The Workers' Paradise A Discussion of Workers Cooperatives and Building the New Economy

September 1, 2017

Reflection #541–power of individuals in cooperation

Filed under: Movement,Pensimientos,Reflections — Tags: , , , , — John McNamara @ 7:00 am

In returning to this blog, I am also returning to a long-abandoned project. A couple of years ago, I began discussing the inspirational messages from Don José María Arizmendiarrieta, the spiritual founder of Mondragón and, in many ways, the modern worker co-operative movement.

His messages, published as Pensamientos by Cherie Herrera, Cristina Herrera, David Herrera, Teresita Lorenzo, and Virgil Lorenzo. You can read them at the web site celebrating Arizmendiarrieta’s Centennial.

“Cooperativism fundamentally is an organic process of experiences, characterized precisely for the subservience to moral values and for the prevalence of human beings as such over all other factors more or less instrumental in every process and economic activity.” 541

Often these days, the term snowflake gets bandied about quite a bit, often pejoratively (and its history as an insult is rather amazing and frightening). I first started hearing it in 2012 referring to worker co-operatives. The idea of a “snowflake” in the co-op world being that worker co-ops act as if they are these unique organizations in terms of their experience–so unique that the ability to learn from others is limited.

I’ll certainly admit to being guilty of this sentiment earlier in my co-op career. It isn’t just a feeling of superiority, but also one of isolation. As the worker co-op network in the US has developed over the last 10-15 years, that sense of isolation has largely disappeared. The network of co-op development centers, the US Federation, and local networks has created a strong community of cooperators that welcomes people into the movement with warm support.

The danger, one which I see abating, has been to dismiss the individuality of worker co-ops in favor of creating easy to manage development practices. I have often worried that creating institutionalized responses may negate the individuals involved in the process. Each co-op that I have worked with has similarities and differences. They link around the co-op identity, effectively the moral values that Arizmendiarrieta refers to, but each co-op, no matter the isomorphic forces at play and cultural similarities engaged by the industry create the co-op’s own culture based on the individuals who created it and who engage with it.

The humanity of our co-ops makes them unique, frustrating, and loveable. The power of snowflakes united in strategy can be truly sublime–no less in the union of human passion, knowledge, and individuality put to a common purpose. It is the heart of the cooperative’s power.

May 12, 2017

Greg MacLeod’s Legacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — John McNamara @ 9:33 am

This morning the Canadian Association for Studies in Co-operation sent out a notice (below). For those of us in the Master’s program at St. Mary’s we knew his work From Mondragon to America: Experiments in Community Economic Development (1997), which provided a major update to the Whyte’s Making Mondragon and Morrison’s We Build the Road as We Travel. He was one of the first to bridge the Atlantic and discuss how that Basque experiment could be brought to these shores.

In Memoriam: Dr. Greg MacLeod

The Canadian Association for Studies in Co-operation/L’Association Canadienne pour les Études sur la Coopération (CASC/ ACÉC) mourns the May 3, 2017, loss of a great co-operator, friend, priest, academic, and activist, Dr. Greg MacLeod, who leaves a remarkable legacy of innovative institutions and actions based on both Christian social teachings and principled entrepreneurial thinking within and beyond his beloved Cape Breton.

Ordained a Catholic priest in 1961, Greg MacLeod was a founding member of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Xavier College, where he started teaching in 1963. After completing doctoral studies in philosophy at the University of Louvain in Belgium, he went to Oxford University for post-doctoral studies before returning to teach at Xavier College in 1969.

He was among leaders who worked hard to transform Xavier Junior College into the University College of Cape Breton (now Cape Breton University [CBU]) and to promote Mi’kmaq studies there. He retired from the university in 2001, although his remarkable work ethic and commitment to action remained unabated even in his final days. As recently as April 2017 he added TriCouncil funding to the $1 million he had already earned.

When Cape Breton faced an uncertain future with declining fish stocks and the closure of coal mines in the 1960s, Father Greg mobilized resources in the university and in the community and galvanized people to build capacity and ensure economic resilience and sustainable livelihoods for community members.

