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

February 22, 2010

#24 Concern for Community

Filed under: Governance,Identity Statement Series — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 10:06 am

Concern for Community is the last of the principles listed in the Identity Statement. It is the expression of the value of solidarity and social responsibility. It creates one of the multiple bottom lines for co-operatives. It is not enough for a co-operative to be a profitable business. If it fails to be a leader for a more just, verdant and peaceful world*, then it has failed as a co-operative and might as well just be a group of greedy stockholders. Too often worker co-operators become insular and prone to naval gazing. Our structure is set up that way. We are predetermined (if we don’t act or create other structures) to focus on internal operations to the exclusion of the outside world. If we don’t engage this principle, we can fall into a pit of arrogance.

Because I worked for a taxi co-operative, I see this particular principle as all encompassing. Concern for community, to me, means: yielding to pedestrians, not tailgating, not speeding through residential neighborhoods, helping people with their bags, helping the elderly and people with disabilities manage steps and slippery walks.

It doesn’t have to mean political action in the partisan arena. Indeed, I think that most co-operatives should generally avoid taking a partisan side until a political party based on the Cooperative Ideal comes into existence. It does mean caring about the community that we serve—not because they are potential customers, but because our co-operatives are part of the community and should be community leaders.

The ICA makes the short definition: “Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.”

Mondragon, parses “Concern for Community” into two separate principles that unpack the term a bit:

Universality

“The Mondragon Cooperative Experience , as an expression of its universality, proclaims its solidarity with all those working for economic justice in the sphere of the “Social Economy”, championing the objectives of Peace, Justice and Development, which are essential features of International Cooperation.”

Social Transformation

“The Mondragon Cooperative Experience manifests its desire for social transformation based on solidarity with that of other peoples, through its activity in the Basque country in a process of expansion which will contribute to economic and social reconstruction and the creation of a Basque society which is more free, just, solidary.”

The term, Concern for Community, is a huge concept. It is sort of a giant stew of issues. It might be about being good neighbors, good drivers, and good stewards of the land. It might mean participating in social development projects such as affordable housing, micro-lending, The Basque see promotion of the Basque language as part of this principle. Providing health insurance in an industry that normally doesn’t provide could be another example. Ensuring a living wage for workers in a consumer co-operative (or encouraging unionization of a co-operative’s work force) might be another expression.

For the worker co-operatives, it should mean excelling in customer service, being good stewards of the land that we control, creating systems to help our membership develop and succeed as human beings. We need to accept our roles as leaders in our community. We should conduct ourselves in a way that the general public (the community) will appreciate. We should set the standard of how a business treats the community as a whole if for no other reason than it is our community. It is where we earn our living, but it is likely also where we live our lives. Even in communities that have priced working people out of the central area (like San Francisco), it is still the co-operatives’ community.

Working for a better community means working for security for our members, their families, and their friends as well as our customers, their families and their friends and all of the other stakeholders that depend on us (our vendors, their families and friends) . It would be interesting to create a stakeholder map that listed everyone connected to our businesses and their connections (sort of like LinkedIn) to see the effect that our businesses have of the community. We are the George Bailey’s of the business world after all. As workers, we touch so many lives and, because we owners and control our destiny, have the opportunity to change people in a way that other businesses simply don’t.

It is really a small world out there spinning around a small sun in a enormous universe. All that we really have are each other. The co-operative community recognizes that and part of our job as co-op practitioners is to make that principle come alive through our co-operatives.

*I know that I am stealing from the NPR statement for some foundation, but it is such a great line!

Next Week: A summary of the Identity Statement including an examination of the writing of Dr. MacPherson as well as the comments on the 10th anniversary by Johnston Birchall.

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