Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lael Swinney Stegall

My sister Lael died this last October. An extraordinary woman who truly died too young. Here are the obituaries as well as my comments at her memorial service.

Bangor Daily News:

Washington Post:

November 19, 2011

Deer Isle

Lael’s Memorial Service

I knew her longer than anyone here. I’m Danny, the little brother (as she usually introduced me). I was privileged and honored in having someone as powerful and magnificent as her as the constant force in my life, all of my life.

Lael and I always talked with each other about everything including the difficult aspects of life and death. As we faced the predictable chapters of her transition, I really wanted to share with her the thoughts, reflections and emotions I knew I would be sharing with you today at her memorial service.

I traveled to Bangor Hospital in early August to be with her and Ron as she fought a particularly nasty infection. On Sunday evening, she was still engaged in the fight. The three of us couldn’t predict with complete certainty what the near future held. On Monday morning, we could. She had made her decision. She shared it with Ron and then shared it with me.

I then gave her the letter that I’ll read to you this afternoon.

Dear Lael,

So, of course, it is as sad as can be. You are another one I was depending on for companionship in old age—knowing that we are both just at the top edge of middle-age. The pattern I’ve anticipated was predictable and just lovely. We would regularly recall how lucky we had been to have the parents that we had and growing up in the times we did. We both see not just threads but thick ropes that tie our past to our present.

We would slowly shake our heads at the mistakes and mistaken judgments we made along the way, but not dwell. We would congratulate each other on the really good decisions and choices we made. And then we would enjoy laughter, scrabble or bridge, really good food, a spirited discussion, a sail, or a walk around a misty pasture above the rocks.

We both love the depth of our ties to each other so much. We appreciate our differences as well as the depth of our similarities. Truly unconditional love.

But now my memories will have to suffice--always glazed with a sadness of what should have been.

You “incite community.” You have always most embodied the spirit of our parents—a deep humanist care for all those in the world; a deep level of principle that guides and protects that care despite the skeptic, self-interested, and cynic.

You have a fearless personality that brings together any possible combination of that humanity. You do this everywhere and you always have. It’s in the food you pull together will brilliance and passion to feed scores. It’s the garden of a master social gardener. Everyone appreciates, everyone pulls something, everyone benefits. Everyone you spend just a few minutes with becomes a best friend because you always share something special.

We did agree recently that I am probably the most intense but you are clearly the most gregarious.

You and all of us deserve an opportunity to celebrate how lucky we have all been in our journey. This mustn’t be compromised. Our tradition, the ties that bind, our foundation is exceptional. It’s not here because of something pre-ordained or pre-determined, but ours because of hard work, real struggle, deep passion, deep confidence, and finally our optimism about the world we inhabit.

We build families through thick and thin. We do what our parents taught us: we model how an adult and a couple should live rather than tell the next generation what to do. We accept the limits of our capacity with a shrug and determination to do better. We have fun. We do things. We push the limits. We are intolerant of some things.

We do live for the moment and accept the finality of death as we see it happening around us whether in large numbers or in our immediate and extended family. We dwell on the possibility. Life is always three-quarters full.

Starting now, you are in control. It is the time to gather your extended family around you to recall and share the moments and chapters of an extraordinary, lucky, and intentional life. We will do this without regret, without remorse, and without hesitation, and with as much laughter and as many tears as possible.

Let the water flow—there are already more droughts than we need.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Review of Gar Alperovitz's America Beyond Capitalism

December 28, 2011

A Review of America Beyond Capitalism by Gar Alperovitz[1]

By Dan Swinney

I just read Gar Alperovitz’s America Beyond Capitalism. Democracy Collaborative Press just released a second edition of the book, first published in 2005, with an updated introduction. It is a thoughtful and serious book with a complex argument that’s worth studying and engaging. Gar’s demand is that as we restructure our society into a Pluralist Commonwealth the ownership of the nation’s wealth must be broadly re-distributed—as James Speth summarizes in the Forward—to benefit the vast majority of American citizens.

Gar and I share a common history and common values. We both went to UW/Madison and were influenced by Bill Williams (and I’m sure there must have been others). Our formative experience was in the southern civil rights movement, the anti-war, and the democratic movements of the 1960s. We both became immersed in the steel industry as it became the sector where the then new American Low Road began to test its new approaches in the 1970s. And we both became deeply engaged in the theory and practice of the labor movement as it faced dramatically different challenges with massive plant closings, layoffs, and concession bargaining. Gar’s work in Youngstown was path breaking in opening up totally new forms of public and labor engagement in manufacturing. He has opened up new ground in the work with his colleagues in Cleveland in the Evergreen Project with their persistent confidence in theory and practice on the power of democracy.

I know from recent discussions Gar’s interest in integrating the various themes related to manufacturing into his work. I put forward the following views in the spirit of stimulating collegial debate and discussion. At a time of great change, strategic debate is essential. Gar sets a high bar for intellectual work and discussion. His views are very influential among a broad range of activists and theorists interested in cooperative development; community revitalization; and building a just, green, and vibrant economy. I look forward to this on-going dialogue as we both work together in addressing the challenges of our country.

Gar makes a critical contribution on issues of democracy, ownership, inequality, and system change in America Beyond Capitalism. The fundamental issue he does not address is how our manufacturing capacity has been destroyed over the last 30-40 years by the same sector responsible for income inequality and what we should do about it. This powerfully destructive trend gave rise to deep urban and rural poverty as we know it, as well as to a cultural stagnation in our society that has reduced us to consumers and speculators. It is reflected in the deterioration of our public education system that now can’t even meet the demand of advanced manufacturing companies for high paying, interesting, and secure jobs, while millions of young people face hopeless futures.

Meanwhile other countries have mobilized their governments as well as private and public sectors to compete to be leaders in global manufacturing. Without a huge American initiative to rebuild and rediscover our manufacturing sector, the problems that Gar describes become even more acute in the next 10 years as the United States is pushed to the sidelines of the global economy. I only wish Gar had explored in this book the huge opportunities in our society to re-define the dynamics and purpose of growth in a way that meets the deep economic, social, and environmental needs of our people and in a way that will strengthen the democracy that he champions.