Founder and former director of the Tompkins Institute for Human Values and Technology at CBU, a leading authority on community economic development, member of the Order of Canada, and recipient of honorary degrees from Dalhousie University, The Atlantic School of Theology, and Saint Francis Xavier University, Greg MacLeod was a long-time friend and supporter of CASC/ACÉC.

He was winner of the 2011 CASC Award of Merit—a surprise for Greg who had just presented his keynote address on how throughout his career he had managed contradictions and divisions concerning social economic reform: “Theory versus Practice”; “Idealism versus Pragmatism”; “Profit making business versus non-profit business,” and so on. He wanted both to change the world and make a difference at the local level; he was an academic who would become an activist for the benefit of the community, putting theory into practice.

The award was presented to Dr. MacLeod at the CASC-ANSER banquet on June 2, 2011, by his good friend Ian MacPherson who concluded, “You cannot separate Greg from Cape Breton. He is as much a person of place as anyone I know. His commitment to his community and to the island where it is found enfolds his life’s work.” When Cape Breton faced “a crisis of economics,” it was also “a crisis of ethics and values” for this “chief modernizer of the theories of economic and social development associated with the Antigonish Movement.”

In support of his community work, Dr. MacLeod founded BCA Community Venture Finance Group, a CED investment fund that raised over $2 million in community investment, and New Dawn Enterprises, Canada’s oldest community economic development corporation and founding member of the Canadian CED Network. In 1983, he founded New Deal in Sydney Mines, Greg’s hometown where some of his family still lives, “to come up with new approaches,” as he put it, “suited to community survival in the future by designing new ways of doing business.” New Deal is involved with many projects including the development of several housing co-ops.

Committed to local ownership and control, he was a champion of place-based development.

Greg’s publications include From Mondragon to America: Experiments in Community Economic Development (1998) about the worker-owned industrial co-operative based in Spain, and New Age Business: Community Corporations that Work (1986). Influential in Mexico and around the world, his work has been translated into Spanish, Japanese, and Korean.
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Today, the legacy of Dr. Greg MacLeod is clear not only in the institutions he founded but in the CBU’s Master of Business Administration program based on his research on community economic development as well as in the ongoing commitment of CBU faculty engaged in “community-oriented research” with the Tomkins Institute, a laboratory and incubator for alternative models of the social economy.

Greg MacLeod, his energy, ethic, and vision, will be sorely missed.

February 13, 2017

Our Worker Co-ops Have a Unique Role to Play

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 11:14 am

We are living in very interesting times.

It can be difficult to figure out a coherent strategy with which to negotiate the next 1,237 days (or more). We almost need an individualized strategic plan to manage all of the areas of resistance to understand when it is vital to be on the streets or in the workplace or with friends and family.

Worker Co-operatives have a key role to play during this era, but it will only be meaningful if they embrace their identity as worker-owned and operated enterprises. False co-ops, those who use the co-op label more for marketing while ignoring the principles, really aren’t needed. They do damage to the rest of us. I am talking about employer co-ops masquerading as worker co-ops or solidarity co-ops. Some of these, like cab “co-ops” that have only 3–4 owners and hundreds of workers. They use the co-op model to escape double-taxation and should really be Limited Liability Corporations. They don’t engage in the principles or values of co-operation.

The rest, the worker co-ops who strive every day to live their principles and values, to engrain the co-op ethics into the operations, to demonstrate the resiliency and power of worker control need to step up and do more. This is not the time to be insular and withdraw behind the doors of your meeting room. The nation needs to learn about worker co-ops, and more importantly, worker co-ops need to expand and build the movement.

Mondragon provides lessons for how to develop and succeed in a hostile political climate. I want to talk about two, that I see as key to navigating the new normal of the political landscape in the U.S.

The first lesson: control our capital and keep it inside the movement. Worker co-ops need to create full service banks owned by worker co-ops to support and develop worker co-ops. While credit unions have a role, they can be hampered by antagonistic legislation that favors banks. Let’s use that legislation to support co-ops.

