This country has a long history of nationalization. During World War I and II, the federal government took control of radio, railroads, coal mines and more. In 1984, the government took 80% ownership in the failing Continental Illinois bank, which remained nationalized until 1991. The Bush administration took similar action to bail out banks in 2008. Many of these nationalization efforts were temporary, and companies that tolerated government control during crisis eventually wanted the reins back. But there are (inevitably) new crises to come, and some nationalizations — such as the largely voluntary transfer of private passenger rail to Amtrak in the 1970s — have had staying power.
Taxi workers in the late 1960s and through the 1970s struggled against the transformation of their industry from regulated and unionized jobs to deregulated independent contracting work. This meant the loss of collective bargaining rights for taxi workers and a sharp rise in precarious working conditions as employers were able to shift business risk onto workers, cut expenses on benefits, and increase profits in-turn. In a spirited response, taxi workers self-organized and sustained union-like alt labor groups, for example the New York Taxi Workers Alliance in New York and United Taxicab Workers in San Francisco, that fought for better working conditions for taxi workers through municipal and city regulations.
When the longtime owner of Hometown Foods in tiny Conrad, Iowa announced in 2019 that he was closing the community’s only grocery store, some residents quickly mobilized to buy the business and keep it open. A few of them pooled their money to buy the building; one bought the fixtures; another bought the store’s inventory. They then approached Andy Havens, who owns two small grocery markets in nearby towns, about managing the store. He agreed to do so – and he is now gradually buying out the initial investors. Like Conrad, a growing number of towns and cities recognize that access to fresh, healthy food is a basic human right – and a civic responsibility.
Drug shortages in the United States are at a record high. At least 14 essential generic cancer drugs are currently in shortage, forcing patients and doctors to make difficult decisions to delay or ration first-line treatments, or accept second-best treatments. ADHD treatments, antibiotics, children’s acetaminophen, and many other critical medicines are also in short supply. But most of the solutions being discussed are just Band-Aids on a broken system. They would do nothing to transform the incentives that routinely produce shortages and other market failures. What we really need — for the health of our economy and society — is a robust public option in pharmaceuticals that produces and distributes essential medicines, such as cancer treatments.
Railroad Workers United opposes the sale of the Cincinnati Southern, the only municipally owned - and one of the nation's few publicly held pieces of rail infrastructure - to the Class One rail giant Norfolk Southern. The group is urging all citizens of Cincinnati who are eligible voters to vote NO in the referendum to be held in November. On July 13th, the railway's Board of Directors voted to place the proposed sale on the ballot this Fall. Per the railroad's bylaws, the citizens of the City will get the final say. Should they approve the plan, the nation's only municipally owned interstate rail line - from Cincinnati to Chattanooga - would then be purchased for a paltry $1.62 billion by the private Class One rail carrier.
Something momentous has happened, according to recent opinion polls. After 40 years of reluctantly accepting the Thatcherite mantra that there is no alternative to the market, the British public declared that they had had enough. In August 2022, Survation polling for the campaign group We Own It revealed that 69 per cent were in favour of publicly-owned water, 65 per cent for publicly-owned buses, 67 per cent for rail, 66 per cent for energy, 68 per cent for Royal Mail, and a whopping 78 per cent for the NHS. With public sentiment matching the vigour of an emboldened labour movement, there is a feeling that some of the past socialist ambitions are again political possibilities.
On a Tuesday night in mid-March, the streets of downtown Rochester were empty as the remnants of a nor’easter swirled through. But the fourth floor of the county office building was packed. Residents milled outside the chamber doors for close to an hour, then lined up inside for two more to address their county reps. Most were there to complain about one thing: their utility company. Utilities are rarely popular, but Rochester Gas & Electric has drawn a special furor in the past two years. Speaker after speaker slammed RG&E over astronomical bills that in many cases seemed to come out of nowhere.
It was May 1974 and the Massena Observer’s printing press was running overtime. Splashed across the front page were the results of a groundbreaking referendum. A columnist wrote that “no other news story has stirred the imagination” like this one: public power. Residents had voted two to one to bring their electric utility under public control. That would mean buying out the local grid from Niagara Mohawk, the power company then serving much of upstate. It took another seven years of legal battles and two more referendums before Massena flipped the switch to a new, city-owned utility. When it finally happened, in May 1981, utility bills dropped by a quarter.
One of the central insights emerging from research on degrowth and climate mitigation is that universal public services are crucial to a just and effective transition. Capitalism relies on maintaining an artificial scarcity of essential goods and services (like housing, healthcare, transport, etc), through processes of enclosure and commodification. We know that enclosure enables monopolists to raise prices and maximize their profits (consider the rental market, the US healthcare system, or the British rail system). But it also has another effect. When essential goods are privatized and expensive, people need more income than they would otherwise require to access them.
When it comes to energy efficient transportation in America, no transportation option is better than the railroads. They have been the freight transportation backbone of America for nearly 200 years, which is why all the recent news about train derailments and union strikes deserves our attention. While more profitable then they have ever been for investors, the railroads are moving less freight and employing fewer workers now then they did in 2006. After underinvesting in their labor force, rolling stock, and tracks for decades, are America’s railroads entering a state of decline, and if so, should we start discussing the pitfalls and possibilities of public rail ownership?
A group seeking to place an initiative on the November 2023 ballot to replace Maine’s unpopular investor-owned utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant, with a nonprofit power company submitted over 80,000 signatures Monday, far exceeding the total needed to trigger a referendum. Our Power, the group spearheading the campaign, announced its haul at a press conference at the State House before handing its petitions into the Secretary of State’s Office. That office now has a month to verify the signatures, but with a wide margin over the slightly more than 63,000 signatures needed for a ballot initiative, Our Power’s referendum is very likely to be on the ballot in November 2023. “We have news for you, CMP and Versant, and for your greedy corporate and foreign-government owners. Today, over 80,000 Maine voters are ready to revoke your monopoly privilege,” Andrew Blunt, executive director of Our Power, said at Monday’s press conference.
In response to more than a decade of declining rail service in the United States, the cross-craft rail workers group Railroad Workers United (RWU) has called for public ownership of the railroad system. First discussed at the Third Convention of the group in Chicago a decade ago, on October 6th, the Steering Committee voted unanimously to approve a Resolution to this effect. According to RWU Steering Committee member and freight locomotive engineer Paul Lindsey, "The rail industry is alone as the sole means of conveyance that is held privately. Highways, inland waterways, seaports and airports are all in public hands. Given the industry's inability to grow and expand and to adequately meet the needs of shippers, communities, passengers, commuters and workers, it is time that it too become a public entity."
On Tuesday, April 12, hundreds of citizens took to the streets in different parts of Mexico in support of the electricity reform promoted by president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). In the capital Mexico City, members of various civil society organizations, social movements, and trade unions held a march from the Zócalo to the Chamber of Deputies. They demonstrated outside the Legislative Palace of San Lázaro, calling on the legislators of the opposition parties to approve the reform to the Electricity Industry Law (LIE), which allows nationalization of the energy industry.
In most cases, it would be absurd to think that the same approach that created a problem would also be the one best suited to solve it. Yet this is exactly what we are expected to believe regarding the existential ecological threats our world now faces. As predicted by many since its inception, capitalism and its core interconnected tenants — private ownership of the means of production, market allocation, and exponential economic growth — have brought us to the precipice of both environmental and social disaster. Yet, year after year we continue to be told that capitalism will save us. Just a few more dashes of regulation here, some different market incentives there, and the turning point is right around the corner. All the while, temperatures climb, species disappear, the air is choked with smog, waters rise, forests burn, and storms rage.