Gar sees the decline of the strength of the labor movement as the signal for the necessity of a new progressive movement with a new and different institutional foundation. Without a strong labor movement the traditional progressive movement is without strength, he maintains. The “democratization of capital” must begin at the community level, leading to state and federal transformations—a process that can be accelerated by new conditions that may arise. Gar, in the Introduction to his book, cites the Evergreen Cooperatives Project in Cleveland—with its laundry servicing local anchor institutions like the Cleveland Clinic, its weatherization and solar installation business, and its hydroponic greenhouse—as an example of the new democratic institutions that can possibly create the foundation for the new progressive movement. These efforts are inspired by Gar’s interpretation of Mondragon as an example of the democratization of capital. Gar cites the number of ESOPs in this country, the growth of social enterprises, and other Evergreen-like efforts around the country. He points to the importance of the linkage of these efforts to broader community structures—not coops only accountable to their worker owners. He sees this as the essential beginning of a long, slow developmental path that—similar to the civil rights movement in the 40s and 50s—will give rise to an explosive movement at some point in the future, hopefully before the greater domination of right wing “friendly fascist” movements in our country.

Despite Gar’s intent, this sole focus on democratization of corporate wealth misses the major point regarding the source and character of the crisis in our communities—the loss of manufacturing companies, manufacturing jobs, and the culture of innovation in production in our society. He underestimates the volatility and danger we face in this decade if we fail to rebuild and transform our manufacturing base. And he underestimates the enormous opportunities for transformation that are also present in this period if we build a movement for manufacturing driven by the values of sustainable and restorative development. He focuses on important issues that are required in the discussion for transformative change but insufficient to effect that change by themselves.

We faced a dramatic change in the social contract in the 1970s. A powerful segment of the private sector abandoned its responsibility for the care and development of our productive capacity. It sought the highest return in the shortest amount of time no matter what the damage to the manufacturing sector and society as a whole. It used new Information Technology to gather huge amounts of data for speculative purposes and to shift capital quickly to anywhere in the global economy. This powerful group of financial capitalists—the “Low Roaders”—oversaw the destruction of America’s productive capacity—beginning with the thousands and thousands of company closings and the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs—including those at Youngstown Sheet and Tube in 1977—an early chapter in the development of Gar’s thinking. It was these events and their ripple effects that gave rise to the crisis in community that Gar describes. Later these same values and essentially the same technology was to be used in other profoundly destructive ways in real estate speculation, exotic financial investments, and in the architecture of our major financial and investment institutions that gave rise to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

Unfortunately, leaders in the broad public sector—in government, in community, and labor—didn’t recognize the violation of the social contract and its consequences in the 1970s. Under the traditional social contract, the public role was focused on redistribution of wealth, improving the conditions of work, regulation as a means to block or minimize socially or environmentally destructive practices, and sustaining and expanding a social safety net. The private sector guided and made the decisions on all aspects of making things and creating wealth—serving as the steward of our productive capacity. In the 1970s, powerful parts of the private sector abandoned this role of stewardship requiring the public sector—ready or not—to step into those responsibilities to develop and protect our productive capacity as well. The public sector overwhelmingly failed to respond—sticking to its traditional role of redistribution and regulation, or hoping for a major federal intervention in one form or another. Gar’s recent work remains stuck in these traditional zones with some experimentation and different thinking around the edges. The examples he gives in America Beyond Capitalism of efforts by community organizations, community development corporations, ESOPs, and labor remain firmly within those traditions. The embrace of Mondragon by the Steelworkers was a promising initiative but has yet to have real application as far as I know.

A few general comments:

1. Mondragon’s founders had a deep commitment to manufacturing as the foundation for the regional economy, the context for economic democracy, and the development of a modern and sustainable community. This same combination is reflected in the development vision and history of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy—another critical site for study by those seeking new models. Those—including Gar—who champion Mondragon as the model we should follow—are for the most part silent on this key aspect of Mondragon. He and others who champion cooperative development and economic democracy have tended to interpret Mondragon to the world with a focus on the cooperative aspect, and ignoring the manufacturing heart of the Mondragon development vision.

2. The issues of production, innovation, and growth are central to a transformative vision of economic development for our society. In this context, issues of democracy, participation, community development and equity, the environment, the opportunities for labor, the role of government, and the responsibilities of civil society become critical. Organizations with an “equity” agenda are missing a huge opportunity when they avoid these key themes.

3. Gar recognizes the huge differences that exist between the 13,000 publicly traded companies and the 8 million privately held companies in our country in his interview with the Capital Institute.[2] Yet in this interview and other writings such as Community Stability and the Challenge of Climate Change[3] he doesn’t advance any specifics on working with this privately-held sector. This sector in small and medium-sized manufacturing companies is moving decisively into advanced manufacturing requiring an embrace of innovation in all aspects of production and requiring a partnership with a competent public sector. In this framework, the potential for a true private public partnership driving innovation in production as well as society as a whole becomes possible, as well as the re-development of communities so devastated by de-industrialization in the 1970s and 1980s. If we can truly see a private/public High Road partnership that includes private owners; cooperative owners; community leaders; Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; as well as labor and management—we suddenly have the basis for a new kind of optimism about a new scale to our efforts.

4. Gar sees the decline of the labor movement as a key factor in requiring that progressives need to embrace the vision of the Public Commonwealth. He cites a study by Michael Wallerstein on how the “large scale and huge labor force…made union organizing difficult and expensive.”[4] Why would growth in the size of the US working class be an insurmountable obstacle for the leadership of the US labor movement? Starting in the 1970s, the US labor movement faced a qualitative change in the US economy. They faced plant closings, huge layoffs, and concession bargaining. They failed to develop an appropriate strategy for that change and paid the consequences as they became weaker and weaker. Today we have unions and their federations starting to make that change in strategy and leading in the rebuilding or our economy. The Chicago Federation of Labor was a leader in the creation of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council ( that was formed to essentially implement the recommendations of an earlier CFL/CLCR study, Creating a Manufacturing Career Path in Cook County in 2001[5]. The Chicago Teachers Union was on the design team that created Austin Polytechnical Academy ( in 2005 representing cutting edge reform in public education linked to the opportunities in manufacturing. The California Federation of Labor is playing a leading role in the San Francisco Bay Area Manufacturing Renaissance Council along with the California Teachers Association. And we have the United Steelworkers of America in its interesting connection with Mondragon. A new strategic direction for labor focused on rebuilding our productive capacity and leading the reform in our major educational and public institutions will increase its size and influence dramatically.

