by Terry Sterrenberg
Not long ago we traveled to the southeast where we filmed at a small worker owned collective called Opportunity Threads in Morganton, NC. The collective has six worker owners with 21 additional sewers and workers who are in the process of becoming worker owners. After working for a number of months and having many peer evalutions which include not only their productivity but also their ability to get along with their other team members, they are given the opportunity to buy into the collective. In this way new owners get “vetted” by the other owners. All workers including Ms. Hemstreet who initiated the collective are paid the same wage. We asked her why she decided to form a worker collective instead of a for profit bussiness with her as the owner. She would clearly make more money if she hired employees. “We have the best sewers. I could never do what they do,” said Ms Hemstreet. The implication is that likewise they could not do what she does. “Everyone is an owner, has a stake in what is produced, gains when things go well, and bears the loss when production falters. We all have pride in what we do. Furthermore, there comes a point when one has enough.”
Wow! What a concept, HAVING ENOUGH. Some people I’m sure would argue that one can never have enough. We always need more in case we lose what we have. What is enough anyway? Enough of what? Money? Food? Rooms? Stuff? If you have enough does that mean you don’t want (deserve) more? Is it the same for everyone or do some people need more than others or even deserve more than others? And how is ‘enough’ determined? Do some people get to have enough before others have enough?
What happens when there is more than enough for everyone? What happens to the surplus? In traditional business models this constitutes profit and goes to the owner. In worker owned collectives the surplus goes to the worker owners or back into the business.
On another stop we went to a community called Village Homes in Davis CA. This was a sustainable community designed and developed in 1979. The original group was very committed to sustainability and built what has become the most luscious permaculture community I have ever witnessed. The community is beautiful and the property values have risen to be the highest in the entire city. What is “enough” for this community? For the visionaries “enough” was an affordable geographic setting that sustained life and nurtured not just the residents but the entire community. They built a cost effective innovative environment. However, presently, unlike at the start of the project, the property values are now too high for young families to afford. This is a wonderful place to live and so property values went up. Many of the original residents have moved out of Village Homes. The new residents are attracted to the beauty and the organic gardens, but many do not know or understand the original vision. They just want to live there and they feel entitled to do so because they have enough money to buy in. But they feel no need or obligation to get to know the neighbors in their community, as did the original residents.
This case presents a basic dilemma for long term sustainable communities. How can the vision sustain itself over many generations? And how can we make the property affordable for young families and not lose the original vision? Some have looked at the community land trust as a possible solution to this issue. (see winter copy 2015 of YES Magazine, Urban Farming, One Vacant Lot at a Time.)
Perhaps to have enough is a personal declaration rather than something to be calculated. Certainly for me a declaration has much more personal power than an external limit placed on me. Everyone has enough if they say so. But clearly there are people who have too little, not enough food, housing, and life necessities; and those who have much more than the rest of us. What is enough for these people?
For me, having enough is not about possessions. We have given most of our stuff away. Presently we have enough because we choose to have little. Like a lot of other people we have enough to live comfortably because we adapt our life to what we have. We realized that the stuff we had and the lifestyle we were living was making our life more chaotic and stressful than connected and joyful. I have come to believe that the sense of “having enough” is also a function of the community in which I live. It is a product of participating in an interdependent, caring community. We are looking for that community. What we have done in the last few years with our life has not totally given us “enough” and that is why we are continuing our search..
I realize I have raised more questions here than I have answered, but then again that is the journey we are on.