Reply to: Consumers Have Power to Change the System

Editor's reply to letter from Todd Putnam
from the New Unionist, August 1993, page 2

Todd Putnam is right that fundamental economic change can't merely be legislated into existence. He is also right that a change will not come until we have the power to bring it about. And he is right that "we already have the power; all we need is the will and the way to use it collectively." He is wrong, however, in assuming that power is our consumer dollars.

Most workers have no choice but to use their limited consumer dollars to buy what seems the best product for the least money. The big corporations got big by producing the most efficiently (at the least cost) and selling at the lowest price, which drove their less-efficient competitors out of business. The big boys now control the production and sale of virtually all major consumer products. When you buy a car or a refrigerator or a house or a book or a tube of toothpaste, there simply isn't a small, friendly, neighborhood manufacturing company to buy from.

The system isn't going to be changed or the corporations dethroned by trying to make the market "democratic" or seeking to return to a bygone era of small business. The consumer food coops and their suppliers that were going to do all that have instead ended up looking and operating very like the for-profit food industry, or they have retained their "countercultural" integrity by remaining economically inconsequential. In either case, the co-ops are competing for the consumer dollar with the supermarkets whether they like to think so or not, and if the corporations ever want to price the co-ops out of business, they will.

Since it is the market system itself that enables this to happen, any real economic change must begin by overthrowing the market system, rather than hopelessly trying to reform or manipulate it into serving the public good.

The working class -- the 90% of the population who work for the 10% who own the economy -- do have the power to replace the market system of production for sale with a nonmarket system of production for use. The workers have the power not because they are consumers (who isn't?) but because they are producers. It is our labor that creates the goods and services in the first place. It is the fact we don't own what we produce that compels us to buy our product back from the corporate owners with our dwindling paychecks.

If we organize ourselves as producers, in an all-inclusive industrial union, we will be able to challenge directly the corporations control of our labor and our product. With a companion political movement to legalize a change of ownership, we'd have the power to keep our product for our own use and benefit.

Since there would be no need to buy what we alread owned -- only distribute among ourselves on a fair and equitable basis -- there would be no market. Without products to sell, and without a market to sell them in, profit making corporations would be out of business, replaced by elected workplace and industrial administrative bodies which would democratically manage production and distribution for the benefit of all.