5. As I am, Gar is skilled in staying positioned and focused during long periods of incremental change. On the other hand, I believe we are in a period that has greater potential for transformative change in America than any time in the last 100 years. With a program that is guided by a commitment to manufacturing, growth, innovation and equity; as well as recognizing a much broader array of strategic and tactical allies, we may see an explosive moment in our future. If our thinking, our actions, and our alliances are big enough, we could set the stage for a new American economy that is anchored in a commitment to social, economic, and environmental sustainability and restoration more than any of us could have imagined even 10 years ago.

I invite Gar to join me in applying his visionary talents to America’s modern advanced manufacturing sector. I’m looking forward to the sequel to America Beyond Capitalism.

Note: Author Dan Swinney is the Executive Director for the Center for Labor and Community Research ( as well as the Managing Director of the National Manufacturing Renaissance Campaign. He founded Austin Polytechnical Academy ( inspired by the history of Mondragon that was also first started with a polytechnical school that combined the skills of leading manufacturing with the values of democracy and community development.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Good Focus by Brizard

APA Whistle Production
APA students in class with instructor Pablo Verela

The coverage of CPS CEO Jean Claude Brizard and his views on career and technical education in the Huffington Post was refreshing.

This is a strong step in the right direction. Nationally there are 14 million people out of work yet 3 million jobs unfilled. These are typically good paying jobs that require high skills and often require certifications of various kinds. The CPS Career and Technical Education (CTE) program can provide the link to these unfilled jobs—a real bridge between our communities and those companies. And as he says, “…when kids see a real connection between what they are learning and how this will affect them outside of high school, they see more reasons to commit to it. The relevancy element is fundamental.”

At Austin Polytechnical Academy (, a CTE school specializing in manufacturing, students that have historically had real academic difficulties are doing better when they have real contextual education—the relevancy element. The improvement in test scores in Math has been great at APA. In addition to some highly motivated teaching in math, students experience applied math in their engineering and machining classes. They also get the chance to tour manufacturing companies where math is used every day by people with interesting, well-paid, and secure careers. We are sure this is due to the “relevancy element.”

As Brizard mentions, creative collaborations are key. At Austin Polytech, we have 65 companies as partners that provide tours, job shadowing, internships, summer jobs, and maybe a career job for the motivated student. Graduating senior, Marquiese Booker now has a career track job at Laystrom Manufacturing, with the head engineer as his mentor. Marquiese had proven his value to the company in a summer job in his senior year where he showed up at 5 AM every morning, as well as earning two National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credentials at APA. Every student at APA is encouraged to get NIMS credentials. So far, 89 students have secured 125 credentials, and APA has become the only NIMS accredited high school in Illinois.

CPS is to be applauded for encouraging these types of programs, and changing the negative image that so often has accompanied the notion of “vocational” education.

Huffington Post article:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Remembering Dwight Eastman

Remembering Dwight Eastman, October 2, 2010

Given at a celebration of his life.

(Dwight passed away after a three year battle with cancer on September 20, 2010)

Gathering in memory of the death of someone very close is always a moment of sadness and reflection. But these can also be very positive and powerful moments of transformation. We can create new kinds of relationships even with those we’ve known for a long time. We can entertain and embrace new thoughts that emerge from reflection on the life of the person who has left us. We now have the opportunity for that transformation as we celebrate the rich, complex, and passionate life of Dwight Eastman. Not too many like him will come our way.

Dwight was my oldest and best friend. I first met Dwight in the fall of 1985 while he was running with Michael Schlesinger on Logan Blvd. They were both eager to recruit me for the Logan Square 10K race they had organized. Shortly after that first meeting, Dwight and I ran together. He was far more experienced and faster than me, and very competitive—egging me on to do more that very first day.

He was also incredibly engaging and interested in me, in who I was, in what I thought, and in where I was going. In that early run we shared values, ideas, and experiences with a level of detail and intensity that normally happen years into some relationships and usually never with most we know. That was the beginning of a rich, deep friendship that we shared during the core of our adult lives.

We ran, typically 3-4 days a week—mostly hard, sometimes long and slow, sometimes fast and short—always with a discussion about ideas and life. He introduced me to the marathon and the triathlon. Dwight, Michael, and I launched our running team—the Psycho Geezers—in 1986, when we thought “40” was old. This gave way to long swims in Lake Michigan before the sun rose on Wednesday mornings, the winter solstice celebration and 10 mile runs on icy roads at Elvira’s farm, the 80 mile River to River Relay Race, and later to climbing in the Tetons and Wind River Range in Wyoming. A month after his surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, Dwight and I did the Chicago Triathlon together. Despite everything else that went on the lives of two men, there was a predictable 5 or 6 hours a week of intense exercise, laughter, engaged debate, and thoughtful exchange.

When Dwight was diagnosed with cancer, my initial reaction was personal anger. I had always assumed Dwight and I would grow really old together—and despite all the ups and downs—we would continue our exercise—even if feebly, extol the virtues of the Psycho Geezer program, and talk and laugh about life. Over the last three years the anger has left and been replaced with a thankfulness that I had such a good friend who left me with thousands of memories that I can pull from at any moment.

