This morning I received an email from a friend about running for the county board. My response was supportive, with a caveat. Talk about how the County can promote cooperatives as a means of rebuilding a sustainable economy.
As the 2012 election cycle begins (in Wisconsin, the spring election for local goverment commences on December 1st when Candidate can start circulating petitions) and the recall election of Governor Walker edges ever closer to reality (over half of the needed signatures have been collected in just two weeks with 45 days left), co-operatives need to get their message out.
While our co-ops tend to be apolitical beasts, we need to recognize that there are times when we must be involved. Now is one of those times. It doesn’t mean endorsing candidates, but it does mean getting worker co-operatives recognized and talked about.
Last year, in Madison, we successfully managed to make worker co-operatives (and co-operatives in general) an issue in the Mayoral campaign. One candidate embraced us, the other ignored us. Very little separated the two (and if it wasn’t for a major controversy over a local hotel, it might not have been close). Today, we have a Mayor who has committed to working with co-operatives and will be hosting a conference on co-operatives for city planners and decision makers next spring.
This coming year, we have even more to talk about. There is the National Cooperative Development Act working its way through the Congress. There are more examples of local communities embracing co-operatives. Not the traditional “hippie” communes of Madison, San Francisco and Portland but places like Cleveland, OH and Richmond, CA. Cities who have suffered the most from globalization have started to rebuild their economies with worker co-operatives. As the article in the Los Angeles Times (see the Richmond link) points out, these aren’t just the usual boutique bakeries (although they do exist), but include plumbers and other professional services.
We need to push the candidates, regardless of their party, to recognize co-operatives as a strong economic model for growth. It is a model that depends on the the mutual self-help and self-responsibility of its membership. Co-operation offers a true alternative to the tired debate between neo-liberalism and Keynesian economics. This year, the International Year of the Co-operative, offers us a great opportunity to talk about the real “road to serfdom” which is the subordination of our communities to globalized capital.
Start bugging the candidates–if they are running for congress, ask them to declare their support for the National Cooperative Development Act. If they are local elections, ask them to support (or even suggest) ideas on how the county or municipality can help co-operatives develop and succeed (such as ensuring that co-operatives are part of the development process for any city project–i.e., can a co-op model solve the problem before the city).
If enough people start asking the co-op questions, the candidates will definitely hear us. If we ask enough, they might even respond. If we keep asking, they might even learn about and start supporting co-operatives after they get elected.