GEO Special Section
US Federation of Worker Cooperatives
Welcome to GEO’s regular section on the newly formed US Federation of
Worker Cooperatives (the name was recently shortened by consensus of the
elected board). In each issue we will bring you news of the Federation,
and focus on a few members in one part or another of this great country,
who are making cooperation work for workers. Your questions and comments
are welcome. Send them to: email@example.com
Federation Member News:
Bay Area Celebrates
On September 10, NoBAWC, the Network of Bay Area Cooperatives (formerly,
Collectives) held its first local worker co-op conference. ‘No Bosses
Here!’ took place at the Women’s Building in San Francisco.
Co-organizer Kirsten Marshall recently reported to GEO that it was planned
in response to the formation of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives
“There was a desire to not let the beginning of a national federation
reduce support for local or regional co-op organizing,” Marshall
recalls. In addition, the Western region has been holding worker co-op
conferences longer than any other area of the country. Since the
federation will convene biennially, some regions and localities are
planning to hold their events on the alternate years “in order to not
split people’s availability” Marshall explained. She noted that
organizing at all three levels–local, regional and national (as well as
international)–offer unique benefits which need to be encouraged.
Keynote speaker John Curl drew on his History of Work Cooperation in
America: Worker Cooperatives vs. Wage Slavery; Co-ops, Unions,
Collectivity and Communalism from Early America to the Present.
In the final chapter, Curl writes: “Cooperatives have proved to be a
strong base for movements for progressive social change, since by their
very nature they demand changes in the general conditions of society, and
empower and embolden their worker-members…without cooperation replacing
competition as our most basic force, the USA will not survive, except in a
form of our nightmares. The way of competition offers only increasing
bondage, while the way of collectivity and cooperation offers real
freedom.” (To read or download the 84-page document: www.red-coral.net/WorkCoops.html)
A three-day film festival preceded the conference, which included live
entertainment, a mini-fair of local co-op wares and food largely donated
by co-ops and catered by, you guessed it, a local co-op. “It went well,”
said Marshall. “Some people who came didn’t even realize there were so
many other worker co-ops in the area, dealing with similar issues. At
NoBAWC we talk about how to work better for the community, to network
more, share resources more. By knowing this co-op or that is down the
street or across the Bay, it’s more realistic that you might keep in
The talk wasn’t all local though. Marshall added, “We were able to
talk about the national federation and how that could work, how it could
connect with regional and local efforts, not create another bureaucracy…In
Minneapolis [at the founding meeting of the US Federation], it was quite
inspiring to meet people from across the country who were willing to step
up to be on the board. One of my favorite parts was hearing them speak
about why they wanted to serve. I’ve been involved with the Western
conference for years, and it’s incredibly inspiring to realize the co-op
movement is larger than you thought. It gives you more energy to face the
challenges of our co-ops, because we may love them but there’s hard
stuff to deal with.”
Portland Conference: April, 2005
The Portland Alliance of Worker Collectives (PAWC) is coordinating the
first Cascadia Collective Conference in commemoration of May Day. So
writes Lori Burge, Western Representative on the board of the US
Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and also a council member of the
Portland Alliance. She is Development Manager of People’s Food
Cooperative in Portland, a collectively managed, consumer-owned
organic/natural food grocery store.
The recently formed Portland Alliance, with support from Oregon and
Washington collective members, will hold this event April 28–30. At its
conclusion, participants are invited to join the annual May Day
(International Workers Day) festivities downtown. At the conference, there
will be opportunities to socialize and network, as well as panel
presentations and open forums. All workshops are open to any interested
individual. Organizers are making every effort to keep the cost of
conference attendance low, including reasonable meal options from local
co-op cafes, limited free housing and bicycle loans. Registration packets
available in January. FMI: www.pawc.net,
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call:
Resolving Conflict at Rainbow Grocery
Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco formed the first conflict resolution
team in NoBAWC, the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives. At present,
four of Rainbow’s 200-plus worker owners make up the team; they are
training additional people as well as giving workshops to other co-ops.