Dwight was unbridled in his embrace of competition. Sometimes it was expressed in a soft smugness—other times a bold explicit challenge. It was deep in his character. For some, competition is a corrosive force creating wounds that don’t heal. When we see it so strongly, it can lead to suspicion. With Dwight, it was an overwhelming positive and constructive part of his character. For us, it created a bond that made us both stronger. He always set a high standard—commenting that the race or run we were in “wasn’t no frigging tea party.” The competition always exposed weakness but in a spirit that encouraged positive examination and growth. He was the first to step into new and daunting territory—the marathon, the triathlon, the Big Shoulders Swim, icey cold water—providing us with the motivation and inspiration to do what we had previously thought was impossible.

In addition to his competitive passion for life, he also had wisdom and a discipline that will always influence me and the way I approach life’s challenges. And I’m sure that he had the same influence on many of you.

In one of our first discussion, he told me that “We live in the realm of imperfection”—a simple reflection that still gives me a way to understand, to adjust, to accept the complexity and difficulties in life that always co-exist with the positive, the affirming, and the predictable. Sometimes I thought it might be a rational for making a mistake or doing harm or, more likely, he was stating the importance of forgiveness for all of us in the course of long lives.

In more dramatic fashion, he gave me a call following the meeting with his doctor when he learned of his cancer and its severity. He said without hesitation or even drama, something to the effect—“As Buddha says, it’s the best day of your life when you know your execution date. It frees you to focus on the truly important things of life.” I was, and remain stunned by his statement and the absolute knowledge that this is how he lived the last three years of his life. He was accepting of the changes in his life and body, in his capacities, and in his narrowing range of options. But he retained his courage and determination; his optimism and good will; and his eagerness to see all of us, to know what we were thinking and to know how we were doing. He focused on his deep affection for his family—all generations and connections-- Elvira, Jason, Risa, Matt, Moira, and Jasper; his sisters Susan and Anne and their families; and for his loving partner Angela. I know there were more difficult times than I saw, but I do know there was in Dwight truly remarkable spirit that rarely wavered for long. We will all be stronger in our focus on what is important in the inevitable difficult stages of life, because we knew Dwight.

And then in the last few days when the option of a true quality of life had ebbed, he exercised the complete control over what he could--so nothing would extend the difficulties for him and the heartbreak for those close to and gathered around him. The struggling subsided and he stepped into and embraced a peaceful, calm transition.

We should all be so strong in these difficult yet normal and predictable stages of life.

I feel so honored and rich for having Dwight in my life.

In the realm of imperfection, the brightest star sometimes burns the quickest.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In Chicago’ Austin community: Alinsky vs. Arizmendi

October 13, 2007

The post World War II era gave rise to two visionaries who sought to extend greater democracy and wealth to their low income constituencies as part of a broader vision to change the world. Both were critical of capitalism as well as the kind of socialism practiced in the Soviet Union that relied solely on the state. Both mobilized the grass roots to exercise power on their own behalf and did so in their thousands having a profound impact on the communities they served. Both are studied by young and veteran organizers around the world looking for new solutions to old seemingly intractable problems.

Saul Alinsky, influenced deeply by John L. Lewis of the United Mineworkers of America, advanced a vision for low-income communities that paralleled the successful organizing strategy of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. This was a strategy premised evidently on the notion that the means of production, the creators of wealth in the United States were doing a decent job. After all, what was good for General Motors was good for the country. At that time, the profits of the big America corporations generally coincided with the long term development of the sector they had invested in: GM made cars and seem to be in it for the long term, making investments in new technology and generally keeping pace. IBM did the same with computers. US Steel did the same with steel. And traditional, typically white middle class communities where these big companies were located as well as the upper classes did quite well. Communities, workers, and entrepreneurs of color faced discrimination in every aspect of the economy and society including wages and conditions of work, access to ownership, housing, and unequal justice.

Alinsky didn’t focus on the well-being of the means of production but on the improvement of the distribution of wealth that the system generated to include communities that were systematically excluded or shortchanged because they were Black, Latino, or working class. He and his organizations fought against all forms of discrimination and injustice. His pioneering organizations were created in Chicago—The Woodlawn Organization, the Back of the Yards, and the Organization for a Better Austin. They were initiated by professional organizers recruited by and affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, and later by emerging organizations that embraced the Alinsky approach. In Austin, the Organization for Better Austin imploded when a top leader turned out to be a spy for the police department. A number of smaller regional organizations such as the South Austin Community Coalition, the Northwest Austin Council, and the Northeast Austin Organization, and others formed. They mobilized and organized local residents based on their “self-interest” and around immediate and important demands for better and fair housing, for social and racial justice, for welfare reform, and other immediate issues just as their trade union parallel did in the big mills and plants around the country. They organized for the re-distribution of wealth to their particular constituencies leaving all the questions associated with the creation of wealth to corporate America.

At the same time, in the Basque region of northern Spain in the village of Mondragon, a priest Father Jose Maria Arizmendi took a different tack. He was part of the Basque resistance to Franco, the Spanish fascist who had taken power in Spain in the late 1930s. During this time, he was arrested and narrowly escaped execution. He was assigned to the parish in the small town of Mondragon. He assumed in his approach that controlling and developing the means of production in light of the values and priorities of the local community should be the principal focus of organizing and organizational development. rather than just focusing on the broader distribution of wealth. It was at the point of production, where work was done that democracy should be extended, where worker/residents had the greatest leverage and power, and he took full advantage of the cooperative structure to achieve this goal. This was more complicated work but in the long run more powerful.

In 1943, shortly after arriving in Mondragon, he organized a polytechnical school for young Basque people that taught both the technical skills of manufacturing and production as well as values. In 1956, with five graduates of this school, Arizmendi purchased a gas stove company and organized it on a cooperative basis—one worker/one vote and a compensation ratio of one to three. The initial company employed 30 worker owners. It was successful. Another company was launched with another team, and then another, and then another. By the mid-1970s, they had some 45 companies employing 17,000 workers in manufacturing and retail as well as a shared cooperative bank, vocational schools, and housing cooperatives. In 2007, the Mondragon network—now the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation—has 85 companies employing 130,000 people globally. There are major cooperatives in retail as well as manufacturing. Eroski is a big box retail store that is owned by its employees and owners and has kept Wal-Mart out of Spain. Mondragon is the cutting edge of the Spanish industrial economy, and the region is recognized as one of the leading manufacturing regions in the global economy. Unemployment is very low and per capita income is high. Democracy is a reality in politics as well as in the economy.

