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

October 11, 2010

Creating a Roadmap to 2040

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 11:48 am

In high school, one of my teacher, John Gray, would joke about giving a pop quiz in which the students had 5 minutes to write down everything that they knew. The joke was that given the enormity of that task, most people just freeze. The result is a blank sheet of paper without even the basic equation 1+1=2.

In a sense, that is what I did last week without thinking about it. How can we possibly imagine the worker co-operative world of 2040 just like that? Obviously, we can’t know what shape the environment will be in (although I think we will be closer to 350 ppm if there are more co-ops than if there are less). We probably won’t see a wholesale revision of our global economy without a major event. Of course, that event might be so cataclysmic that we could be focused on basic survival.  Nevertheless, I still think that we need to start thinking long-term and developing some ideas.

One area, for the United States, is diversity. there are approximately 300 worker co-operatives in the United States. About 70 of them are members of the US Federation of Worker Co-operatives. I spent a few minutes categorizing them by sector the other day and here is what I found:

Grocery Coops 6

Design/Print Coops 5

Development, Bakery, Bike, Dayworker coops 4

Importer/Coffee, Media, ISPs 3

Cleaning, Finance, Bookstore, Landscaping/remediaton 2

Furniture, Industrial, Photovoltic, Cafe, Brewery, Tech, Engineering, Interpretors, Taxi, Childcare, home care,  1

One way to think about the future is to think about what industries we currently don’t operate within and how do we get there? What are the basic services that a community needs and can we find a way to develop a worker co-op to meet them? A large of of this has to do with the demographics of our country over the next thirty years.

As I mentioned last week, I will be 76 in 2040. I was born in the last year of the baby-boom. That means that in the next thirty years almost all of the baby boomer will have retired. Those that own business (small mom-and-pop shops) may not have heirs interested in running them. This group may be very interested in converting their business to their workers.

Could we, as a movement, plan to triple the number of existing worker co-ops each decade? That would create a population of 8,100 worker co-ops by 2040. Part of this can be accomplished through succession planning, but it can also be done through replication. The Arizmendi and WAGES models have already more than tripled their original size in just 15 years or less.

I’ll spend the next couple of weeks on this theme of 2040: how do we grow the movement? how do we make it an actual movement? How do we support each other? How do we create a path to 2040 and what do we realistically want to see when we get there?

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