You need to find an entry point, a way of approaching workers. The most common entry point is through a contact person. Where possible, get someone to introduce you to a potential contact person from the target group. This can help to open doors, and overcome distrust, fear and reluctance. The person should be someone workers trust, respect and have confidence in. It may be the official or unofficial leader of a group or association of workers, or a leader in the community. On the other hand, the leaders of a group or association may be the very people that workers fear or distrust. Here you may have a problem. If you bypass the leader, he may turn hostile and undermine organising efforts. If you work with the leader, the workers may reject your organising attempts. There is no easy answer to this problem. Be aware of it and be prepared to change your strategy.
colonialism offered colonizing countries the opportunity to promote the cooperative form of organization as a way of grouping people for a better control over the colonized population. ...
The Industrial Revolution ...forced industrialized countries to seek out raw materials and new outlets for their products. It therefore played a not inconsiderable role in the colonization of the developing countries, the objective for the colonizing countries being to increase the area of their national territory by appropriating foreign lands. Countries thus lost their sovereignty and did so, on their own territory, in favour of the homecountry. Africa, Asia, and Latin America then found themselves dominated by western countries including Great Britain, Portugal, France and Belgium.
Once the country was conquered, the settlers ensured the promotion and development of the cooperative form of organization. The objective was never altruistic. Cooperatives were in fact used as a strategic tool to allow people to be grouped together and goods, essential for the economy of the home country (coffee, cocoa etc.), to be collected for export.
It is not clear here what the strategic advantage of the cooperatives was to the colonizer here.More efficient, somehow?
After independence in the colonized countries, the governments of the newly independent States accorded an essential role to cooperatives especially in the development of rural areas. Nevertheless, in most of these countries, cooperatives remained a State-owned tool with which to control the masses.
In the former French-speaking colonies, development was the same as before the colonial period. The structures set up by the colonial administration were abolished and replaced with government institutions, the objective being to improve agricultural production and product quality. Unfortunately, the cooperative development lauded by the government did not meet the farmers expectations. There followed a decline in membership and a bad reputation for cooperatives. The term “cooperative” was even banned in some places and replaced by “village association” or “village groups” or again “mutual”.
In English-speaking Africa, the post-independence period saw the cooperative sector grow considerably. Good results were achieved in farm production for export. But failings were experienced mainly in the area of staff qualifications and inadequacy of infrastructure.
Tchami reminds us that these were not "real" cooperatives, of course, as they were not for the benefit of the members.
It is important to bear in mind that, in the context of the period, the creation of cooperatives was encouraged in a bid to control the people conquered during colonization and in no way to promote the interests of their members.…the way the governments of newly independent countries used them is regrettable as it perpetuates this misuse of cooperatives with the risk of sometimes tarnishing the way local populations see cooperatives for ever.
There is some ironic foreshadowing in Tchami's brief treatment of Robert Owen.
He thought it would be more economical to deal with the poor in groups rather than individually… But gradually his concept grew, these villages of cooperation became, in his view, the ideal type of society towards which he wanted to push humankind.
So to Owen, the efficiencies of communal poverty were an model with which to evade the exploitations of capitalism - while the cooperatives were later used as a tool for more efficient exploitation.
Cooperatives and Community Development Education for Ownership
SYLLABUS: EDUCATION 187
Social and Cultural Studies, UC Berkeley
Instructor: Deb Goldberg Gray
Cooperatives and Community Development Education for Ownership will explore the critical role of education in creating member-owned, democratically-controlled organizations. The course will survey cooperative development strategies which strengthen communities, create economic opportunity and provide needed services.
Students will engage in active discussion and analysis of weekly topics, informed by readings, presented material and their own life experiences. Two short writing assignments will assist students in defining their pemona1 views on the subject matter. In addition, students will form work groups to identify and carry out a cooperative feasibility and planning project. These groups will work together the entire semester, and discuss their findings in both written and oral form at the end of the term. Students who come up with viable proposals will be offered the option to implement their plans in future semesters.