The second lesson of Mondragon: expand the movement by investing in new co-ops and incubating them if necessary. Mondragon recognized early on that more worker co-ops would make their lives easier. With enough worker co-ops, the supply lines and financial support could keep the money in the co-operative sector and economies of scale could be reached in ways that kept the democracy alive in the workplace. When a co-op needs something that it doesn’t produce, and can’t find an affordable source aligned with its mission, it should create a new co-op to meet its need. This engages the intellectual capital and capacity of its membership. Larger co-ops may have people working for them because it is a co-op, not because they want to drive a taxi, provide home care, or engage in bike delivery. These members provide a great expansion opportunity for the co-op and the movement.

This might be a state by state, city by city effort with each community finding its own path. Some cities, such as New York, Cleveland, and Madison, are able to use taxpayer dollars to support and build a co-operative solution to meet city needs. Others cannot and need to find other methods. In either case, it is important for existing co-ops to step up and help create strong co-operative economic ecosystems.

Creating nodes of economic democratic organizations throughout the U.S. over the next four years might not be the showiest or strongest form of resistance, but it will build stronger communities that will allow more people to engage in other forms of resistance since they will have free themselves of wage slavery. It is a passive revolution of a sort, although it can easily succumb to the hegemony of the dominant capital model if the values and principles fall to the wayside of our work.

If we could quadruple the worker co-ops in terms of number and employees over the next four years and develop them into real economic democracies through strong governance strategies that overcome gatekeepers and philanthropic saviors, we would create not just an answer to Trumpism, but also to neoliberalism.

As we train our members to engage within our co-ops, we are also training them to engage within their communities. This will create leadership on neighborhood councils, city committees, county committees and even State boards and commissions. We can create a new form of community leadership to fill the current vacuum that only sees a dichotomy between the conservative and liberal factions of Wall Street. Some co-ops, of course, are already doing this and their efforts have paid off substantially (see New York City and Madison), but we need to make this a bigger and broader movement that reaches beyond traditional liberal strongholds and into cities throughout the country. By focusing on the values of co-operation and putting the practice of solidarity and cooperation among cooperatives into practice, we can build an incredible future that delivers on the American Dream.

February 9, 2017

CICOPA’s Declaration on migrants and refugees

Since my last post on January 23, I had been wondering how to address some of the actions that have happened since in terms of the worker cooperative identity. Fortunately for me, my friends at the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation posted the following (adopted April, 2016) The International of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (CICOPA) put forth the following Declaration on Migrants and Refugees:

According to the United Nations, the number of international migrants increased by 41% over the last 15 years, from 173 million in 2000 to 244 million in 2015;1 the UN also point out that the main reasons for migrating include conflict, poverty, inequality and lack of decent jobs, and that the distinction between countries of origin, transit and destination is becoming increasingly obsolete.2

According to the UNHCR, refugees reached an estimated 15.1 million people in mid-2015, up from 10.5 million in 2012, 3 namely an increase of 40% in only 3 years, the vast majority being hosted by low or middle income countries.4

This massive increase in the flow of migrants and refugees is bound to increase over the next few years, both because the present reasons for such an increase have not been solved and because new phenomena are beginning to impact on migration, such as climate change.

Europe in particular is facing the gravest migration and humanitarian crisis since World War II, bringing into light its own paradoxes and inabilities to apply its constituent values such as solidarity, respect for human dignity and liberty.

It should be pointed out that, when they are able to survive during their exodus, migrants often face difficulties in accessing employment opportunities and basic social and health services. Furthermore, migrants are among the most exposed to working in low-paid precarious jobs and potentially exploitive conditions in the informal economy.

CICOPA is fully aware of the complex reality which migrants are facings around the world and that it is, at times, a difficult or perilous path.

As an organization active globally, CICOPA strives to change this paradigm through the development and growth of industrial and service cooperatives, in compliance with the first cooperative principle according to which “cooperatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination”.

Industrial and service cooperatives contribute to a decent and dignified life and to the social and economic integration of refugees and migrants in various parts of the world. 5 They are also used as a tool by migrants and refugees themselves for developing entrepreneurship initiatives together with other members from the community, thus increasing autonomy, solidarity and human development while at the same time contributing to a sustainable economy both globally and locally.

