The T.U.Y.O. Cooperative
-United and Organized Workers
by Jose Pepe Martinez Vardon
Out of Poverty; the Strength of Unity
In the depth of the 1976 financial crisis in Mexico, a small group of people living in the San Simon Ticumac neighborhood of Mexico City, somehow got the idea that the only way to improve our situation and meet our needs was to get ourselves organized. We started with two things: weekly meetings and a modest savings program.
Who were we? Just young people who happened to be friends. We had played soccer together, been in the leadership of our neighborhood gang, shared the same taste in music and love of dancing. We realized we had to do something to avoid the familiar scourges of our neighborhood: unemployment and underemployment, alcoholism, shortage of food, juvenile delinquency, etc. Our motto was: unity makes the strength of our group. It was through our struggle to survive that we began to take unexpected initiatives. Necessity compelled us to invent something. We didn´t know what to do, but some of us had the sense that together we could do something. We started to study. We began to have an organizational structure. We began to insist on key ideas; the main one was to get out of poverty. There were no magical solutions.
We kept meeting for two years. By chance, in 1978, some members of our group got a sewing machine. They started making stuff with it at a friend´s house. Other friends came to join them in their work-sewing. They came because they didn´t have other work, or they didn´t want to be lazy. Soon we needed a larger place to work. We got an empty lot; we cleaned it up; we built a structure with inexpensive building materials; we installed electricity, water, drainage. Then in 1979 we formally asked for a permit to operate as a cooperative. Salaries were very low for a long time. This caused a lot of problems because members would leave and then return. We did carpentry, painting, and sewing. Sewing backpacks was the most profitable of our undertakings. Things went along for a while. Everyone had the same salary so some worked less diligently than others. The group dwindled down to the original core group. Then we began to realize that women are totally marginalized in their houses; we encouraged the participation of women and formed the group MIO, or Independent, Organized Women (Mujeres Independientes Organizadas).
It wasn´t until 1984 that we finally got the official permission to function as a cooperative. Then the 1985 earthquake struck. We lived, like all our neighbors, in houses 12 feet square made of adobe, dirt floors, and asbestos roofing with communal bathrooms. Our solidarity and organizational ability came to the rescue; we succeeded in getting loans and grants to build 90 houses and 4 other buildings. The Canadian Embassy also gave us a donation. Though we were severely tested by these hardships, the result was that we emerged with stronger group solidarity and identity.
We had started with nothing but determination and had succeeded in creating a business that provides work for 27 full time members. We figure that about 500 people have benefitted from our work. In one of the buildings we had built, we had a little grocery store, and we sold our products at the government mandated price -something few stores do, as most charge more than what is legally allowed. Today we produce virtually anything that involves printing on paper, cloth or plastic. We make all kinds of back packs and satchels, all variety of stationery, business cards, etc. We also make tee shirts and baseball caps with words or pictures printed on them. We print magazines and newspapers.
Additionally, we recently organized a soccer club in the neighborhood. One of our members sole job is coaching the team, organizing festivals, excursions, games, tournaments-in general providing a positive alternative to drugs and other negative influences in the neighborhood. We provide the teams with uniforms. There is also a day care center linked to us that cares for 25 children with five adults. We have failed in other endeavors-we have not been able to expand and provide as many jobs as we would like to for other people in the neighborhood. We have also not been able to increase our production. But we have raised the standard of living of many people, and we have the confidence that our cooperative work form will help us achieve new goals.
Notes from the Editors: author Pepe hasn´t mentioned two important details: everyone-all the workers, the children in the day care center and on the soccer team-look positively happy, and there are 10 other members (children of members) of the co-op who form the reggae group called Anti-Doping, one of Mexico´s top reggae groups! T.U.Y.O. is the acronym for the Spanish name: Trabajadores Unidos y Organizados. They are looking for funding sources to buy space for their child care center: Do any of our readers out there know of such funding sources? Let us know if you do.