This course will focus on development of informed analytical skills with real life application on the part of students. Students will have the opportunity to learn from current practitioners with critical expertise in the field, who will be invited as guest speaker.
Readings and Class Participation - Come prepared to actively participate in a critical analysis of the week's topic, informed by thoughtful consideration of the assigned readings. (30% of grade.)
Papers 2 short papers (2-3 pages) reflecting personal responses to the topic. (10% of grade)
Group Project Small groups will select an area for cooperative feasibility analysis and planning. Groups will present their findings in writing and through classroom presentation and discussion. (30% of grade)
Midterm and Final Exams Exams will require students to draw on their knowledge from lectures and readings, and apply the analytical skills gained through class discussion and feasibility projects. (30% of grade)
Melissa Hoover, Founding Executive Director of the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives, discusses the state of the worker cooperative movement in this wide-ranging C-W.org Interview. Among the topics covered: the challenges of building a member-financed trade association, the growing diversity within the movement, the search for ways to fill capital gaps, and the challenges of developing democratic workplaces in an economy dominated by non-democratic ownership forms.
Hilary Abell has served at Executive Director of Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES), an incubator of green housecleaning worker co-ops in the San Francisco Bay Area, since 2003. At present, the WAGES network includes five worker co-ops that provide living wages and business ownership for their largely Latina workforce of 85 worker-owners. WAGES is also working to expand the model beyond the Bay Area. In this C-W.org Interview, Abell discusses the challenges of putting the principles of worker ownership into practice and efforts underway to expand the WAGES model beyond its northern California base.
Rodney North has been a worker-owner of Equal Exchange for over a dozen years, where he serves as “the Answer Man” responsible for public relations and Vice Chair of its Board of Directors. The Massachusetts-based cooperative has 80 worker-owners and $34 million in annual sales, making it among the nation’s leading worker co-ops. In this C-W.org Interview, North discusses the group’s unusual funding model, its relations with consumer and agricultural co-ops, and current challenges faced by worker co-ops in the United States.
John Logue is Founder and Executive Director of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, based at Kent State University. Over its first 20 years has helped more than 81 companies became partly or wholly employee owned, creating 14,685 new employee owners. Follow-up research on data through 2003 for 49 of these firms found that they had created $349 million in equity for their employee owners. interview-logue.doc
"Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and democratically governed by their employees. They operate in numerous industries, including childcare, commercial and residential cleaning, food service, healthcare, technology, and manufacturing. Worker co-ops provide their employees with both jobs and ownership — allowing them to directly benefit from the financial success of the business. Each year, worker-owned co-ops return profits not needed for reinvestment in the business to their worker-owners as patronage dividends. Dividends are typically distributed based on management position, hours worked, salary or seniority. Most worker-owned co-ops are incorporated under consumer co-op laws, but some are incorporated as LLCs or other forms. Management structures vary greatly, depending on the desires of the members. Some worker co-ops use a traditional management hierarchy, while others use systems that allow employees to be more directly involved in management decisions. Still others use a team approach that employs elements of both traditional and open-management systems. Similarly, pay structures vary greatly. Some worker co-ops use a traditional, seniority- and skill-based pay scale. At the other end of the spectrum are worker co-ops that pay all workers the same wage. Comprehensive data on worker-owned co-ops are not available. However, extrapolations based on available data suggest there are approximately 300 worker-owned cooperatives nationwide and that they have gross annual revenues of approximately $450 million."
The Evergreen Cooperative Development Fund, currently capitalized by $5 million in grants, expects to raise another $10-$12 million--which in turn will leverage up to an additional $40 million in investment funds. Indeed, this may well be a conservative estimate. The fund invested $750,000 in the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, which was then used to access an additional $5 million in financing, a ratio of almost seven to one. An important aspect of the plan is that each of the Evergreen co-operatives is obligated to pay 10 percent of its pre-tax profits back into the fund to help seed the development of new jobs through additional co-ops. Thus, each business has a commitment to its workers (through living-wage jobs, affordable health benefits and asset accumulation) and to the general community (by creating businesses that can provide stability to neighborhoods).