Arizmendi recognized the central role of wealth creation in society and the fact that market sophistication and competition could be combined with social values. Through organizing, leadership development, and organizational sophistication, Arrizmendi led a movement that has contended successfully in the market and state, and profoundly influenced civil society.

Today, the Alinsky-inspired movement is less and less effective. The private sector has qualitatively changed and the powerful Low Road segment that is dominated by Wall Street and large multi-national publicly-traded companies has shattered the social contract that made the Alinsky inspired movement viable throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Among the most powerful companies, short term gains for shareholders has replaced any desire or long-term commitment to particular companies, products, or sectors much less the communities where production takes place. A social movement in the US can no longer depend on limiting its role to just redistribution of wealth. Redistribution is required but no longer sufficient. It’s essential that those interested in sustainable communities take up the issues of wealth creation and find alliances with those in the business community who still share a contemporary version of the old idea of stewardship.

From my perspective, Arizmendi was and is a more powerful and effective visionary in setting the course for organizing in communities than Alinsky. Now more than ever we need to use perspectives such as his in not just asking others for development that includes community residents but making it happen in ways that remain under local control and guided by local values. We need to develop the skill and vision that allows those with a commitment to development that is environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable to compete in the market, in the state, and in civil society against the destructive Low Road trend. There is now a broad vacuum of leadership in the economy and society, particularly in communities like Austin. We should contend to fill that vacuum with a vision that truly builds the community on behalf of its residents. Austin Polytech is part of that effort.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The High Road and the Low Road


The concepts of the HR/LR, from my understanding, first emerged in European literature in the mid-90s. In this country, it was introduced by people like Joel Rogers and in the framework of various labor/community coalitions such as Sustainable America and initiatives by the sections of the AFL-CIO that engaged in workforce development and strategic campaigns related to the labor movement. In this setting, the use of the terms generally weren’t for transformative reasons but to increase bargaining and organizing leverage for trade unions and coalitions.

For CLCR, the HR/LR formulation has become a key component of our strategic vision—a vision that we seek to bring into all of our work including the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council, Austin Polytech, the Solidarity Economy Network-US, and the North American Network on the Solidarity Economy.

We see the HR/LR as a key formulation in the vision that seeks an economic and social system with a commitment to development that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable; and based on the social partnership of business, labor, government, and community. We are fundamentally committed to an international vision of HR development that accepts globalization as a fact. In this international context we seek to define and advance the High Road and understand and block the Low Road.

With this as a premise, our vision of development is transformative and challenges the fundamental assumptions and trends of what has affectionately become known as neo-liberalism. The neo-liberal vision represents the celebration of the Low Road and has come to be “a”, if not “the”, dominant trend in the global economy. We really seek a comprehensive economic and social system that is based on different principles and assumptions—and that can successfully contend in the market place, the state, and in civil society.

Finally, this is a political movement with a small “p”. It’s objectives and programs are supported as well as opposed by Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and independents. As such, building strong alliances and coalitions among the social partners becomes fundamental. This organizing work is the complicated but finally essential work that goes with this vision.

For that reason, the ambiguity of the notion of HR/LR is useful. It doesn’t have ideological baggage from either the left or right. Everyone knows intuitively what it means and general direction it should take them in. Then we have the work to make the application more specific and accurate through in-depth research and analysis.

The notion of the Low Road emerged first in naming business practices. That limit is no longer acceptable if we are to be successful in building the kinds of coalitions we need to bring about change—hence the beginning efforts to define the HR/LR in the context of all the social partners.

Defining the High Road and Low Road is not science but a judgment. Typically companies, organizations, and agencies have a mix of both High Road and Low Road practices. The intent is to understand and reward the High Road, as well as to understand and discourage the Low Road. In both the private and public sectors, the High Road seeks a strong return on investment by:

· Being smarter and investing in innovation in the more competitive environment;

· Making a commitment to the continual enhancement of employees’ skills and their involvement in all aspects of the company or organization;

· Being more efficient and cutting waste;

· Having a long-term vision and commitment;

· Providing strong material incentives for high performance, as well as providing decent wages, benefits, and security;

· Promoting useful partnerships with stakeholders both within the firm, in the sector, and in the community; and

· Being transparent, straightforward and fair.

At the very heart of a High Road strategy is a commitment to innovation, such as developing new niches and markets, adding value to existing products, investing in research and development, expanding market share, and improving the efficiency of the productive process and the productivity of employees. Some would see this as the way manufacturing was generally done in the past; it is not a particularly new concept.

In contrast, the Low Road in business seeks a strong return on investment by:

· Emphasizing short-term gains, even if they mean postponing or sacrificing improvements in the productive capacity of the company or sector;

· Keeping wages and benefits at the lowest possible levels;

· Managing by intimidation, undermining employee initiative, and discouraging the exercise of employee rights; and

· Ignoring the needs and concerns of those beyond the most short-sighted and powerful shareholders, investors, and/or managers.

In the public sector, the Low Road also exists when particular organizations or agencies place their own rewards and benefit as such a high priority that they are willing to do damage to their partners or the broader economy. For example:

In government—holding on to bureaucratic strength and privilege no matter what the consequence for the public;

In labor—negotiations for an excessive contract with an employer that is really trying to find the High Road that places the company fundamentally at risk in the pursuit of short-term benefits for union members; or

In community—pursing a “community benefits agreement” for a specific constituency with a company such as Wal-Mart whose business plan will devastate the regional economy.

The use of High Road and Low Road by a variety of commentators, leaders, policy formulators, and organizers is increasing. This is a very useful development and CLCR will continue to give increased definition to these terms through our analytical work and practice.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Austin Polytech Academy--more fun and more meaningful


The next and best generation...