Industrial and service cooperatives are the natural allies of international organizations, regional organizations and national governments in carrying out inclusive policies that provide basic services and socioeconomic inclusion for migrants and refugees. Cooperative entrepreneurship is a valuable tool to maximize the developmental benefits represented by migrants and refugees for welcoming countries, in terms of human resources, competences and skills.

Through this Declaration, CICOPA wants to express its commitment to fight for an equal access to services and work opportunities provided by cooperatives, allowing for a decent life and increased opportunities for the entrepreneurial projects to be initiated by workers and producers in the migrant and refugee communities around the world.

Cooperatives are based on the principle of equality, whereby all human beings are equal in rights and remain at the heart of all policy concerns. This is why cooperatives in industry and services commit themselves to fight against discrimination, stigmatization and exclusion which refugees and migrants are facing all around the globe.

 

1 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2016) International Migration Report 2015; New York: United Nations, p. 5

2 Ibid.

3 UNHCR (2015) Mid-Year Trends 2015 ; Geneva : UNHCR

4 Ibid., p. 7 2 CICOPA – C/O European House of Cooperatives – avenue Milcamps 105 – BE-1030 BRUSSELS TEL. (+32/2) 543 10 33 – WWW.CICOPA.COOP– CICOPA@CICOPA.COOP 5 For example, Si, Se Puede! (Yes, it is possible!) Women’s Cooperative was founded in

5 For example, Si, Se Puede! (Yes, it is possible!) Women’s Cooperative was founded in New York in 2006, with the mission to bring together immigrant women to create a women-run, women-owned, eco-friendly housecleaning business. The cooperative Nor Bum, established in 2011 in La Plata, Argentina, groups 7 construction workers coming from Bolivia. Social cooperative Camelot established in 1997 in Ferrara, Italy, by

January 27, 2017

Stand in solidarity with HOTEL BAUEN workers

Filed under: Movement,Worker Rights — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 4:19 pm
Appeal for international solidarity with the law of expropriation of the Hotel BAUEN voted by the Argentine Congress on November 30th, 2016 and vetoed by President Mauricio Macri

After almost 14 years of struggle, the Argentine Senate passed a bill for the expropriation of the Hotel BAUEN in favor of the worker cooperative on November 30th, 2016. The existence of such law has consolidated workers’ self-management and has brought historical justice to this cause, given that former owners of the hotel built it using public credit facilitated by the genocidal de facto military government (1976-1983); this credit was never repaid. Beyond historical rectification, the expropriation bill recognized the Hotel BAUEN’s social purposes, including myriad solidarity-based initiatives, and cultural activities that regularly take place in this worker-managed hotel, making the BAUEN an emblem of workers’ self-management in Argentina and in the world. But Argentine President Mauricio Macri has subsequently vetoed the expropriation bill based on fallacious arguments that deny the social purposes of the cooperative, that reject the recovery of the public funds, and that will leave 130 workers unemployed and unable to provide for their families. We urge the members of the Argentine Chamber of Deputies and the Argentine Senate to reject the presidential veto and to confirm the law that expropriates the Hotel BAUEN on behalf of its workers in order to repair this injustice, avoid the eviction of workers from the hotel, and strengthen our democracy.

Hotel BAUEN constitutes one of the most emblematic worker-recuperated businesses in Argentina. Closed by its owners as part of a fraudulent scheme that left its workers out on the street by the end of the 2001, the 20-story building located in downtown Buenos Aires was asset stripped and abandoned by its owners for more than a year before a group of former workers occupied the space on March 21st, 2003. Thus began a process of 13 years of workers’ self-management that has created 130 jobs and witnessed the Hotel BAUEN’s workers make major investments in repairing and renovating the hotel’s infrastructure, all with very little external financing. Hotel BAUEN, which was once a symbol of corrupt power in Argentina, has now, under workers’ self-management, become a meeting place for social movements, unions, and workers’ organizations. Over the past decade, the hotel has hosted hundreds of organizing conferences and debates, as well as academic and cultural events.