With Rainbow’s 14 autonomous departments, numerous committees, and
monthly membership meetings, team member Jenny Glazer says, “There’s a
constant state of democracy going on here. It’s amazing we manage to get
all that food on the shelves!” Recently, Glazer took time from the
cheese department—which manages to sell 300 to 400 pounds a day—to
talk about her work in conflict resolution.
GEO: Do you think co-ops have more or different kinds of conflict
resolution than investor-owned businesses?
JG: People wonder why we don’t have a union, and I say, ‘Well,
we don’t have management, and we’re in constant negotiation with
ourselves!’ Co-ops have lots of opinions on how our business should be
run and how it should benefit us, so we may have more conflict than a
traditional business might, where you can fluff off the burden of
responsibility and blame on management or management can fluff it off on
GEO: Do you do a lot of conflict resolution?
JG: We primarily do mediation and training. But we also can be an
unbiased ear and just listen, maybe give a little advice. Sometimes this
is a prelude to setting up a mediation, or what I call ‘guided
conversation’ which is less formal, where people can talk with a witness
present and have some ground rules so they won’t fall into their own
conflict patterns or be manipulated by the other person.
GEO: What are the conflicts about?
JG: I think the biggest challenge is the struggle over what level
of participation is acceptable and necessary. There is often tension
between people who just want a job–or who are perceived as just wanting
a job–and people who think participation means running for every
committee and speaking at all the meetings. I tend to be one of those
people. I’ve been on ten million committees, in part because I think
that we as co-op members have an obligation to take part in some of the
more organizational labor that happens here.
One of the things that helped me step back from my strictness on this is
recognizing that we have a lot of different people who work here. For
instance, a lot of Central American workers, especially the women, have
more traditional family roles than many of the [Anglo American] workers.
They finish work and go home to be wives and mothers. And having them here
still benefits us all in a lot of ways.
GEO: What’s involved in conflict resolution?
JG: People usually request mediation when their conflict with
someone has been long standing and deteriorated to the point where they
either can’t talk to each other or they have a fight on the floor. First
of all, we maintain very strict confidentiality. And mediation takes keen
language skills; we have to work extra hard at being neutral, because they
know we all have opinions so knowing someone will be objective despite
their feelings builds trust.
Trust is really key in mediation. If either party believes nothing can
be improved and that the other person won’t listen, it doesn’t work
very well. So we model things like calm, non-judgmental speech and
non-threatening body language. We talk about how communication works best
for them, how they prefer things to be. We ask, ‘Having heard this
person’s concerns, what can you offer?’ It doesn’t work as well to
say, ‘What do you want this person to do for you?’ You want people to
do this work from a giving and considerate stance, and you want them to be
framing up solutions on their own that they feel they can agree to. Even
under the almost-worst circumstances, people can say things like, ‘Please
don’t talk to me while I’m on my shift’ or, ‘I would prefer you
send me e-mails.’ And at least that’s better than what they had the
GEO: We talk a lot about trust in co-ops. What is it we’re
supposed to trust one another to do?
JG: To listen. To hear our concerns and complaints, and to put
ourselves in the other’s shoes briefly, so we’re not just nodding our
heads but actually paying attention, maybe even empathizing a little with
the other person. And you have to trust people to keep their word, and
hopefully to have similar perceptions of what happened because many co-ops
are pretty informal, people don’t take minutes at meetings and so forth.
GEO: How have you benefitted from this work?
JG: Learning mediation has made me a much better meeting
facilitator and participant, which in a cooperative is probably the most
important skill you can have, along with proposal writing. Meetings are a
really special thing. In a traditional business the boss comes in and says
‘We’re going to have a meeting’ and pretends to listen to your
opinion, then says, ‘Now I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.’
Here, we have all these empowered people accustomed to having a voice and
feeling that our opinions are valuable, and this actually encourages
conflict in a way.
GEO: Do you think doing good conflict resolution can make or
break a co-op?
JG: A lot of places use meeting time designated for other things on
conflict, so having good conflict resolution skills would probably have
helped some co-ops who went out of business. Rainbow is a large co-op, so
we can avoid people. I can switch departments and work other hours and
probably never see the person I’m having a conflict with. In smaller
co-ops, there are fewer places to hide. If there are only 15 people and
five committees, you’re going to be on three committees with these
people no matter what. Smaller co-ops have the burden and merit of
intimacy that we don’t. They probably don’t have to spend as much time
in as many varied meetings as we do, so maybe they can also be closer to
each other and understand each other’s ways and foibles better.