In the last year, I have been the project manager for this new school--Austin Polytechnical Academy (APA) ( —a new public high school in Chicago that will:

--Provide excellent contextual education for young people in Chicago that links them to dynamic careers in manufacturing;

--Create a new generation of leaders for advanced manufacturing;

--Demonstrate the means and the power of merging the creation of wealth with community development; and

--Provide a new model for urban school reform.

CLCR and our partners created the Design Team, wrote a successful proposal that won community support and a positive decision from the Board of Education, recruited an excellent principal—Bill Gerstein; and have created a community of support from local manufacturing companies, local community leaders, and others.

I see this school as essentially the same type of school that was created by Don José Arrrizmendiarrieta in Mondragon Spain. His school, started in 1943, trained young people in the technical skill of manufacturing as well as giving them the values and political orientation that gave rise to the first successful cooperative in 1956 that has now grown to 130 or so cooperatives employing 85,000 people and represents the cutting edge of the Spanish industrial economy. It also constitutes a world model for development that accepts the framework of the market as a major area for activity—but the major goals of the effort are the development of the community not individual wealth--but more on that for future entries into my blog, and central to the blog of my CLCR colleague—Dan Bianchi—currently studying in Mondragon ( .

This school is part of a broader project that I direct—the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council ( that has its objective as making Chicago the world leader in high value-added manufacturing or “leading the race to the top.” Austin Poly is our first project in our effort to transform public education and bring it to world class standards. We expect to do 5-6 other schools like this in Chicago.

Following is a longer essay on Austin Polytech and school reform. I would be very interested in your comments.

New Directions for School Reform in Chicago—Austin Polytechnical Academy

Austin Polytech – the result of an unlikely partnership of labor, business, community, education and government leaders gathered in the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council--has important implications for progressive education reform nationally.

Austin Polytech is a new public high school that’s connected to a unique and powerful vision of community renewal and economic development. This school is at the foundation of a new strategy in Chicago to dramatically shift the paradigm of economic development in a direction that can actually end poverty, challenge racism and restore our communities.

The school reform movement can generally be divided into four trends:

--Those whose focus is principally on the quality of jobs—wages, benefits, and conditions of work—for educators and administrators within the system in one way or another;

--Those who seek greater community and parent involvement and control of the educational system;

--Those preparing students for the best jobs and careers they think are possible in the current declining society; and

--Those with a deep and legitimate critique of the economic and social trends in our society and who want to insure that the next generation includes critical thinkers, effective advocates for change at all levels, and those who will refuse to become passive cogs in the wheel of society.

Each has their strengths… and all are required, but not sufficient.

What they have in common is that none go far enough in promoting or being linked to an economic development strategy that addresses the root causes of persistent poverty today. They lack an effective connection between education and a positive vision of economic development for our communities. Austin Polytech is an attempt to bridge that gap, and to promote a model for school reform that is truly transformative for our students and their communities. Austin Polytech is committed to challenging the dominant economic development paradigm by offering a positive alternative: a High Road vision of community economic development.

Austin Polytech will, of course, provide students with the tools they need, individually, to escape poverty including a connection to meaningful work and college, as well as become effective advocates and citizens. But more importantly it will give students the critical skills and tools needed to challenge and change the current economic paradigm that keeps so many of our communities in poverty.


The Center for Labor and Community Research (CLCR) is a non-profit research and consulting firm focused on ending poverty through innovative approaches to economic development.

We work with a broad range of stakeholders – from labor, to communities, to business to government – because the kind of economic development we’re talking about depends on a strong social partnership to make it work—and to make it truly accountable to our core constituencies: labor and communities. We measure success by the degree to which economic development responds to social needs.

We entered the field of education seven years ago because our research showed us that a world-class, local education system was fundamental to the retention and further development of our local industrial economy.

Contrary to what you read in the papers, manufacturing remains the most important sector of the economy. Directly and indirectly, manufacturing is the largest single source and driver of employment. Manufacturing wages are the highest of all sectors, offers career-pathways out of poverty and into the middle class and has a more positive ripple-effect on the whole economy than any other industry. (See Manufacturing and Illinois’ Future at

We first documented the challenges facing our workforce development system in 2001. In partnership with the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL), we completed a major study of the public training and education system in relation to manufacturing in the Chicago area and published Creating a Manufacturing Career Path System in Cook County.[1]

In preparing the report, we had the opportunity to visit and learn about world “best practice” with a visit to Germany and Denmark. We were introduced to new and innovative approaches to the way education is done, such as small learning communities by the Small Schools Workshop in Chicago. We became familiar with the excellent work of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills. And we met others within and outside the educational system--all providing important perspectives for the recommendations of the report.

What we uncovered about our own workforce development system shocked us. Despite the overwhelming importance of manufacturing to the local economy (it’s the single most important sector of Illinois’ economy), we basically found a non-system that served neither companies nor residents.

While the social and economic changes of the last 30 years have created enormous poverty in the face of an increasingly wealthy elite, they have also created the space, imperative, and potential partnerships that could not only allow us to stem the hemorrhage of jobs, but also redirect our economy onto a path of economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable development; a transformative agenda premised on the real ability to end poverty—not just help poor people.

This kind of system-change has to start with our public education system. We need leaders in education that recognize this opportunity and become an integral part of the movement to change the paradigm of development and to inspire and educate the next generation of leaders from our society—particularly young people who come from the communities that have been devastated the most—to build a positive alternative in the social, political and economic arenas.

A New Direction and New Private/Public Partnerships

The 2001 report mentioned earlier contained, in addition to its critique, a positive, 20-year vision of change for public education including the creation of small schools linked to the manufacturing sector, the transformation of our community college system, the creation of a workforce development system based on nationally-recognized skill standards in manufacturing and a method for certification that was broadly recognized, with a focus on career paths within the various sectors in manufacturing.

