News from the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy (ECWD)
by Mary Hoyer
The ECWD is a network of cooperatives and cooperative advocates that convenes the eastern region of the U.S. Federation of Worker Co-ops. This region’s most recent event was the biennial conference held at Southern New Hampshire University at Manchester July 2005. At that conference, participants elected some sitting members and some new members of the Eastern Coordinating Council (which is composed of the board of the ECWD). This winter and spring, the ECC allocated resources to support the U.S. Federation of Worker Co-ops conference to be held in New York City this fall. Keep your eye on the national’s website at www.usworker.coop to apply for eastern region (and other) scholarships for this conference. Some eastern region cooperative organizations are playing significant roles in the national conference. The Connections Cooperative (Providence, RI), for example, is providing interpretation throughout the event. The Cooperative Fund of New England is acting as a conference co-sponsor.
Meanwhile, planning for the 2007 Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy has begun. Mary Hoyer, lead organizer for the 2005 conference, has been rehired to help with the ‘07 conference. Since the national conference in 2006 is being held in the eastern region, sites in states further south are being explored for ECWD ‘07. If you have any ideas for a college/university or retreat/conference center, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In local news from the eastern region, a consortium of worker co-ops in western Massachusetts—the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-ops (VAWC)—has formed and is meeting monthly at members’ homes and workplaces. Working to build the movement, VAWC is currently in contact with three potential groups interested in converting to worker cooperatives. The group also recently organized a successful discussion and book-signing event at Food For Thought Books (a worker collective of long-standing in Amherst, Massachusetts) with John Abrams, author of The Company We Keep. A story teller par excellence, Abram recounted the tale of South Mountain designers' and builders' coperative on Martha's Vineyard. VAWC and WORC’N members (see below) attended the talk and greeted many new people face-to-face. Find out more about VAWC at their website: www.valleyworker.org.
A similar coalition of worker co-ops—the Worker Owned and Run Cooperative Network (WORC’N)—has been meeting for six years in the Boston area. These well-established businesses (including Community Builders Cooperative, Dollars and Sense Magazine, Equal Exchange, ICA Group, Ownership Associates, and Red Sun Press) gather periodically to have dinner, share information, support one another, and simply get to know one another better. They also set up information tables at community events to increase visibility of worker ownership. Other Boston-area worker collectives and democratic workplaces are encouraged to join by contacting Sue Bob at 617-623-8340.
Further north, the Vermont Employee Ownership Center (VEOC) held its fourth annual conference in Burlington in June. The theme of this year’s conference was “Growing Employee Ownership in Vermont.” Professor and author Gar Alperovitz, the keynote speaker, characterized worker ownership as a driving force for social change in this country with the tremendound potential to redistribute wealth. Comments from conference participants indicate his presentation was informative and inspiring. VEOC is also the proud recipient of a Congressionally Mandated Award grant of $500,000 from the U. S. Small Business Administration. Senator Patrick Leahy was instrumental in negotiating the grant and Don Jamison, VEOC Executive Director, is busy working to add additional staff. See www.veoc.org for more information.
Mary Hoyer is the lead organizer for the Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy and is a staff member of the Cooperative Fund of New England.
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