Hotel BAUEN is not just an emblem of self-management. Its origins also constitute a symbol for the collective memory of the collusion and corruption between economic power and the genocidal dictatorship that ruled and bloodied Argentina between 1976 and 1983. Hotel BAUEN was originally constructed in preparation for the World Cup of soccer hosted in Argentina in 1978 and financed with loans from the national bank (BANADE) that were never repaid. Thus there still exists an outstanding public debt. The expropriation bill permits the Argentine State to regain the ownership of the building and subsequently have it transferred to the workers’ cooperative, which has, after all, recuperated it for the working class and Argentine society. The subsequent presidential veto, however, has impeded this historical reparation promised by the expropriation of the Hotel BAUEN, and has, instead, consecrated the impunity of the accomplices of the military dictatorship and punished the workers who have devoted their effort, their work, and their resources to the recuperation of this hotel.

The signatures in the petition represent those who stand in solidarity with the workers of Hotel BAUEN. They represent a call for the Members of Congress of the Argentine Republic to confirm the expropriation bill they passed, allowing the continuation of workers’ self-management, which is exemplary to the world.

To send an email of support to the Hotel BAUEN workers: solidaritybauencooperative@gmail.com

January 23, 2017

The “We” Generation

Here we are.

The next two years will seem to bring to life the ancient curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

The need for mutual self-help and self-reliance along with solidarity will be at the forefront for many of our cooperatives and we, whether as members, educators, or developers, must rise to meet the challenges presented.

The pendulum of human history has shifted once more from the individualistic to the communal. This can, of course, be a good thing. People working together for the common good has helped move our civilizations from the dictates of a single ruler to more democratic and inclusive governments (even if it doesn’t always feel that progress continues).

I don’t subscribe to the cohort model of generations. I don’t think that being born between 1946-1964 creates a certain type of world view any more that being born in the 90’s makes one a certain way. I follow instead an idea put forward by advertising guru Roy Williams (working off others). This pendulum concepts suggests that humanity cycles through a “me” and a “we” period with the switch around happening about every 40 years. Each period has an upswing and a down-swing and, there are always outliers looking forward to the equilibrium (when the down-swing of one becomes the upswing of another)

Today, we are about the same spot as 1936, 1856, and 1776. Those time periods all involved a period in which people coalesced around a common “we” (1842-1882, 1922-1962, and 1752-1792 respectively). What does this mean to the development of worker cooperatives and the labor movement at a whole. The common “We” works in sometimes contradictory ways. The groups of the 1930’s brought about strong unionism among the working class even as others used perceived racial purity as the defining virtue. Likewise, the power of “we” fueled both the democratically inclined Revolutionary War and the rise of the Abolition Movement but the genocidal war against First Nations peoples also dominated the nation.

According to Williams, the moment of the switch between the Me Generation and the We Generation occurred around 2002-ish and the Year of Hope with the election of Barack Obama mirroring the Me Generation’s Summer of Love. It is worth reading the book (it isn’t a heavy scholarly read at all) to get the sense of it.

The question for us, as worker cooperators, is how do we enter this rather polarized world of “we”. In some respects, it provides some advantages as people seem more likely to see solidarity and common purpose as positive traits. The values and principles of cooperation should resonate and help the Decade of the Co-op shine. However, there is also danger in the neo-tribalism of the “we” that separates people by false categories (race, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation).  Further, cooperatives (and especially worker cooperatives) have a tendency to overly focus on internal issues and ignore the larger movement. Even with the relative growth and rise of the US Federation, co-ops don’t always stay engaged in their community and the larger co-op movement.

As much as I respect the work of the Federation and its offshoot, DAWI, we can’t simply subcontract the sixth and seventh principles of cooperation to apex organizations. They have important roles to play at the national and international level providing information, support, and connectivity, but can’t really provide a one-size fits all game plan for every community. We are special snowflakes despite our commonalities.

