I drive through Germantown from time to time, and my route takes me past a small, warehouse-type building that bears the legend, “Southern Broom and Mop Co.” There is never any sign of activity there when I drive past. It looks as if it must have been in existence for a hundred years or more, a bit of flotsam left over from our city’s industrial heyday in the late nineteenth century, when much of what Nashville needed for its daily functioning was manufactured or grown right here in middle Tennessee. When I went to research this story, I discovered that, in reality, the company has only been in existence for about twenty years, and is a janitorial service, not a manufacturing enterprise. What’s more, the building has recently been sold–for nearly a million dollars–and will be turned into yet another trendy, high-end restaurant in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. That’s too bad. Even the wealthy can only eat so much–but everybody needs a mop and a broom.
In a recent post, I proposed that we re-industrialize Nashville, spreading new, preferably worker-owned enterprises throughout the city so that as many people as possible could walk to work, and thus lessen the pressure on our roads, and the pressure on low-income people to spend money on an automobile. There’s two ways to increase peoples’ disposable income. One is to pay them more, and the other is to lower their cost of living. Even “cheap” cars–some would say, especially “cheap” cars–are expensive!
Today, I want to talk about two aspects of my plan. One thing I want to do is explain the Mondragon Co-operative model, and examine how it could fit Nashville. Another is to talk about what kind of industries would be suitable for the city, where they should be located, and how to raise the startup capital they will need. I will outline some general ideas about appropriate manufacturing enterprises, but the amount of detail involved is more than I could cover here. I think that the Davidson County planning commission and the neighborhoods should work this out among themselves. There are many variables and alternatives. I couldn’t possibly anticipate them all, but citizen involvement and an intelligent, responsive, well-informed oversight agency should be able to figure it all out over the course of a few years.
The first thing I want to say about this plan is that I am not proposing a return to the old industrial model. The old industrial Nashville was a pit of pollution, its air filled with coal smoke, its earth and waters fouled. Nashville’s new factories should be, in the nonpolitical sense, green. They should be quiet, nonpolluting, energy-efficient enterprises that will not detract from their neighbors’ quality of life. Some things we may want to do are going to be loud and/or smelly, and we can find ways to buffer these from their surrounding communities. Since community members, as employees, will also be owners of these enterprises, they will have the power to change things if they need to be changed.
So, what are the basic principles on which Mondragon factory co-ops are founded?