One of the nice things I found was an ability to step outside and allow
the results to belong to the people who are participating, to say ‘This
is not my conflict and it’s up to them to make a wise decision, I’m
here to help them do that.’ It’s good for me to develop a little
humility, to step away and trust that my co-workers can run the store
without me. Frankly, I think I can be more helpful when I imagine myself
as less helpful.
Co-op Tool Kit: CR Profile
In the spirit of sharing our resources – a stated goal of the US
Federation of Worker Cooperatives – Rainbow Grocery has made their
Conflict Resolution Profile available to GEO readers. Send your request
for ‘Rainbow CR profile’ to GEO PO Box or mejane@ gwi.net
Resources for Change
There are thousands of references to PB on the web, most of them about
Porto Allegre, Brazil. But PB has been going on for several decades, and
you will find articles about Uganda, Malawi, Bosnia, Argentina, Nepal,
Egypt, Peru, India, and more. Here are some sites:
Participatory Budgets in Europe: Between Efficiency and Growing Local
Democracy by Giovanni Allegretti & Carsten Herzberg
The Transnational Institute’s 9-04 report on PB in France,
Germany, Spain and Italy to the Network Association of European
Researchers on Urbanization in the South is downloadable at:
‘Participatory Governance’ in 4-04 Environment and Urbanization
Journal; PB in 25 cities in Costa Rica, Vietnam, India, the Philippines,
Kenya, Ecuador, etc..
‘Another Canada is Possible’
by Shannon Devine, May 28, 2003
LOCAL MULTIPLIER EFFECT
As with PB, there are thousands of citations about LME on the web, and
quite a few organizations rallied around the concept.
Jackson (MS) Free Press
‘Revolution on Main Street’
by Jesse Yancy 11-12-03
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
927 15th St. NW 4th Flr.
Washington, DC 20005
For 20 years ILSR has done research and education about environmentally
sound economic development. They publish the Home Town Advantage Bulletin
on efforts nationwide to stop chain store proliferation, and the
Democratic Energy Bulletin on the emerging debate between absentee
ownership and regulation and those who favor local ownership and control.
They also run the New Rules project for sustainable local economies. Their
web links makes the trip worth it.
Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
The Economic Impact of the University of Massachusetts Amherst on the
Economies of the Pioneer Valley and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by
Barry C. Field and Selene Weber, Dept. of Resource Economics (10-96)
‘The Rape of L.A.’
For an article about possible negative impacts of LME, here’s one by a
noted Libertarian and L.A. radio commentator
More resources from the folks who bring you the Democracy Schools, and
A Citizen’s Guide to Corporate Charter Revocation Under State Law
by Thomas Linzey, Esq.
Part 1 includes sample documents, references, etc.; Part 2 is about moving
into the courts for environmental and social justice. Download from the
Center for Democracy and the Constitution at:
Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy
P.O. Box 246
S. Yarmouth, MA 02664-0246
Phone: (508) 398-1145
FAX: (508) 398-1552
POCLAD formed in 1994 and has since held 200-plus community meetings on
“Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Democracy They work with
individuals and groups to ”launch democratic insurgencies that put
corporations once again subordinate to ‘We the People’." Reading
lists, pamphlets, a publication By What Authority, an anthology on
corporations and democracy, videos, PowerPoint presentations, more.
Unequal Protection: The rise of corporate dominance and theft of human
rights, by Thom Hartmann
Rodale Press: 2002, reprinted 2004
Because of a mistaken interpretation of a Supreme Court reporter’s
notes in an 1886 railroad tax case, corporations are now legally
considered “persons,” equal to humans and entitled to many of the same
protections guaranteed only to humans by the Bill of Rights. To remedy
this blunder, Hartmann offers specific action steps to be taken by
citizens, courts, legislatures, communities. This book has gotten rave
reviews from Jim Hightower, Margorie Kelly, Ernest Callenbach, Paul Hawken,
Marianne Williamson, Ed Ayres, Granny D.
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