The Illinois Manufacturer’s Association (IMA) representing some 4,000 manufacturing companies in Illinois immediately took interest in the recommendation. While a minority of IMA members are companies large enough to search the world to solve their workforce challenges, more than 85% of the IMA members are small, locally-owned, privately held companies. These companies face a loss of 40% of their workforce in the next 10 years. They don’t have the capacity to solve their workforce challenges alone. The CFL/CLCR report spoke directly to their interests—candidly describing a failed education system, but offering positive solutions going forward.

As a result of the report, the IMA hired CLCR to complete a more focused study on Illinois manufacturing and its challenges. The report, The State of Illinois Manufacturing[2] successfully challenged the IMA to initiate a High Road partnership with labor, government, and community around a common vision of Illinois “Leading the Race to the Top in Global High Performance Manufacturing.”

We recognized that in the global economy we will continue to lose many low skilled jobs to developing countries like China, Mexico and India. (And of course the people in China, Mexico and India have a right to develop their own economies and societies as well.) We should do what we can to save as many jobs as we can, but most of all we should concentrate on competing in the high value-added section of manufacturing by making complex products. This is the kind of production that creates a truly innovative society on many levels. This is where Illinois and our country have a competitive advantage. These are the products we can charge the most for, pay the highest wages, provide good benefits, and still make a solid return. And this is the kind of production that requires a world-class education system, as well as a world-class social, physical, and technological infrastructure. Mutual investment and mutual responsibility by both the public and private sectors makes absolute business and social sense. This kind of High Road/High Performance development strategy actually makes ending poverty possible; and a environmentally, economically and socially sustainable society a reality.

This initiative took hold in Chicago with the creation of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council (CMRC) in July, 2005—a federation of the top business, labor, governmental, community and education organizations and agencies. The CMRC is engaged in several projects related to education including an assessment of our community college system in light of best international practice as well as a research and public education initiative to promote the use of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills standards by area companies and schools. But most exciting is the creation of Austin Polytechnical Academy (APA)—a new public high school in the African American community on Chicago’s West Side.

Austin Polytech Leading the Race to the Top!

APA will be a small performance school (not charter) that will open in Sept. 2007 with 145 freshmen with the approval of the Austin TAC—the community advisory board established in the Renaissance 2010 process. APA will add a class each year to reach a size of 550 to 600 students. It will be one of three small schools that will occupy the four-story building that was once Austin High School. Its teachers will be represented by the Chicago Teachers Union. Though open to any student in Chicago, APA will focus on recruiting students from the Austin neighborhood.

There are a few reasons we chose Austin to lead off Chicago’s manufacturing renaissance. Austin is an African American community on the far West Side. Once a stable working class community, its residents have witnessed a dramatic loss of manufacturing companies and jobs over the last 25 years. The result is 30% poverty rates, with less than two-thirds of residents over 25 completing high school. A high percentage of families also have a connection to the criminal justice system as well as other reflections of the pathology of poverty that haunts America’s urban communities.

Austin also has a number of assets that make success here likely, despite the odds: there is a culture of work and manufacturing in the community, with generations of residents that historically have participated in Chicago’s industrial working class. There’s a long tradition of community and labor activism including a determined effort to retain Brach Candy Company over a number of years. And the community is in close proximity to rail lines and key transportation routes.

Austin Polytech will be a unique place for teaching and learning. First and foremost, APA will provide a safe, nurturing, and stimulating educational environment for all students no matter what their final career and life choice; no matter what their ability or disability or special need. We have a great team to start the school with an experienced principal and Assistant Principal, a core of teachers, and broad team of advisors including educators, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Small Schools Workshop, manufacturers, a representative of the local community college system, and the community itself.

Direct Links to Local Manufacturers: APA is linked generally to careers in modern manufacturing and principally to the metal working sector. Traditional vocational education reserved a limited role for average people in the production process and was essentially a programmatic extension of discriminatory practices in society at large.

In contrast, APA will promote career paths in manufacturing that include skilled production and technical positions, management, and ownership of companies. It is internationalist in its orientation. Development in the United States and other first world societies can no longer come at the expense of the rest of the world. APA’s curriculum also recognizes that the opportunity lies in being competitive in key sectors in the global economy by understanding best international practice in both production as well as education and striving to meet and exceed those models. APA already has established a learning partnership with a secondary school in Bologna, Italy--Aldini Valerani--in the innovative Emilia-Romagna Region.

APA will prepare students for college and advanced degrees, as well as for employment immediately after graduation. The historic line between vocational and college-prep is blurred. Both are indispensable for modern manufacturing and the future of our society. APA’s curriculum incorporates Project Lead the Way, a nationally recognized pre-engineering program. In addition, each student will graduate with at least two credentials from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills and perhaps as many as eight, qualifying them for immediate employment in skilled positions out of high school, if that’s what they choose.

We have 23 mostly small manufacturing companies who have signed on as Austin Polytech Partners and we expect at least 30 by the time school opens. These High Road companies will provide general support for the school; work-exposure for freshmen students; internships and summer jobs for students starting in their sophomore year; and prospects for full time employment upon graduation. Companies as well as teachers, community, parents, and students will be represented on the governing body of the school. A key position will be a full-time industry coordinator as intermediary between companies and the school.

APA will have an “Evening Center,” not only for after school programs and clubs for its students, but for parents and adult residents of the entire community. The adult program will start with a community technology center teaching basic computer literacy, but with a range of other program, from family wellness to job search and preparation resources.

More specifically, APA is explicitly anchored in a unique development agenda for the local community that is consistent with the vision of the CMRC as applied on the community level. The focus is on creating a mixed economy that includes a strong and vibrant high performance manufacturing sector, instead of simply abandoning the community to big-box retailers like Wal-Mart that pay low wages and/or gentrification of the housing market.

In the last month, close to 300 students have signed up for the 140 open positions. There is a buzz in the industrial press. There is coverage in the local media for a school that won’t open for 8 months. And as Shonta Arrington—a long-term Austin resident and member of the education advisory council (TAC) said at the hearing before Chicago’s Board of Education, “APA is the first thing in many years that has given me hope for Austin. Now our children can be leaders in the global economy rather than its victims.”

