Testimony of Richard Hobbs, Esq., Executive Director of Human Agenda Before the California Assembly Committee on Labor Employment

Testimony of Richard Hobbs, Esq., Executive Director of Human Agenda

Before the

California Assembly Committee on Labor Employment

Ash Kalra, Chair

Assemblymember, Twenty-Seventh District

Taking Ownership: Worker Cooperatives and Shared Prosperity

Friday, August 16, 2019

10:00 am - Noon

San Jose City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara Street, San Jose, California


Assemblymember Kalra, Chair of the California Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment; Assemblymembers; legislative staff; distinguished speakers and invited guests.  Thank you for this opportunity to speak in fervent support of worker-owned cooperatives in the State of California.  

I’m Richard Hobbs, currently an immigration attorney and Executive Director of Human Agenda, and formerly Director of Citizenship and Immigration Programs of Santa Clara County and Director of the Office of Human Relations of Santa Clara County.

Early this morning my law office and the office of Human Agenda were broken into and my briefcase, personal laptop, and today’s presentation before this Labor Committee were stolen.  Nonetheless, I will give a brief overview of why worker-owned cooperatives are critical to transitioning our State toward a more democratic, participatory, and sustainable economy. 

The vision of Human Agenda is based on a comprehensive identification and analysis of human needs.  The “work” of meeting those needs is best described as human need-fulfilling activity (HNFA), not labor, as labor carries the connotation of remunerated work, and 4 of the 5 categories below constitute unpaid labor. 

From that analysis, Human Agenda has developed a 5-part vision.  The vision recommends that we all have the time, opportunity, and obligation to participate in five key areas of life to meet our needs and reproduce ourselves and our communities. 

First, we need the time, opportunity, and duty to engage in care work.  We need to have the time and resources to take care of ourselves, self-care, as well as the time and obligation to take care of our families and immediate community, however we define them.  This means, for example, instead of the second shift that consumes the lives of so many women, that men and women share the time and responsibility for care work with respect to caring for family members and doing household chores. 

Second, as our duty to society, we all need the time and resources to produce essential goods or services for society at a living wage with reduced work hours.  In order to avoid wasting our time and resources on unnecessary wants or false needs, we need to identify our true human needs--both goods and services.  Human Agenda has engaged in this group identification with over 75 organizations.

Our wages or allocate portion of our labor on behalf of society must encompass sustainable, living wages, so that we optimize, not maximize, what goods and services we need.  Furthermore, any vision for a better society must depend upon reducing our work hours. The progressive realization of reduced working hours is the fulcrum upon which our increased time with family and friends and our continuum of learning, democratic decision-making, and free time depends.

Third, we all need the time and resources for lifelong learning with accurate information. 

Fourth, from the family unit to the United Nations, we need the time and resources to engage in democratic participatory decision-making.  The family, the workplace, the neighborhood, and all levels of government should be sites for optimal forms of input and decision-making.

Finally, sitting at the apex of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we all need the time and the resources for self-actualization, or socialized self-realization. 

The time and access needed to complete each of these critical aspects of human life should not only be a human right, but also a sacred duty. 

But how can we get to this vision? 

We cannot meet the needs of human beings and the planet based on our current dominant institutions. 

I frequently speak in human rights classes and I ask if new students are aware of ESC, or Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a covenant ratified by the United States in 1966.  Most are unaware of the covenant.

Unfortunately, the United States and California are suffering from another ESC: our corporations are based on exploitation, our financial institutions on speculation, and our electoral system on corruption.  This ESC of exploitation, speculation and corruption is all legal in the United States of America according to our laws, our Constitution, and the Supreme Court. 

We need different values.  Using the acronym DECKS, we need the values of democracy, equity, cooperation, kindness and sustainability.  I often ask groups if they think our current multinational corporations, private banks, and electoral system possess these values.  Are Monsanto and Wells Fargo democratic, equitable, cooperative, kind, and sustainable? 

No, based on values of democracy, equity, cooperation, kindness, and sustainability we need new economic, financial, and political institutions.  We need to support worker-owned cooperatives, public banks, publicly financed elections, Medicare for All, public education, land trusts to create cooperative housing, and much more. 

The way an economy is structured is fundamental to how people live, work, and play, and worker-owned cooperatives should play a fundamental role as a key economic institution to transition to a more fair and sustainable society. 

Cooperatives are more democratic.  With one worker one vote they are the epitome of participatory economic democracy, deciding on all major decisions of the enterprise. 

Cooperatives are more equitable.  With the difference in highest to lowest paid 1 to 1, or 2 to 1, or even 5 to 1 like the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain, they create fair salary standards.  This stands in sharp contrast to the 400 to 1 prevalent in high tech companies in Silicon Valley.  They seek fair and modest levels of consumption, not conspicuous over-consumption. 

Cooperatives are more cooperative by their very nature.  They make all important enterprise decisions horizontally and collectively, not hierarchically and coercively.  

Cooperatives are more kind.  By working together the members resolve problems through dialogue and participatory mediation, not adversarial confrontation. 

Finally cooperatives are more sustainable.  Cooperatives not only optimize instead of maximize consumption, lowering the carbon footprint of co-op members, but they also seek to reduce or contain the number of working hours, to address the alarming alienation that plagues Silicon Valley and beyond.  They also make environmental decisions that won’t negatively impact their workplace or their immediate community.  

 Human Agenda helped create the Smart Yards Cooperative in 2015, to create a democratically run and operated cooperative that converts water-guzzling lawns into gardens with drought-resistant native California plants.  We currently operate a legal collective which incorporates DECKS values to defend immigrants from deportation who are suffering deep trauma under the Trump deportation machinery.  In addition, Human Agenda is working to create four immigrant-led worker-owned cooperatives: promotoras (health educators) in San Benito and South Santa Clara Counties, Thai massage therapists, my law office, and a janitorial company recently subjected to an ICE audit. 

It is incumbent on the State of California to enact laws to promote the development of worker-owned cooperatives as recommended on this panel by leaders from the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, Project Equity, and the Democracy at Work Institute.