It will be important for those organizations to engage at the national level, but co-ops (especially worker co-ops) cannot engage in isolationism. They need to create local partnerships with the local labor organizations (even if it is only an expression of solidarity and event invitation), local political leaders, and other cooperatives. They need to also encourage the regional and national coop groups to stand with labor and identify worker cooperatives as something more than simply an economic model akin to ESOPs.

Now is the time for us to embrace our movement and make it move (as Jim Hightower might say). We need to tell our collective stories and educate people about real worker ownership (that involves more than owning shares) and how through worker ownership and worker control, the American Dream can be resurrected and expanded to include all of us.

January 2, 2017

A New Year with Feathers

Filed under: Year of the Co-op — Tags: , , , , , , — John McNamara @ 3:04 pm

The coming year brings, as always, hope. Given the rhetoric of the last year, that might seem a rather odd statement, but even if you feel that the abundance of hope has diminished, it still exists.

Indeed, in some of the darkest hours, hope has moved people through cooperation to create great things. On the craggy shores of Newfoundland in a place where in the 1920’s “the Great Depression” simply meant a normal life. Father Jimmy Tompkins and Moses Coady worked with the people to create economic opportunity and power. In a small industrial basque town under the iron heel of the fascist Falange Party and its Caudillo, Franco, a Jesuit priest, José María Arizmendiarietta, spared execution founded a small school for the children of workers which would eventually give rise to the much-lauded Mondragon Cooperative Corporation. In 1843, when Capitalism was truly unfettered with children laboring 12 hour days and any resistance met with imprisonment or forced relocation to Australia, workers and socialist came together in a small textile mill town to form the first modern-era cooperative store, Rochdale Society of Pioneers, known today simply as The Co-operative.


Hope is the Thing with Feathers

by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.


Hope, of course, does little without action. As we venture into the future, we must have hope, but also resilience and the willingness to act.

Rochdale, Antigonish, and Mondragon came into being through the hard work of their creators and members. They did it often in spite of the lack of political power held the participants.

So, too, we can take our worker co-op movement in the US and Canada and everywhere to new levels. Keeping our hopes alive through our individual efforts to support and build co-operatives along with raising the awareness of co-operatives must be our mission for the coming years. We need to truly make this the Cooperative Decade.

I am planning on returning to a weekly post on this site (along with urging you as a co-operative activist to join in posting your thoughts–just sign up and send me an email that you want to be a contributor). I also plan on writing each of my elected officials from my council person in Olympia to the President pertaining to the role of co-ops in his/her district, why these models are important, and how they can further support their constituents to engage in mutual self-help. I will post the letters here (and I will post yours if you send them to me with permission to post).

It is a bit fitting that the Chinese New Year (beginning with the New Moon on January 28th) is the Year of the Rooster. While there are many interpretations, let’s simply use the phrase, “the early bird gets the worm”–hard work and attention to principles will bring reward. This bird, a thing with feathers, is the symbol of the French Revolution whose motto remains “liberty, equality, fraternity” (the latter of which I interpret as the gender neutral “solidarity”. The values of the cooperative economic movement match the political values of people who seek freedom. They match the values of the Declaration of Independence.

Our movement has never depended on elected or appointed politicians–our hope lies within us. Let’s make 2017 the new Year of the Co-operative.

August 26, 2016

Silver Tsunami or Rogue Wave?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John McNamara @ 10:47 am

Darren Dahl recently published an op-ed in Forbes about the prospect of converting small business to worekr co-ops as the owners seek retirement. I have seen similar articles, some publiches by the Democracy at Work Institute as part of their research on the movement. I also use to see this as a potential tsunami of worker co-op development that would catapult the worker co-op movement by adding hundreds if not thousands of worker co-ops into the economy. I have since changed my mind, after a couple years of doing development work. The following are my comments posted previously on LinkedIn:

The issue here, for me, is that people are making a lot of assumptions about this moment (and I used to do so as well). First, there are a reported 10,000 people retiring every day and only a small, small fraction of them are the single owners of businesses. Small business owners (and I have worked with a lot of them), tend to not have the 65 and I’m out mindset. Their business is part of their identity so the stage of selling is much later than normal retirement. That is one difference from the tsunami. Here are some other things that I don’t think that grand poobahs of the co-op movement haven’t truly considered:

