From Havana to New York: Building a Cooperative Future by John Milne

Thanks to the Lang Opportunity Award and Gural Scholars program at Eugene Lang College, I was given the opportunity to research cooperatives in Havana, Cuba and work as a Course Assistant at Queensboro Correctional Facility. My project is a two-part, comparative study of cooperatives in Havana and New York, conducted with the intention to discover potential paths for stable employment for economically disadvantaged and marginalized populations in the formal economy. Having finished the primary phase of my research, the 9-week International Field Program in Havana, I am now transitioning into the latter portion, where I will work as a Course Assistant at Queensboro Correctional Facility, on the Lang Prison Initiative and with local cooperatives to explore the possibility of cooperative organizations that cater to those affected by the epidemic of mass incarceration.

The Prison-Industrial Complex—a convergence of elite public and private interests in the heavy criminalization of low-level illegal activity, law enforcement and anti-crime rhetoric—and the disastrous drug enforcement policies enacted in the last four decades largely contribute to the enormous population of US citizens behind bars, an estimated 2,300,000 people. Yet, the poor economic conditions of low-income urban areas position individuals to participate in the informal—illegal—economy because of lack of opportunity in the formal economy, rendering them vulnerable to our predatory system of mass incarceration. Worker cooperatives—worker-owned and self-managed enterprises—have exhibited much greater commitments to wage equality, democratic management, working conditions, enterprise continuity, environmental sustainability and community engagement than their privately-owned, capitalist counterparts. Historically, disadvantaged workers have collectivized and created cooperatives in resistance to capitalist exploitation and domination; currently, there are few greater examples of capitalist exploitation in the United States than the Prison-Industrial Complex. My research is concerned with dismantling the Prison-Industrial Complex while simultaneously creating an alternate future for economically disadvantaged populations, hence the title “From Havana to New York: Building a Cooperative Future.”

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