklyn, New York. By 1906 her family had relocated to Chicago. It was in Chicago that as a young child Day became acquainted with Catholicism after coming across the mother of one of her friends praying beside her own bed. She recalled being impressed by the calm appearance of the woman and how she lacked any form of embarrassment. Day once wrote that in Catholicism she saw “the church of the immigrants, the church of the poor.”

After dropping out of college Day moved to New York City where she became a reporter for various socialist newspapers, first The Call and then later the The Masses. The Masses opposed America’s entry in WWI, which quickly brought it the wrath of the Wilson administration. Later, in 1917 Day was sentenced to prison for protesting in support of Women’s Suffrage in front of the White House. Day, along with the other women, responded to being handled roughly at the workhouse by going on a hunger strike. They were later freed by Presidential order.

After spending some time working in New Orleans she returned to New York where she lived with an Anarchist by the name of Forster Batterham. When she became pregnant in 1926 she felt that it was a miracle because she had long thought she was infertile due to a previous abortion. But Batterham felt otherwise for he thought that bringing a child into a world filled with such pain and sorrow was wrong. Ultimately Day and Batterham separated.

In 1932 Day met Peter Maurin. Maurin was a French immigrant and a former Christian Brother. Maurin convinced Day that she needed to publish a paper that promoted Catholic social teachings as well as a peaceful change to society. Day took to the idea and began publishing The Catholic Worker.

Over time The Catholic Worker became more than just a newspaper. It became a call for the homeless and the downtrodden, who often sought out Day for help. Eventually The Catholic Worker began opening houses for the homeless across New York. It wasn’t long before The Catholic Worker opened homes throughout the country.

Day and the Catholic Worker Movement joined the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. While visiting the racially integrated commune “Koinonia”, which had been attacked previously by the Ku Klux Klan, Day volunteered to stand sentry. While on watch she noticed a car racing towards the house. Realizing that it was an attack she ducked just as bullets hit the interior of the car she was in.

In 1967, when Day was visiting Rome, she was one of two Americans invited to receive the Eucharist from Pope Paul VI. Later, in 1973 the Jesuit magazine dedicated a special issue to her saying that she represented “the aspiration and action of the American Catholic community during the past forty years.” In recognition for “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” Day was presented with the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame University. Near the end of her life, when she was no longer able to travel, Day was pinned with the cross worn by the Missionary Sisters of Charity by Mother Theresa. Dorothy Day died November 29, 1980.

To understand Day’s views one can simply look at the Catholic Worker’s mission statement. “We advocate. . . [a] decentralized society in contrast to the present bigness of government, industry, education, health care and agriculture. We encourage efforts such as family farms, rural and urban land trusts, worker ownership and management of small factories, homesteading projects, food, housing and other cooperatives—any effort in which money can once more become merely a medium of exchange, and human beings are no longer commodities.”

Along with the Catholic Worker’s mission statement Day herself wrote in her 1939 essay The Catholic Worker and Labor, “We pointed out again and again that the issue is not just one of wages and hours, but of ownership and of the dignity of man. It is not State ownership toward which we are working, although we believe that some industries should be run by the government for the common good, it is a more widespread ownership through cooperative ownership.”

Without a doubt Dorothy Day was a great defender of the poor and the downtrodden. Though she never considered herself a saint there continues today a movement to have Dorothy Day canonized.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Worker Cooperatives – Part 4

This is the last installment in this series on worker cooperatives.

Sometimes one will find cooperatives where one would least expect to. This is the case with Arghand Cooperative in the heart of Afghanistan. The Arghand Cooperative was started by Sarah Chayes, who at the time was a war reporter for NPR during the NATO invasion after 9/11. While there she fell in love with the Afghan people and realized that they needed more than just talk but needed action and started a worker cooperative that produced soap using local materials.

The early days of her efforts were difficult. The most difficult challenge was negotiating the capitalist mindset of the US bureaucracy in a search of financial aid. Chayes turned to the Alternative Livelihoods Program, which is a branch of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for financial start-up assistance. Though they were eventually able to win a contract essentially what she found was mountains of red tape and resistance.

Rather than sit around and wait for the US government to help Chayes and the Afghanis went ahead and started production. They learned how to extract seed oil and turn it into soap. With help from individuals around the world they gradually acquired the resources necessary to begin making sufficient amount of soap to export. Today the men and women of the Arghand Cooperative successfully sell soap and body oil in shops in both the United States and Canada.

To read more about the Arghand Cooperative go to:

The web site for the Arghand Cooperative is

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Book Review

I decided to interrupt my series on worker cooperatives to post a brief book review. I plan to pick up the series in the next posting.

Sometimes it takes a while before one finds a treasure. I recently found such a gem. Written in 2000 the book “Self-Management and the Crisis of Socialism: The Rose in the Fist of the Present” by Michael W Howard is an excellent work. Howard begins by taking the proposal of self-management and demonstrates in a very convincing and clear manner how it’s consistent with John Rawls Theory of Justice. Later in the book Howard defends economic democracy it against criticisms from Marxists, environmentalists and feminists.

One of the most intriguing proposals presented by Howard is for a universal Basic Income. According to Howard a guaranteed basic income, which is not means tested and would be set at the highest economically feasible level, would compliment economic democracy and resolve concerns Howard expresses about social justice and self-management.

Michael Howard’s book is a must read for anyone interested in economic democracy.