An Opportunity Missed? Reflections on a Workshop (Part I)

By Len Krimerman, GEO

I went to the Green Union Coop Development Initiative workshop at the "Democracy at Work" Conference in New Orleans (June, 2008) with very high hopes. Somehow, the Conference organizers had managed to bring together, in a large and over-filled room, committed and inventive practitioners from the labor union, cooperative, and green economy movements. The speakers spoke with clarity and passion about:

  • the Apollo Alliance and its national Green Jobs for All initiative endorsed by a full spectrum of union, business, non-profit, and government organizations;
  • local union programs to facilitate access to the building trades for under- and unemployed New Orleanians;
  • the amazing progress made by the south Bronx Green Worker Cooperatives; and
  • the willingness of NCB, formerly known as the National Cooperative Bank, to support green coops in New Orleans and elsewhere.

(For details on these presentations, visit the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives website's archive, especially the notes for this workshop.)

But as the session drew to its close, I began to sense that something important was missing. Slowly, it dawned on me that despite all the good and heartening information we received, the panelists had not really been talking with each other, much less discussing a collaborative Green Worker Co-op strategy "as a means to create sustainable union jobs". This sort of cross-organizational collaboration was hardly mentioned and when it did briefly surface, it was rebuffed by some of the labor panelists as potentially undercutting unionized jobs.

In short, the full potential of this workshop, in my eyes at least, may have gone unrealized.

But maybe not. Perhaps the panelists, or some of them, have gotten together post-workshop and are now designing, as a component of Green Jobs For All, union-based replications of Green Worker Cooperatives in high unemployment areas. That would be certainly be good news.

Between now and the end of the year, I'll be tracking down the panelists to see whether and to what extent they have embarked on a more collaborative path, and are bringing their diverse experience and talents together to support a common agenda of creating sustainable union jobs that can lift and keep workers out of poverty. Look for a follow-up report in the next issue of GEO.

RESOURCES

For more on Green Jobs for All, visit their website and check out Van Jones' book and website on the Green Collar Economy.
 
On labor union initiatives, especially within New Orleans, see material on the Gulf Coast Revitalization program.

On Green Worker Co-ops, see and Lauren Kozol's article in GEO Vol. 2, #1, "Taking Back the South Bronx: Opening Day at a Green Worker Co-op".
 
And on the NCB's "Cooperative Expansion and Economic Development" programs, visit their website here

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