A Proposal for a U.S. Worker Co-op Federation
Why A Federation?
Recently there has been substantial progress in regional organizing among United States worker cooperatives 1(as well as cross-border contact/cooperation with the Canadian movement). While regions should remain the base of organizing among cooperatives, we all share a set of fundamental challenges and would benefit from occasionally gathering nationally to share information and resources.÷ A national federation could also serve to foster the sharing of information and resources between national gatherings.÷ A list of potential goals/functions for a national federation is provided below.
Immediate and short-term
Plan/host national conferences and support regional conferences on alternating years. Create and maintain web page to serve as news source/information clearinghouse, etc.. Maintain up-to-date directory of worker cooperatives.2 Maintain and distribute a referral/resource list of technical assistance providers, financial institutions, etc.. Provide/moderate listserve for members of worker cooperatives and organizations serving worker cooperatives. Liaison with other communities/organizations: serve as contact point for media and organizations/communities trying to reach out to worker cooperatives.
Assist established cooperative loan fund in administering separate fund devoted to worker cooperatives. Gather technical assistance teams/advisory boards to assist start-ups, expanding cooperatives, and cooperatives in crisis. Collect/share library of books, personnel handbooks, videos, etc.. Publish newsletter/journal (perhaps periodically culled from website articles/posting)
Train technical assistance providers. Research/publish regarding ¸best practices” in cooperative operation. Make available up-to-date how-to handbook for worker cooperatives. Lobby for legal clarifications, changes, etc..3
How Could We Move Towards Creating a National Federation?
What is proposed is electing to a national organizing board three representatives each from worker cooperative member attendees at the 2002 Eastern (D.C.) and Western (Breitenbush) conferences. These six representatives would choose up to three additional board members as needed to achieve a mix of geographical representation, skills, etc..4 The primary objective of this board would be to organize a 2003 national conference, probably sited in the central U.S. (or perhaps we might hold a conference in conjunction with the Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation if their 2003 conference is centrally located). The board, if so ambitious, might also take on (with minimal staff support) some of the functions listed above under ¸immediate and short-term.” The 2003 gathering would serve as a national federation founding conference at which details of the federation¨s enduring mission, functions, structure, eligible membership, etc. could be addressed.
The board would be entrusted to work out its own rules regarding quorum, voting, etc., with the following default set: until the board should adopt a different rule, passing proposals requires an affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of the board members to pass.
Staffing and Funding
The board would choose one or more part-time staff people. Funding would come from a combination of conference fees and grants from sponsoring organizations. Ideally, instead of asking specific better-off cooperatives for whatever they might be able to donate (the traditional approach of regional conferences), we should perhaps move towards an equitable dues system in which cooperatives pay an annual membership fee based on ability (perhaps a fraction of a percent of the cooperative¨s compensation paid to workers), ranging from a minimum of, say, one hundred to several hundred dollars.
Relationship of U.S. Worker Co-op Federation
to regional & other National Bodies
This national federation might serve as the worker cooperative section of NCBA, providing financial and other support for the larger cooperative agenda. The U.S. federation might also seek to eventually share staff and other resources with the Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation, minimizing duplication of effort. Regionally, the U.S. federation would strive to support rather than replace or compete with the regional federations (such as the Network of Bay Area Worker Collectives). Thus, if a cooperative was an affiliate of a regional network as well as the national federation, that cooperative could choose to dedicate a portion of its federation dues to support of the regional network (thus the national body would be helping with the regional fundraising efforts rather than competing with them).
1.¸Cooperatives” is here used broadly as a functional description rather than as a strict legal designation...[What is important] is that its workers in fact exercise democratic control of the business. Thus, a business that is...operated by a staff collective might qualify; ...¸democratic majority-owned ESOPs” would also be welcomed.
2. Perhaps in conjuction with GEO Newsletter collective.
3. Probably in conjunction/through NCBA
4. For instance, recruiting Midwestern/Southern representaives...[and] whether
to fill any of the three appointed director seats with a non-worker cooperative
member (e.g., a staff member from a cooperative support agency)...
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