  1. The business, especially those in depopulating rural communities, may only be surviving based on the cheap labor of the owner. If the owner is working 40-80 hours a week to keep the store open, the workers might not be able to afford covering those hours with market-level (or even) minimum wages (let alone if the owners did their own bookkeeping or had other specialized skills that would require a much higher wage).
  2. The workers might not actually want to own the converted business. The job might be a Plan B job (or even Plan C or D in this economy). Adding the duties of ownership to a low-wage crappy job (in the eye of the beholder of course), doesn’t really create a conversion strategy in my opinion.
  3. The owner might really have an overinflated view of the value of their business reflecting in an outlandish sale price. In this case, I think that the ethical thing would be for the workers (those who want to become owners) would be to start a competing venture from scratch.

I can think of real-life examples for all three of the scenarios that I put forward. I’m not saying that conversions shouldn’t be explored–of course they should! They should especially be explored if the business has an iconic or social status within the community; however, just because there is a massive aging of the working population at this moment, and an expected transfer of capital as the aging die, doesn’t mean that the opportunity for conversion is necessarily growing with it. I’m basically just saying that conversions are going to happen, but it isn’t going to be a gold rush.

January 7, 2016

Values Go Before the Fall

Filed under: Uncategorized — John McNamara @ 12:19 pm

A shudder may have run through the taxicab industry today at Yellow Cab of San Francisco in the SF Examiner announced plans to file for bankruptcy.

The news was especially scary since General Motors just invested heavily in Lyft while Ford is in talks with Google (a major shareholder of Uber).

The case of Yellow Cab, however, it different. It points to a rather large failing that I have seen in many of the taxi cab co-ops that have popped up in the last decade. These co-ops, while billed as “worker co-ops” act more like producer co-ops. The drivers remain independent contractors and the co-op is more of a shared-services model. In the case of Yellow Cab, I understand that joining is difficult and long heard rumblings that non-member drivers get treated much differently than member drivers. While those are the rumors or thoughts from the industry (take it for what its worth), it is clear to me that many of the cab co-ops miss their best opportunity to compete with Uber and Lyft by failing to promote their co-operative identity.

In the case of SF Yellow Cab, they identify as a co-operative. That is great, but they don’t explain what this means to the passenger. As the story notes, there seem to be, in addition to the competition, a serious problem with accidents at Yellow. Shouldn’t a worker coop be at the top of the safety chart? I would think so.

Shouldn’t a worker coop be at the top of the safety chart? I would think so.

I also think that there marketing should be helping consumers understand the value of doing business with a co-op. How workers in a worker-owned co-op enjoy better working conditions and can participate in the decision-making process. This should mean that the needs of the customer can be relayed back into the organization.

These ideas, of course, are part of the Co-operative Identity. Caring for Others, Social Responsibility and Concern for the Environment. Worker Co-ops need to help consumers see and feel the competitive advantage.

Another general value that all of the taxi coops seem to miss in their battle with Uber and Lyft is solidarity. It seems as though every taxi co-op has their own app and on-line ordering service now, but what they miss is that people don’t want to have 20 different taxi apps on their phone. There are enough taxi coops out there to have a national app that would cover the Bay Area, Philly, Denver, Portland, Nashville, DC-Metro, and Madison, yet as far as I can tell, none of these co-ops are talking to each other.

Although the greater threat to worker-owned taxi cab fleets may be driverless cars, to survive long enough to manage that transition, they need to start working together nationally and creating a concept of domestic fair trade that puts the cooperative identity front and center. For some of these co-ops, it might require that they embrace the co-opeative identity beyond putting the word “co-op” on the side of the cab.

October 5, 2015

The People’s Ride: A Co-op Response to Uber

Filed under: Management,Movement,Worker Rights — Tags: , , , , — John McNamara @ 11:23 am

I haven’t been a fan of the “sharing economy” primairlity because it really isn’t about sharing, it is about extraction. Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, TaskRabbit aren’t sharing anything, they are providing a technological interface for people to do menial jobs and extracting a huge percentage for the service.

