WESTERN WORKER COOPERATIVES CONFRONT CHANGE
By Andrew McCloud*
The Western Worker Cooperative Conference (WWCC) returned to Breitenbush Hot Springs Oct. 9-12, after taking a year off. There were 93 participants. Since the last gathering in 2003, the co-op landscape has changed markedly, and that change continues. Some of this change has been in conference organizing: Kirsten Marshall moved on to other things after serving for nearly four years as conference staff.
There has also been much change in the larger movement in the form of organizing among worker cooperatives. The national planning board that the WWCC helped to create successfully held a national conference in Minneapolis, which led to the creation of the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives. The board of the new organization has been designing membership systems and planning a second national conference for 2006. And on the local level in the western U.S. the past year has seen regional conferences held in Portland and San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NOBAWC) has been joined on the scene by the Portland Alliance of Worker Collectives and by South Sound, currently forming in Olympia, WA.
To address this change, the conference’s keynote panel featured a look at these organizations and how they are connecting many cooperatives into a cohesive movement that is a source of mutual support and an example to society at large.
Attendance at this year’s conference was a bit smaller than in 2003, when there were 119 registered participants. Possible causes for the lower attendance include the fact that the WWCC is no longer the only conference on the West Coast. The other conferences have taken place in urban areas that are easier to reach and may be more appealing to a wider variety of cooperators. Although the location at an idyllic resort is frequently cited as one of the best features of the conference, it is a long drive from urban centers. The board will be evaluating a future move of the conference to a more accessible location that is comfortable to a wider range of participants.
Another issue is that there were a significant number of people who wanted to come, but could not afford it. This year, our scholarship fund was overwhelmed by the demand. The conference received requests for more than twice the $3,350 in scholarship funds that were available. This year’s scholarship auction—used to replentish the fund – fell short of our target, so additional funding seems to be a priority.
The 2005-2007 WWCC board will have seven elected members, with four runner-ups serving as alternates. Conference participants also approved proposals affecting term lengths and how vacancies are filled. All passed by wide margins.
There has been a lot of change in the conference in the worker co-op movement as a whole. We successfully held our fist national conference, created a federation planning board, and gave it directions for building the new organization. This is the first time we’ve had a national body of our own, and it will help us to work with the international worker cooperative movement as well as provide us with a solid footing for collaboration with other segments of the U.S. cooperative movement.
*Andrew McLeod is the staff organizer for the Western Worker Cooperative Council, and is on the staff of the Northwest Cooperative Development Center. He lives in Olympia, WA.Include the citation below and GEO Newsletter grants permission to copy, use, and distribute this article.
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