Rose Aguilar hosted an interview show on worker cooperatives on KALW in advance of the 2010 conference.The guests are Dan Thomases, worker/owner of Box Dog Bikes and board member of Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives, John Kusakabe, worker/owner of Arizmendi Bakery,Hilary Abell, executive director of Women's Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES).
The Association of Cooperative Educators is a membership organization that brings together educators, researchers, cooperative members, and cooperative developers from across cooperative sectors and national borders to enhance cooperative development, strengthen cooperatives, promote professionalism and improve public understanding.Presentations from their 2009 ACE Institute are available online including:
Is Policy Helping or Hindering?
Tom Webb of St. Mary’s University Master in Management -- Co-operatives and Credit Unions says there is an “enormous suspension of common sense” in the economy today. He prescribes several policy changes to free cooperatives to help create change: appreciation of the model by governments; equitable, not equal treatment of businesses; balanced education about business models, and the removal of barriers to co-op development. Community developer Margaret Lund of Minneapolis recommends building a broad recognition of the fundamental public purpose of cooperatives, and encouraging governments to recognize retained earnings and further co-op/community development through tax advantages. Webb and Lund are introduced by Rizick Rosario Peña of the ACE board of directors and Cooperativa de Seguros Múltiples de Puerto Rico.Listen to the audio recording / see Tom Webb's presentation
Melissa Hoover, executive director, United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and agricultural economist Bruce Reynolds of USDA discuss their work with worker cooperatives. Hoover introduces a technical assistance program for a new generation of worker cooperatives. Reynolds explains USDA programs related to worker ownership, the sustainability of co-ops and the challenge of demutualization. James Wadsworth of USDA Rural Development's Cooperative Programs and ACE board secretary introduces the session.Listen to the audio recording / see Bruce Reynolds' presentation / see Melissa Hoover's presentation
Aboriginal / First Nations Cooperative Growth
Louise Champagne, president of Neechi Foods Co-op Ltd. of Manitoba, Canada, describes her cooperative, its mandate, collaborations, recent expansion, and successes to assist inner city Winnipeg. Manley Begay, Jr., faculty chair of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy in Arizona, discusses the cultural differences among First Nations, and suggests that Aboriginal and First Nations people look at cooperatives as an option for their enterprises. CHS Foundation President William J. Nelson introduces the session.Listen to the audio recording / see Manley Begay's presentation / see Louise Champagne's presentation
Developing Cooperative Leaders at Universities
Denyse Guy (Ontario Co-operative Association), Christina Clamp (Southern New Hampshire University) and Tom Webb (St. Mary’s University) describe their challenges and wishes for their respective new university programs on co-operatives and credit unions.
We've realized that blazing a trail requires openness to experimentation, a willingness to learn from mistakes, and a fascination with possibilities. These are the qualities that made it possible for us to get through 2009, the year we faced our toughest challenge yet.
At the beginning of 2009 our first and only cooperative, ReBuilders Source, was threatened with having to close its doors because of insufficient sales. Its original members could no longer afford to continue to pay themselves. The worker co-op we had worked so hard on for so many years was in critical condition, and lying with it was our dream for a South Bronx incubator for worker-owned green businesses. In response, the staff at Green Worker Cooperatives met the challenge head on. We put on boots and coveralls and helped restructure operations, dug up financial support; and trained a new team of Co-op Academy graduates to further transform ReBuilders Source’s operations. We partnered with Arbor Education & Training to expand staffing at ReBuilders Source while providing work opportunities for members of our community who’d been formerly incarcerated.
What started out the year for us as a life threatening challenge motivated us to do some serious reflection on what was missing in our work. It became the catalyst for a series of transitions that have since unveiled a treasure of opportunity.
Jessica Gordon Nembhard has written extensively on "community- and asset-based economic development and democratic community economics, cooperative economics and worker ownership, alternative urban economic and educational development strategies, racial wealth inequality and wealth accumulation in communities of color, and popular economic literacy." Here is a sampling of her works available online.
The organizers of the 2008 National Worker Cooperative Conference deftly delegated note-taking responsibilities to volunteers and ended up with a treasure trove of documentation. If you want to refresh your memory of where we left off, or are eager to get a jump start on the 2010 conference so you can ask informed questions, the archive of conference workshop notes from New Orleans (also listed below) is full of information.
Be sure to also read up on the work done since then in the USFWC's April_2009, July 2009, and November 2009 newsletters. The July 2009 edition has a report from the Madison members' meeting which outlines priorities for the near future.
40 people gathered together on the 12th floor in a mid-Manhattan building to see how much interest and energy there was for starting a worker cooperative network in the Big Apple. They came on that Dec. 18 morning representing functioning worker co-ops, groups in the process of starting worker co-ops, non-profit incubators of worker co-ops, and support organizations. They came from all over New York City and Long Island. And most represented low-income, immigrant-driven projects.
The Center for Family Life, Inc., a United Neighborhood House community center in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn used their annual city-wide symposium to call this cooperative forum. Participants produced more than enough interest and energy to launch the beginnings of a "NYC-Co-operative Network" that held its first follow-up meeting on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010 in the offices of the Urban Justice Center in lower Manhattan.
The Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy has been held roughly every two years since 2002. It started during the organizing drive for a national federation in the early 2000s and has become one of the primary assemblies of worker cooperative members, supporters, and new recruits to the movement. Here are some reports from the conference's board, staff and attendees from over the years.
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)