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

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.

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.



September 22, 2015

Co-operation Isn’t For Everyone. . . (initially)


The radicalism of the cooperative proposal, in face of development, appealing to the economic, personal, communal and integral concourse of its believers, faces the alternative of success or complete failure. Cooperativism requires people with a strong spirit, or at least people who are willing to risk it all. Therefore, it is not a formula that fits everyone, but the biggest mistake that we could make would be to place our demands at the level of the weakest, since in such a case it would be impossible to reach higher levels.

From Reflections, the words of Don José María Arizmendiarrieta


Pope Francis has just wrapped up a papal visit to the island nation of Cuba. This country, long held under the sway of US foreign policy, has begun to reexamine its economic relationship with the world and with itself. For decades, it has followed the state-planned economic method but as the relations with the US thaw, and the demand of the contemporary generation for greater autonomy increases, the Cuban government looks to the co-operative economic model as a way to keep Cuba from returning to the playground of the US.

I think that this quote from Mondragon’s founder is quite fitting in that it bounces off of yesterday’s critique of radicalism by suggesting that the cooperative model offers a form of radicalism in that it forces people to reach within themselves and take responsibility for their actions and the actions of their organization. Co-operatives are not designed for followers, but for individuals who seek to express their humanity and identity while also engaging with others to create a synergy of the human experience that can only be obtained through interaction with similarly self-aware and self-responsible individuals.

We don’t often think of co-operation as an individual act (and it really isn’t of course), but it does require people who can engage it in a co-leadership manner. It takes personal strength to be able to co-operate and not everyone is up to the task as it will mean conflict. Hopefully, the co-operative has structures to create an environment in which conflict resembles more of a Hegelian dialectic than a kindergarten playground.

This shouldn’t suggest that co-operatives are exclusive to the already self-aware. Arizmendiarrieta speaks at length at the power of co-operation to empower people to develop their humanity and to create civilization based on the values that make us human. I think that the mistake that he refers to is to place people without these skills and qualities into positions of power and expect success.

September 8, 2014

Teamwork vs. Collaboration

Filed under: Governance,Management — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 1:17 pm

One of my weekly “must-reads” includes the Monday Morning Memo from the “Wizard of Ads” marketing guru Roy H. Williams. His weekly thoughts offer insight into the world of advertising and the human condition. Often illuminating, the Wizard delves into the more qualitative world of the psyche (and relationship marketing) rather than the data-driven quantitative marketing formats that tend to dominate mass-marketers and require a greater working knowledge of excel than I can to know. Both methods offer a version of “truth” for those seeking to communicate their message and meet their sales goals.

Today, the Wizard offered up a challenge to the concept of teamwork declaring it, with a certain level of understatement, “highly overrated.” This concept focuses on the nature of the creative person, the artist, as the driver of business, communication, and human development. Williams argues that “every bureaucracy begins as a well intentioned committee.” In reading today, I thought about how this concept engages in the cooperative model. Cooperate literally means “work together” and quite often that means collective action, collective decision making, and, yes, committees and teams.

At heart of this discussion lies the tension between individual action and community needs. Williams argues that is the allure of tribalism, but I see it more as a necessity of community survival. Subscribing to the “Great Man” theory of community that Williams appears to do ignores a lot of reality. Great Men rarely become “great” without a lot of help. Even the individuals that he mentions as “tribal leaders” only managed to attain those roles through the collective action of a larger community–often it is because people are acting on their own interests that have little to do with the goals of the “great man”.

So perhaps the real question isn’t about teamwork vs. individual action, but about the role of leadership in organizations. In the cooperative model, we value self-help and self-responsibility but temper those individualistic ideals with the values of solidarity, equity, equality, and democracy. This enhances the community (or the tribe) while also helping to create leadership responsible to the stakeholders (both the members of the cooperative and the larger community). This allows the expression of individual creativity (and allows people to be creative by removing barriers that the title “leadership” imposes) yet may also act as a brake on the more destructive aspects of personality cults.

Yes, poorly managed committees and teams can be incredibly oppressive to the individual and cooperative spirit along with being a massive waste of time and money. However, committees and teams focused and trained in creative expression and communication can create a synergy of those same individual creative forces that can truly create sums bigger than the whole. It is a temptation to seek the isolation of the ego that softly coos to us “how can I soar like an eagle when I am weighed down by turkeys”, but ideas only go into the ether without committed people ready to implement them. To make a vision become more than a dream requires buy-in and support and that either means finding enough people who think exactly the same way or forming a consensus.

The role of a leader in a cooperative should be to help people dream and express their vision while creating a culture of a learning organization so that the competing visions work together instead of against one another. “Leaders” don’t create mass movements. Mass movements create leaders and those leaders change depending on the needs of the movement.

August 11, 2014

Can Worker Coops Engage True Rehabilitation?

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 2:18 pm

Last May, I had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Association for Study in Cooperatives. It was held at Brock University as part of the annual Congress of Social Studies and Humanities Research Council. There were, as usual, a number of exciting and fantastic papers matched only by the lively and open discussions.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating presentations was work by Isobel Findlay from the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan. I always enjoy her presentations as her work almost always examines how cooperatives can benefit and re-power the most marginalized populations in Western economics and culture. This presentation was no different as it considered the potential for worker cooperatives within the prison industry. This model would membership institutionalized women and provide them with the means to assist in the support of their families and maintaining a level of dignity during incarceration. It would also provide knowledge, skills and abilities that would be useful upon release.

People in the United States often see Canada as a euro-centric country that is “nice” and “pleasant’. Yet, far too often, it takes after the United States and its growing prison population is no exception. Canada’s prison population has increased 25% over the last ten years and the population of prisoners deemed “visible” minorities” has increased 75% ( Findlay also noted that Aboriginal women make up the fastest growing population with an 85% growth rate. She argued that “Marginality is too often a life sentence that takes the form of invisibility or hyper visibility. Over-policed and under-protected, it will cost Saskatchewan $13 billion over the next twenty years that could be used for better things.” She continued that if all citizens were truly treated equally (and by this I would understand that the incarceration rate for all groups would be equal to that of white men and women), it would bring $90 billion to the economy over this same time period.

Prison worker coops exist in other countries (mostly Italy) where those who participate have significantly lower recidivism rates. In one (and artist cooperative), one member said that “it made me realize that there are still people out there who appreciate who I am.” In Puerto Rico, there are three men’s worker coops and plans to start a women’s coop. Members learn the values and ethics of cooperation especially that of mutual self-help. It is clear that they also gain self-worth and confidence that they can succeed. These coops allow the workers to earn a wage that can be used to support their family and keep those connections strong.

Worker coops could create the support structures that the prison system currently fails to provide especially once people are out although this might require some amendments to laws that provide felons from associating with one another.

Findlay noted that this research is difficult because it challenges the command and control of the prison system and she noted that the “state” bristles when academics “commit sociology.” Nevertheless, it seems that the coop model could provide a means for true rehabilitation. I realize that has long ceased to be the focus of the prison system especially for those areas where it has been privatized and the inmates turned into product for the benefit of shareholders and for-profit corporations. However, as people can show that cooperation does more than simply provide a paycheck, society’s rulers might see a real community value to changing how we treat all members of our community.


Please note–I have never done “ads” on this site, but I do want to point out that I have a “go fund me” campaign right now to assist me in finishing my PhD. You can read more about it on that site and there is a link right on this page! If you can provide any assistance (including promoting my go fund me site through your social networks) I would greatly appreciate it.

October 21, 2013

Can Coops Bring a Renaissance in Detroit?

Over the weekend, I had the honor of being part of a panel discussing worker cooperatives with the Southeastern Michigan Jobs with Justice organization. About 35-40 people ventured out on a cold rainy day to ask questions and listen to the experiences of myself, a worker from Madison’s Nature’s Bakery, two leaders of the New Era Worker Cooperative and a representative of The Working World.

It was a lively discussion as all three coops developed through slightly different methods, are of different sizes, and have different structures. Despite the differences, we all talked about the difference between ownership and control. There was a commonality in how workers engage as owners to move the business forward. A lot of the discussion focused on the importance of communication, education, and information.

I grew up in Toledo, Ohio which remains part of the larger auto industry. During my high school years, I would make a monthly trip to Port Huron in the summer with a scuba diving club. The members of the club were working men and women from the region (at the AMC plant, and other factories). A large number were union members and the ones that weren’t didn’t really talk about it. Making the drive up I-75 some thirty years later was more than depressing. Starting with the site of the old plant on Willy’s Parkway and all the way to the UAW Vote Center on Livernois Ave, it was a trail of broken concrete, vacant overgrown lots, and crumbling buildings that spoke to a different era of vibrant activity. It felt as if I was travelling through the ruins of a lost civilization.

Behind the scenes is the government of Michigan attempts to force bankruptcy on the City and steal the pensions of city workers. It is a city in a major crisis.

Can the worker coop model help? I think it is possible, but people will need to forget about the Detroit of the 1950’s and 1960’s. In using the cooperative model, the community should focus on the needs that currently aren’t being met (either because of the failure of the State and local government) or the lack of people willing to enter the market without a guaranteed profit. This might include groceries, daycare, and even charter schools using the worker coop model.

In some ways, Detroit provides a great opportunity to build a Mondragon-style” cooperative community. By starting small, and siphoning off development funds and solidarity funds along the way, the cooperatives could start building a larger development fund. With assistance from groups such as The Working World, Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, and other sources (perhaps some investor angles who don’t mind settling for a 5% return), they could rebuild Detroit as a truly Cooperative City.

One of the key concepts that we spoke about was building sustainable communities. This isn’t about maximizing pay, but creating a decent life with jobs that won’t be shipped to the lowest bidder. It means earning enough to be able to afford good, wholesome food, quality clothes and decent housing. It also means that this generation needs to make a sacrifice to get it started. As the president of the New Era Windows noted, he could have gone to work at O’Hare and made a decent wage, but this struggle is about more than wages, it is about  working with each other to build a strong community. In the end, that will benefit all of us.


January 28, 2013

The Farmer’s Union, Cooperation, and the Environment

Filed under: Imagine2012,Movement — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 7:00 am

Over the weekend, I had a really wonderful opportunity. I was asked to moderate a panel for the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union 82nd Annual Conference entitled, “Cooperatives – Empowering the Rural Economy… Again.” I also spoke to the Youth Conference presenting the Mondragon Cooperative model. It gave me that chance to also listen to William Nelson of CHS Foundation speak.

This weekend just happened to fall right after I represented my cooperative hosting the Sustainable Business Network quarterly breakfast in Madison with guest speaker from Gundersen Lutheran Health Systems.

The Wisconsin Farmer’s Union, part of the National Farmer’s Union, promotes the slogan “legislation, education, cooperation” and they really do mean all three things. In addition to helping family farmers work for legislation to protect their family farm and promote sustainable farming practices, the Union also operates a Youth movement with and Kamp Kenwood, a cooperative owned and operated summer camp that teaches the principles of co-operatives while also providing a fun summer camp for members.

While it was fun to present Mondragon to a group of people who hadn’t yet heard of the Basque cooperative society, it is more important to share the take-away mirrored Bill Nelson’s message. The next 40 years will likely see a dramatic change in the way that the world produces farmers as the Ogallala Aquifer dries up.With a projected world population of nine billion or greater and significantly less water and land to produce food, the challenge to today’s young farmers will be incredible. It was my point that the challenge to the founders of Mondragon was also great, but the the role of the cooperative allowed them to focus on their values, work together, and find solutions instead of amassing profit. It will be the co-operatives that figure out the solution to climate change, because our focus is on sustainability  not simply amassing profit. Money doesn’t do any good sitting in a bank vault. Like manure, it only works if we spread it around and prevent run-off.

The panel brought three great stories of how cooperatives create sustainability. Fifth Season was the newest of the three coops presented. This is a relatively new model of food coop in the US. Rather than GM dominated consumer coops that cater to the wealthy, it is a multi-stakeholder co-operative that offers membership to each of the six different segments of the food chain: producer, producer groups, processors, distributers, buyers, and workers. Everybody is at the table. They aren’t operating retail outlets, however, most of their buyers have institutional needs, so it is a bit different than the foodie focused consumer coops, but it also caters to working people who can’t really afford shopping at boutique food stores and still want good food. It is a really neat experiment in sustainability and local development in the rural area of Wisconsin. Organic Valley also presented with a focus on how they are working to become even more sustainable  The organic producer coop  has been a leader in sunflower oil technology and has found the means to develop it for either food-grade or bio-fuel. In addition  they have been working the Gundersen Lutheran (which is also a member of Fifth Season) to install two ginormous wind turbines. The energy production gets shared between the two organizations, but Organic Valley’s representatives said it covers almost 90% of their electrical needs! Finally, Cooperative Care’s  Tracy Dudzinski spoke on the important work of providing home care and health care in the rural areas and the powerful nature of cooperatives to transform workers from people who work to live into fully actualized human beings as well as the growing need for home care as the baby boomers age into a large community of single people with limited personal support networks.

The last bit brings me back to my Mondragon talk and one of the things that I wish that I had mentioned at the panel. During the discussion of  the three panelists, I was reminded of a series of short stories by Hamlin Garland entitled Main Travelled Roads . He wrote about the farmers of the Coulee Country of Southeast Wisconsin. How they were preyed upon by eastern bankers, crooked salesmen, and a host of other issues that helped found the Grange and ultimately the Progressive Movement and the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union. I wondered how he would see the farmers of Wisconsin today (I wasn’t sure how many people in the audience got my reference, but I was presuming that everyone who grew up in Wisconsin and is a farmer has read this book–it is a great collection of short stories). More importantly, I wish that I would have amplified Tracy’s comments recognizing how cooperatives, especially worker cooperatives, function to change people. Arizmendiaretta, the spiritual founder of Mondragon, always believed that worker ownership would transform workers into strong and moral community leaders. It has been my experience to see that effect over and over again. It is one of the reasons that I believe that it will be the cooperative movement that manages to deal with climate change. It will take real leadership to build a new sustainable economy. Not leadership in the form of politicians, but leadership in the form of making tough decisions that provide the most benefit to the most people even if that means some short term sacrifice. Politicians are a dime-a-dozen these days, but few are leaders.

It was my pleasure to meet some of the future leaders of Wisconsin in Eau Claire this weekend. Leaders who understand the important role of education and cooperation and will help lead to better legislation. Leaders who are committed to dealing with three of the most important issues of our day: food security, energy and climate change, and an aging population and health care. At the very least, rural Wisconsin seems to be in good hands.

January 14, 2013

What is Progress? and How Do We Measure It?

Filed under: Imagine2012 — Tags: , , , , — John McNamara @ 1:05 pm

Imagine 2012 continued

Ron Colemen, the Director and Founder of the Nova Scotia based GPI Atlantic (a non-profit research institute measuring wellness and developer of the Genuine Progress Index) spoke on the nature of progress and how the means of measurement work against a sustainable ecosystem. The following are my notes from his talk and the following commentary. However, first let me add a few comments. This conference didn’t just bring together economists such as Coleman and the cooperative world, it also presented a challenge to the existing cooperative paradigm. We need to do more that play by the rules that are made for us. We need to change the rules. As Coleman points out, the way that we count creates the the ability to hide the environmental costs of our actions. No accounting firm would ever allow a cab company to ignore depreciation of its vehicles and the surplus or profit shown would be expected to help replace those assets. So why don’t we have the same concept with natural assets (trees, water, breathable air, etc)?

Likewise, the small federal credit unions of Brooklyn have resisted the urge to get big. Not surprisingly, they maintain a humanity about them that has only become a marketing ploy of some giant credit unions. It isn’t enough to call a business a coop or credit union. It needs to be making a real difference in the world.

 Ron Coleman on the New Economic Paradigm

The window for change is shrinking rapidly. Within a short period time, the earth will be locked into the a period of climate change.

Coops are planting the seeds of the new economy. If change doesn’t happen within this movement, then where will we find it?  Yet every coop uses the same accounting system that has gotten the world into trouble in the first place. To make a change, we need an accurate accounting system that includes the human, social and ecological costs. If co-ops can structure their annual reports to include the real cost, it can affect price signals and make a change in the way that we do business.

Let’s begin with diagnosis and then change the way we measure progress.

Our current GDP based accounting system that only measures market flows in monetary value of what is produced. It ignores a wide range of social, human and ecological costs which send inaccurate signals to the public and the policy makers. Accounts assess values and we can change how that works. The current account mechanisms do not account for natural wealth, beauty and ecological services, voluntary work, family/leisure time and more.

Robert F. Kennedy on the GDP: “It accounts everything except that which makes life worthwhile.”

If you hire a housekeeper, the GDP goes up. If you marry your housekeeper the GDP goes down. If you hire a stranger to care for your child, GDP goes up, if you care for your child, it has no economic value.

The quicker we cut down trees, deplete our fisheries and use up our fossil fuels, the faster the economy will grow.

What we count reflects what we value. it determines what makes in ont the policy agenda and influences behaviour. Is this system appropriate for cooperatives and credit unions? We do our own members a disservice by using an accounting system that is fundamentally flawed and anti-cooperative.

Accounts Are Powerful.

If we understand that, then the alternative is very straightforward. We need to expand our accounting. We need to include social capital in our accounts. Natural resources should be subject to depreciation and requiring re-investment. Voluntary work, safe communities enhance social capital.

General Progress Index Accounts

Crime, sickness, disasters and pollution clean up are counted as costs rather that contributions to well being. 1/4 of the world’s prison population is in the United States and the Prison industrial complex grows the economy.

The GPI Nova Scotia has over 100 detailed reports. Natural Capital Account, Human Impact on the Environment, Living Standards, Social and Human Capital.

Price signals are very powerful. Nothing removed SUVs from the road more effectively than a massive increase in fuel.

This is the 20th anniversary of the Canadian moratorium on Cod fishing–the GDP sent no signals since the only thing that counted were the fish that were caught. There was no accounting method for fish stocks and when they collapsed, 40,000 jobs collapsed with them. This proves that environmental costs lead to dramatic economic losses.

Using a net process, we can see that the costs to farming are increasing as a percentage of Income.

Full Cost Accounting:

  • Internalize “externalities”
  • Recognize economic value of non-market assets (voluntary sector, natural capital)
  • Fixed–>variable costs (e.g. car registration, insurance)–give credit to workers to carpool or use public transit.
  • $ Values–strategic only= inadequacy of $ as valuation instrument. “Value” = larger.

Dutch experiment with part time work at good pay and benefits. People work better in shorter hours. .

The political will is not present (even with the New Democratic Party). What will bring the political will to happen? Bhutan is the first sovereign nation will be using this new accounting system and present the rudiments of the paradigm presented to the United Nations in 2013.

However, Cooperatives can start doing this today. They can be a powerful force in the development of a new economic paradigm.

Commentary on New Economic Paradigm from Joy Cousminer

Commented on how large credit unions call it the credit union industry instead of the credit union movement and that is antithetical to what credit unions are.

“BetheX credit union was formed to serve poor and working poor in New York City. Most early members were women on welfare  (Aid To Families with Dependent Children). the Board is a volunteer group. Members benefited by having a safe place to save compared to a sugar jar. Women made small loans and could avoid the loan shark and the pawn shop.

Our growth is horizontal–we seek out poor people and do not recruit from the middle class, but they find us on their own. We visit homeless and domestic abuse shelters to find new members.

We specialize in start-ups and run credit reports to please the bank examiner but ignore them. We make loans to seniors even those over 70. Employees come from the community and hire relatives (considered a “no no”) and all start as tellers and work their way up. The Credit union pays all health care and dental and a clothing allowance for the workers. We encourage staff to improve their education. As we do better financially, we reduce fees and interest.

Created a group called “We care for Credit Unions” to assist small credit unions.

By making money easily available, we are reducing stress, and helping families. Poor people do not dream of living in mansions, they dream commensurate with their station in life. They want a nice dress for their daughter and a car that won’t break down on the way to the family picnic.”


January 7, 2013

Imagine 2012 and Beyond

Filed under: Imagine2012 — Tags: , , , , — John McNamara @ 12:56 pm
In October, economists and cooperative thinkers from around the world met in Quebec to bridge the gap between the disciplines. The conference, Imagine2012, International Conference on Cooperative Economics featured a number of presenters such as Neva Goodwin, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Stefano Zamagni and Vera Zamagni. Maxnfred Max-Neef was unable to attend and Elinor Ostrum was scheduled but passed away prior to the conference. The next several posts will be from my notes on the event. Starting with the opening press conference.
This event is particularly important in the last quarter of the International Year of the Cooperatives. It allows us to spotlight our enterprises. My notes, even with quotes, should be seen as paraphrasing.
Colin Dodd, President Saint Mary’s University
Colin Dodd spoke of some of the origins for the idea of the conference which began through Saint Mary’s unique master’s program in cooperative management. He noted that Tom Webb had proposed a program based on a course at Saint Francis Xavier (home to Moses Coady and the Antigonish Movement). Further, Dodd’s own background was growing up in the mining community of Northern England near Manchester home to the birthplace of cooperative and trade unions, which had, by Pres. Dodd’s day created a “cradle-to-grave” cooperative movement.
The master’s program was build from the ground up, not simply a copy of an MBA. It reflects the essentials of the cooperative movement and complements the goals of the Sobey School of Business and SMU to be a global university. It creates a sustainable global economic model based on democracy.
Monique Leroux, CEO and President, Desjardins
Cooperatives are diffierent, our goals are difference, our long term vision is different. So few universities and business schools recognize coops. I hope that more universities will follow St. Mary’s lead. We need more innovation, sustainable growth, and more businesses to invest and think long-term. Cooperatives are not an alternative to businesses, what make them distinctive is that they base themseves on the needs of people, not profit.
Why are coops more likely to be studied in sociology courses instead of business courses?
Dame Pauline Green, President, International Cooperative Alliance
We are delighted to be part of this event. We need fresh thinking about how to go forward in building the cooperative movement. This event is a kickstart to where we want to go in the future. The IYC has been an opportunity to reach out to the cooperative movement.  For the first time in 170 years, our movement has worked together in a cohesive manner.
We need to keep on working to make sure that our model is a key part of the global economy. A billion people in the world are not “idealistic”.
Tom Webb, organizer of Imagine 2012
Tom commented on the differences in approaching cooperative management and understanding cooperative economics:
Want we need to do is to account how we use our resources to meet our goals and meet human needs. How do we market to human needs. We don’t teach human resources, we teach personnel management. We realized that we could not teach neoclassical economics to coop managers.
In neoclassical economics, needs get trumped by wants. income inequality is of no concern (as opposed to economies of scale and minimal markets).
What have we gotten, more wealth than ever even why we cannot afford education and healthcare. 100 million people work in coops.
Has the economy become an angry god to whom we must sacrifice: children, the elderly, the environment, the poor, healthcare, education
“The economy is a complex set of relationships that people use to provide thmsevles with the goods and services needed to provide themselves with a meaningful life.”
Economics is the sutdy of how effective the economy is at meting human need in a manner that allowes people to have a meaningful life.
Stefano Zamagni, Vice-director, Bologna Center
Prof. Zamagni is a leader in cooperative economics and, with his wife Vera, has produced some excellent works on the topic such as “Cooperative Enterprise: facing the challenge of globalization.”
“Why did cooperatives disapear from economic thought? Since the start of the market economy, their are two types of competition. Since globalization era began, the cooperative model has grown even if the economist will not admit it. Connective capital has also grown but that is simply another way of saying cooperative competition.  Why does mainstream economic theory continure to ignore coops?
It is common theory that assumes that everyone is Homo Economica statest thats self-interest is the only reason for people to act. Zamagni suggests that a different model is needed a Homo Cooperative? We need to see that common-interest, not self-interest, is what has allowed humans to flourish and will save the planet. Thinking thought vs. calculating thought is what is needed with our cooperatives,
Karen Miner, Manager, MMCCU program at Saint Mary’s University
Emphasis of new economic theory for the future development of cooperatives. Notice how capitalist model borrows from co-operatives. However, co-ops must be careful when borrowing from capitalists that they don’t lose themselves in the process. A cooperative movement must articulate a “future” state. Cooperative managers need specialized knowledge. “
These are only some brief comments from the opening press conference. Over the next few posts, I will be poring through my notes of the speakers.  It was a dynamic conference that explained the perilous state of the environment and the role that economics plays in creating our natural, political and economic environment. The discussion also focused on how we, as cooperators, can turn this around. Not, necessarily  through government intervention, but through a better understanding of economics.

November 22, 2010

Business or Democracy? Why Is That Even a Question?

Filed under: Movement — Tags: — John McNamara @ 2:59 pm

“To be successful, co-ops must lead with a competitive, quality product, not their cooperative values.”

“The is no mission, if there isn’t a margin.”

Sound familiar? I’ve heard both in the last couple of days. The latter was part of a dialogue deconstructing the former. Nevertheless, I am sure that you have heard.

There are always those that want to make this differentiation, but it is a false dichotomy. Our worker co-operative of socio-economic organizations. There is no difference between being a successful business and a democratic workplace. In fact, it is the democratic nature of our businesses that make us successful (if we chose to embrace that aspect). It allows us–our front line staff–to make the key connection with the consumers that other businesses simply cannot do.

I would argue that if a worker co-operative cannot run a sustainable democratic business then it is either in the wrong market or has something wrong internally that doesn’t recognize the real value of their product or service. It may be that they are not charging enough to meet their needs or have too high a price to engage the critical mass of the marketplace that will help them survive.

Regardless of the situation, it is a mistake to claim that the co-operative values are atavistic or alien to creating a large enough surplus to meet the capital needs of the business or have the best pay and benefits in the industry. If a worker co-op can’t accomplish that, then it needs to re-focus. In terms of co-operative values, the value of “self-responsibility” clearly speaks to this dynamic.

We have to be both a well-run business and a democratic business. Otherwise, we might as well give over to the capitalists, admit that we can’t do it, and unionize. If we really want to create a new world, we can’t pretend that it is impossible to achieve. We can’t forsake our values and principles to survive–in fact, we need to push those values and principles to the forefront and make them our competitive advantage! This is what the MOCA (Marketing the Co-op Advantage) is all about.

Again, I have to channel James Connolly. In his sarcastic, satirical essay, “Let Us Free Ireland!”, he ridiculed those who wanted an Irish Nation, with English governance:

“After Ireland is free, say the patriot who won’t touch Socialism, we will protect all classes, and if you won’t pay your rent you will be evicted same as now. But the evicting party, under the command of the sheriff, will wear green uniforms and the Harp without the Crown, and the warrant turning you our on the roadside will be stamped with the arms of the Irish Republic. Now, isn’t that worth fighting for?”

So I say to our worker co-operatives: what, exactly, is the point of being a worker co-operative if you aren’t creating a better world? If you aren’t leading your industry in wages and benefits and being sustainable, then what are your really doing? If you aren’t changing the way the work is done in your industry (allowing the front-line workers and all workers to participate in the strategic planning and goal setting of the organization), then what are your doing? We don’t need paternalistic do-gooders telling the working class what to do. We can get that anywhere.

If we want to change the economy to something more sustainable and fair, then we need to begin in our own co-ops. If we really don’t believe in that, then we should get out of the way of those who do.

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