In the case of cab drivers, Uber and Lyft disrupt a market that is closed and generally united against drivers and the passengers. The modern day taxi market is designed to maximize wealth for the owner of the company without regard for the people who generate the wealth or the public who need transportation. Uber and Lyft disrupt this by allowing basically anyone to be a cab driver and open up the market to make getting a ride as easy as it seems on tv (reality check: on TV the cab shows up instantly, but in reality it takes 15-30 minutes to hail a cab in New York City and up to 45 minutes during rush hour).

The thing is, Uber and Lyft aren’t changing the model. They have just found a way to beat the monopoly owners in most communities. They offer a high tech solution to ordering cabs, but this has already been offered in a number of cities (San Francisco and Madison are two that come to the top of my head). Drivers and consumers are still preyed upon and have their wealth extracted. One of the reasons that attempts by exisitng taxicab owners to defeat Uber’s growth have failed is that  most taxicab companies have already sacrficied any consumer or driver loyalty to their personal profit. The unknown devil of Uber is, at worst, going to be the same as the known devil of ABC Cab, but people might be able to get a cab quicker.

In general, Uber succeeds because it offers immediacy and convenience in an industry that has refused to modernize or focus on customer service and loyalty (in fact, most cab companies have moved away from hiring drivers as employees and made the driver the customer through charging them for the priviledge of driving which has removed the owner of the company from the people who use the company’s services–it was good for consistent profits, but horrible for customer service and loyalty from drivers and consumers).

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a new model is underway. Since Uber has spent millions of dollars to re-write laws to exempt their model from existing taxi ordinances, they created a new market for drivers through a “Transportation Network Company”. This new model is basically the old cab owner model created by cab owners to distance themsleves from any responsiblity to their drivers or customers; however, now that it also distances the owners of the TNC form local laws, it offers the ability for drivers to form new driver-owned and customer-focused cooperatives.

Matthew Bair is leading the effort. They are working for a better work environment for the drivers. In there GoFund Me Campaign he writes:

“I am a substitute teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I believe in creating a new world for tomorrow’s youth.  Change needs to happen everywhere.  My whole higher education involved figuring out what that would look like.  People’s Ride is about creating a new economy and a better future.  It is about creating a different kind of job.  One where people are able to use both their brain and muscle together and be wholly human.  
People’s Ride is a worker co-op where those who drive also own and control the business.  If a work week is 5 days, a driver picks up people and collects fares 4 days while on the 5th sit in meetings to make decisions about the company.      
The co-op community here in Grand Rapids is growing.  Housing, live/ work co-ops, land, food, beer, bicycling, honey bee, ride sharing co-ops are working together in solidarity to bring about an alternative.     
People’s Ride has been up and running.  We have been following the Cooperative Development Institute’s guide to starting cooperatives.  As in the spirit of the cooperative movement, we collaborate and learn from other ride sharing cooperatives from around the nation.  We have the potential to grow very fast.  Right now we are focusing on putting in place a solid infrastructure.
We are raising money to pay for a car and to have a grand opening.  Any amount makes a difference!  Big or small, $10, $50, $100, $500, you name it.  A contribution of $50 makes you a consumer member and gives you 10% off, $100 gives you 10 rides for half off, $200 gives you 20 rides, $500 gives you 50 rides.   Help build the co-op community in Grand Rapids.  
People who do crowdfunding say that their success is owed to how many people are reached.  So please, after you make a contribution, send this to all the friends you can think of.  “

TNC’s may allow cab co-ops to thrive where previously they were shut out by shenanigans of the owners limiting the number of cabs in a community through medallions or out-right leglislation. TNC’s break open the oligopolies that exist in most cities. While I still dislike Uber and Lyft (and think that they need more regulation to protect workers and consumers), I can see the value of the TNC model in a modern technological age. I am hoping that the Grand Rapids project works and spreads to other cities. Ideally, with a collaboration between drivers in cooprativ TNC and cooperativ tech companies, a national or even international model of a collectivized TNC could take hold and propser benefitting drivers and customers alike.

 

 

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