Implications for Educators and the School Reform Movement

There are at least five main themes that need to become part of a viable and dynamic movement for school reform in Chicago and around the country.

First--A Direct Link to a Contemporary Development Vision: Education requires a profound link to a comprehensive economic development vision that will rebuild and further develop our communities. Many of the current educational efforts accept the current development model as inevitable. Education in the inner city is geared to preparing kids to go to college to leave their community and secure jobs in the public and service sector in an economy they expect to be dominated by service and retail. There’s a weak connection – if any – with the local productive sector. This is ironic, considering that local manufacturing depends on a strong linkage with public education for its survival.

Those educators and school reformers who are critical of the broader economic and social system see education as the means to create critical thinkers who will oppose what’s wrong in society and resist being “cogs in its wheels.” They will become the teachers, the advocates, the organizers, the informed who will oppose the decline in our country, principally through influencing the decisions being made at all levels within government and politics as well as civil society.

We think that this kind of education is essential but not sufficient to truly transform our society. It’s not enough to simply oppose what is wrong. First, you must offer a positive alternative—a competitive vision of a different paradigm that’s consistent with our values and commitment to social justice and sustainable development. Such a model of development exists. Second, it’s essential to contend in the market for this vision and not remain only focused on influencing government and state policy.

Particularly the progressive political community has viewed the market place or the economy as only the terrain for those who believe in Low Road capitalism—and to be involved in business or to be part of “corporate America” is by definition corruption. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, we must compete for our policies in government and the state, but also in the market-- in companies and in production. Our students need to have both the technical as well as political, organizational, managerial, and financial skills to realize this High Road model as we contend with and defeat the Low Road model that’s at the source of so much destruction. We know from experience that offering this kind of comprehensive alternative provides inspiration and meaning to people—young and old, and makes risk and hard work worth it…including staying in school.

It doesn’t mean that all students must become a particular kind of employee or leader, but a framework for education shaped by such a vision is essential. To the degree that an alternative vision of development is missing, initiatives at school reform—such as those that have flourished in Chicago--are compromised and can lead to an educational experience and educational structure that re-enforces the traditional paradigm of this society despite intentions to the contrary.

Second--Link Education and Work: It’s key to explicitly link education and work in a positive way for all students. The notion that linking education to work somehow diminishes the experience or compromises critical thinking and broader vision reflects a dated understanding of the character of work—particularly that in high performance companies and organizations. We seek the right balance in education in the use of national standards and certification, as well as promoting broad education and critical thinking—as both are now required in the development of our society. We completely share the critique of the No Child Left Behind policy and think that having an entire system geared to learning how to take a test rather than broader education is horrifically destructive.

Third--Create Meaningful Career Paths for Students: Our objective is to insure that public education is at least successful in creating career paths and provides strong material incentives for students and a future of interesting work that can be an adequate incentive to stay in school and work hard in securing an education. These career paths should at least be in:

--In all aspects of production—technical, management, and ownership;

--In all aspects of social, economic, and political life: critical thinkers, union organizers and leaders, poets, and artists; community organizers and advocates; managers and civil servants; and political leaders; and

--Those that contribute to building a society that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable and restorative

Fourth--A Partnership with the High Road Business Community: We feel that relationships with the emerging High Road sections of the business community are essential for the development of production and the creation of true social and economic wealth for our society.

It is essential for educational leaders and reformers to overcome a simplistic “anti-corporate” stance; to be effective in distinguishing those in the private as well as public sector who have become strategic and tactical allies, as well as opponents; and to develop appropriate policies and actions for both.

There are major companies that are using public education and its institutions in ways that are exploitive and destructive for students and schools. Huge beverage and food companies are marketing and distributing unhealthy foods for students and reinforcing unhealthy habits through lunchrooms and vending machines. For some companies, every aspect of education is seen as one more marketing opportunity with little concern about the actual value of what is being marketed. They need to be stopped.

On the other hand, there are thousands of companies in Chicago like Hudson Precision Products, PK Tool, DeCardy Diecasting, and Winzeler Gear that are anchors for the local economy, the site for meaningful careers with good paying jobs and benefits, who are eager to contribute in many different ways to an all sided High Road educational experience, and are full strategic partners for Austin Polytech.

A contemporary movement for school reform must bring in sections of the business community as strategic partners as well as the labor movement—and particularly the teacher’s unions. This social partnership of labor, business, government, community, and education is fundamental to the broader development agenda and coalition and is certainly central to education and school reform.

In Chicago, we at CLCR found some irony in the fact that some progressive school reformers have embraced non-union charter schools, while the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association has explicitly embraced a partnership with the Chicago Teacher’s Union in the creation of Austin Polytech.

By taking up the issues and challenges of school reform in coalitions like the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council, we can not only bring a new vision of the economy to the table but also a powerful, non-partisan coalition that will increasingly gain the strength to insure fundamental and progressive changes in the education system on all levels.

Fifth--Preparing the Next Generation for Leadership: At the heart of what Austin Polytech is all about is an introduction of a way of thinking that encourages and allows students—particularly from poor and working class communities—to assume leadership positions in our society in all aspects of production and wealth creation, as well as in services, science, retail, technology, government, art, and politics.

Social change is a very complex process involving all sectors of society, yet a clear priority of bringing these perspectives and teaching the essential skills and knowledge to our young people, is a high priority. For us, Austin Polytech is the first step in what we expect to become a major component in the movement for school reform and a new paradigm for economic development and change in the next ten years.


We are both excited by the opportunity as well as sobered by the challenge. Yet for us, there is no other choice at this time. While others wring their hands and watch the slide of communities like Austin to the bottom continue, the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council is mobilizing the talents of the residents and students in one of Chicago’s poorest communities to demonstrate the transforming power of a vibrant manufacturing economy,.

For more information:

Center for Labor and Community Research:
Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council:
Austin Polytechnical Academy:

Dan Swinney
Executive Director
Center for Labor and Community Research
and the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council
773 278 5418, ext. 13

[1] On CLCR’s web site:
[2] Available on CLCR’s web site: