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

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 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.

September 24, 2015

We do not live alone, but in co-operation


There is something in the depths of the human spirit that is firm and eternal. And there is also something that needs to be moving towards a new and superior expansion, in consonance with the interior and social regeneration of human beings. It is for this reason that their social achievements must reflect this transformation.


I missed yesterday, but also took the time to read the transcript of Pope Francis’ speech to the American people through their elected representatives in Congress this morning.

In his praise of the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis said, quoting Laudato Si which he published this Spring:

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation an distribution of wealth. The right of natural resources, the proper allocation of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of the enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. ‘Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.’ . . . Now  is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ and an ‘integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

Co-operation does seek to build financial wealth among its members, but it also strives for community wealth and social wealth. It operates within the values of solidarity and mutual self-help to build sustainable economic systems that bring all of the members of the community up together without destroying the physical environment upon which our collective economic and human lives depend.

I have seen many in the co-op world (especially in the worker co-op community) see the model as just another form of capitalism and that the only metrics that matter on the financial bottom line. However, co-operation is perhaps the most inefficient at maximizing personal wealth. Its aim, from the beginning, is to have a social bottom line.

The co-operative movement cannot stop at creating financial wealth, it must also reach the human and help them connect with their community to see that the financial wealth is, in our socio-economic model, a benevolent side-effect of the main effect of creating a community based on dignity for the human and respect for the world that provides its resources so that we can flourish.

March 10, 2014

The Things We Know

Filed under: The Things We Know — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 7:00 am

This weekend I noticed a posting from a friend, colleague and mentor of mine: Tom Webb. He had found an old write up called The Things We Know. I am not sure of the source of this document, but if it comes from Tom, it probably has a rich history within the Canadian Maritime Cooperative Movement. I am sharing it today, but will spend the next few weeks, discussing each bullit point in more detail. So tune in, comment, and let’s have a great discussion about our coops (warts and all).

  • The successful cooperatives of the world are those that have grown out of the efforts and determination of the people themselves. It is not enough that coops be for the people, they must be of and by them as well.
  • The best coops are those that had dedicated and courageous leaders either in the very beginning or in their early) history
  • The capital created within the working of the cooperative is vastly more important than the financial resources of the members in the beginning
  • Coops make their best contribution to human welfare and social progress when they initiate policies and practices different from those of old line businesses
  • There comes a time in the development of every cooperative enterprise when it must have managerial ability of a high order
  • Coops that stand for something more than financial gains have amazing powers of survival in times of stress and difficulty
  • Coops that isolate themselves from other coops and refuse to join the bigger cooperative movement tend to shrivel up and die
  • Coops can withstand prolonged attacks from without, but they can’t survive weak or dishonest leadership within
  • Too much aid from government or paternalism of any kind will blight cooperative effort
  • Cooperatives with weak leadership resist change
  • There is no type business too big or difficult for the cooperative way
  • Too rigid a structure in organizational set up is a serious obstacle to progress in cooperative development, especially in a period of rapid change
  • Coops in which control narrows down to fewer and fewer hands tend to behave more and more like old line capitalism
  • A cooperative with no education program is in mortal danger

November 25, 2013

Putting Your Money Where It Helps: Become a US Worker Coop Sustainer

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 12:29 pm

There is an old saw that “money is like manure, it only works if you spread it around!” Too often money gets conflated with “profit” and the idea of raising capital seems a bit wrong. As a result, worker movements have a tendency to live on shoe-string budgets and hinder their ability to effect change in the world. To this, I am reminded of the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life!” when Clarence proclaims, “Oh, we don’t have money in Heaven!” George retorts, “Yeah, well it comes in pretty handy down here, bub!.”

Our movement to create a more sustainable economy based on humane and democratic workplaces requires that we support our organizations and put our money towards building that world that we want to see. That is why I am asking you, dear reader, that you step up and support the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives by becoming a sustaining supporter. A minimum donation of $10 per month will go a long way towards help this apex organization represent worker coops, provide support to existing and new coops, and help build the worker coop community.

In addition to “being the change” that you want to see, you also need to fund it.

The US Federation has done a lot since its inception in 2004. It has produced four national conferences some of which included special volunteer actions (such as in New Orleans in 2008), created the Democracy at Work Institute and the thriving Democracy at Work Network of Peer Advisers. The USFWC has worked hard to raise the profile of worker cooperatives as a sector of the larger cooperative movement by nominating candidates for the NCBA board, demanding a worker coop seat on that board, participating in last year’s White House meeting on cooperatives, and attending conferences and apex level meetings through out the world. The USFWC is poised to begin helping to draft new laws to enhance and protect our movement. The USFWC provided leadership and support in the creation of CICOPA-North America.Almost all of this has been accomplished with half-time Executive Director and a Quarter time Membership coordinator. Our movement needs our support and that means that as individuals, we need to step up.

I realize that there are a lot of demands on our time and money. If you are in the position to send $10 a month or more to an organization that works to build a better, more sustainable world based on humane and democratic workplaces, please act on that feeling of solidarity hit the link at the top of this post and sign up today!

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.


April 22, 2013

Democracy at Work Network

Filed under: Education,Movement — Tags: , , , , — John McNamara @ 12:14 pm


I was recently reelected to DAWN’s Board of Governors and the Training and Certification Committee. I am also a founding member of the organization. The following opinion (pitch, if you will) is all mine, however, and should not be seen as a statement by DAWN or representing DAWN.


Last weekend, the third annual spring meeting of the Democracy at Work Network (DAWN) convened along with the certification of its third cohort of Peer Advisers. It was an incredible weekend and we were reminded by our the folks on the Marketing Committee that we need to get the word out.

What is DAWN? 

DAWN is, as it names implies, an organization of people aimed at assisting worker owned businesses in improving their functionality and governance as a democratic workplace. What makes DAWN different from a consulting service or academic pursuit arises from the population of the group. DAWN focuses on Peer Advising. The majority of people in DAWN either work in a worker cooperative or have worked in a workers cooperative within the last five years. This is an essential element. While we do have members who work as professional consultants, DAWN looks to embody the concept of inter-cooperation and solidarity. Peer Advisers don’t need to learn about the dynamics of workers cooperatives since they live those dynamics.

However, this isn’t just people who work in co-op sharing war stories. The certification process ensures that the PA can provide the level of assistance needed. The first year of membership is spent engaging in intensive training through webinars and weekend retreats. while learning about financing, legal structures, strategic planning and a host of other issues, PA apprentices conduct research about coop models, teach each other about those models, and participate in an internship utilizing their host and a mentor for guidance. All of this culminates, if successful,  in becoming a Certified Peer Advisor.

DAWN’s Goal

DAWN ‘s stated goals are to:

  • meet the demand for technical assistance and development advice with high-quality services, and
  • increase worker cooperative technical assistance capacity from inside the movement.

I think that an unstated part of this is to also get our worker cooperatives (over 300 in the United States) to not always rely on a “do-it-yourself” method of development. Too often, in my opinion and experience, co-operatives either ignore development as something too expensive or too corporate or just too complicated. If co-ops do engage in development, then it is usually the result of a small group within the coop driving it and not necessarily part of a strategic vision. At best, everything is successful and the people leading have the knowledge, skills and ability to manage the manage the program and  are around long enough to see it through to fruition. At worst, it creates a series of false starts that further stigmatize coop development or organizational development as expensive, time consuming and not worth the effort. For most cooperatives, I imagine, the reality lies somewhere along the continuum between those extremes with most co-ops just feeling too busy managing operations to deal with the larger picture issues until an issue reaches a boiling point and demands the attention of the group.

Why DAWN Can Help Worker Coops Succeed

Operations tend to be what we are best at as co-operators. I think that this is a nature aspect of worker cooperation. We get the gritty details of getting people cabs, fixing bicycles, running retail operations, and making/roasting coffee. Sometimes the bigger picture of long-term planning, capital planning, organizational culture, governance and accountability gets lost in the mix as we try to keep our customers coming back, pay ourselves and our vendors. Some of these development issues get us outside of our comfort zones and don’t seem to really make a difference, so why spend our members’ hard-earned equity on it?

Worker Co-ops need to create new ways of managing. We aren’t our competitors and don’t want to be. Taking the time (and money) to think and create new ways of managing the collective assets of the cooperative in a manner that strengthens the organization along cooperative values and principles should help make our coops stronger and more resilient to the demands of the market place. It should create added-value for the consumers of our operations. Sometimes, this can be hard to do by ourselves. We may not always have the right mix of knowledge and skills or there may be underlying social issues that prevent moving forward. This is true of any type of business, not just worker coops and is why consultants often get brought into any business.

DAWN offers the ability to efficiently deal with development issues and build structures tailored to the individual cooperative. Outside facilitation can assist the members is seeing their organization from a different perspective, learn from other worker coop models (cross-pollinate if you will) and develop systems and strategies that will help their cooperatives meet missions, core values and be successful. DAWN is a fee-for-service organization. It isn’t cheap, but it does provide value.

DAWN was created to help coops help themselves through a peer assistance program. If you think that your coop needs some outside assistance, please consider DAWN as a resource created specifically for worker cooperatives.

To keep up to date with DAWN check them out on Facebook or Twitter


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.

April 26, 2010

CICOPA: Worker Coop Relations with Employer Groups

Filed under: Movement,World Declaration — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 2:17 pm

This section of the Declaration on Worker Cooperatives (as the next one) consists of a short paragraph:

“Employers’ organizations can promote the development of cooperative worker ownership as an entrepreneurial form whose first objective is the creation of sustainable and decent jobs with and entrepreneurial added value, and as an appropriate exit strategy for the recovery of companies in crisis or in the process of liquidation, while respecting their autonomy, allowing their free entrepreneurial development and without abusing of this associative labour modality to violate the workers’ labour rights.”

Since this is an international statement, the definition of an employers’ organization will vary from country to country (as will its power in the economy and local government). I imagine that in some countries, an employers’ organization could even be a death squad with the mission of suppressing labor movements and union drives. For the purpose of this discussion, however, it seems best for those of us in the US, Canada and the UK to consider the role of worker coooperatives and the Chamber of Commerce. At some level, we may also want to consider groups such as the National Association of Manufacterers (NAM) and other groups.

This section seems like a call to worker cooperatives to educate their regional business groups. On the whole, this seems like a good idea. Cooperatives tend to get dismissed, in the United States anyway, as a bunch of tree-huggers, granola crunching, birkenstock pony-tailed hippies. By allowing this image to purvail, cooperatives in general and worker cooperatives in particular allow themselves to be ignored as a minor part of the economic model. We become a meaningless niche of the intelligentsia to be ridiculed instead of a model for a sustainable economy.

Our worker co-operatives must engage our local business community. We need to show them that the workers can run a business just as well or better than a single owner. We need to explain the co-operative difference. Isthmus Engineering won’t outsource their jobs to another part of the country to get cheap labor because the workers are the owners. City managers and politicians never have to worry about a worker co-operative picking up and moving out of the region (they might worry about a coop leaving the city proper, but that is a different issue).

This section of the Declaration provides a call to action on the part of our worker coopperatives. Specifically, we need to do the following:

1. When possible engage the local business associations either through membership or participation.*

2. Appoint someone in the organization to scan the media and respond to all mentions of cooperatives (especially negative connotations). Challenge the business community and the media to see co-operatives as valueable resources and sustainable assets to the community.

3. Show up, or monitor, city and county committees. Raise the cooperative model in general and the worker cooperative model in particular as viable means of sustainable economic development. This can be done through a regional or local coordination group or by individual cooperatives.

4. Create a united front of cooperatives to spread the word about cooperatives. Create the real image of our membership. Yes, there are people who fit the stereotype, but our combined memberships consists of hundreds if not thousands of workers and their families who contribute to the local economy as wage earners, property owners, renters, and consumers. The money generated in a worker co-operative stays in the community.

It is too easy for worker co-operatives to get lost in their operations. It is too easy for us to shrug and say that it isn’t our problem or that we have bigger fish to fry internally. That may be true, but we must engage the outside world. We need to be active leaders in the local economy. We need to raise the profile of worker co-operatives. Our co-operatives can only benefit from these actions. By engaging the employers’ organizations, we dispel the myths and untruths about worker co-operation and workplace democracy. We create a dynamic in which worker co-operation may be considered a solution to a problem from the early stages instead of as an afterthought. By creating a stronger impression with employers’ organizations, we create stronger co-operatives and may even create new business opportunities for ourselves.

*In Madison, two local booster groups, Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Madison, Inc, have chosen to endorse candidates in local elections. For co-operatives such as mine, this precludes our membership as our policies require us to remain neutral in elections and only lobby for positions.

Next Week: Relations with Labour Organizations

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