CICOPA North America Launched

Pledges to Promote and Defend Worker Co-ops
Jessica Gordon Nembard
Jim Johnson

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! speaking at the CICOPA North America conference

(photo: Jim Johnson, GEO)

A North American branch of the international organization of worker cooperatives -- CICOPA North America -- was launched in Quebec City at the first ever North American Worker Co-operative Conference, October 13–15, 2011. The conference, organized jointly by the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation and Réseau de la Coopération du Travail du Québec was attended by more than 150 members of worker co-operatives mostly from across Canada and the United States, with their supporters .

At the opening night of the conference US Federation of Worker Cooperatives President Rebecca Kemble (member of Union Cab of Madison Cooperative) was named President of CICOPA North America. She noted that during this time when workers are under assault economically and politically, collaborations such as CICOPA North America are essential.

The worker co-op federations of North America, through CICOPA North America, drafted a joint declaration, “The Quebec Declaration,” on the promotion of worker co-operatives and public policy concerning co-operatives. The federations pledged to support the establishment of a “new mode of socio-economic development with a human face” by facilitating the creation of new worker co-operatives, the harmonious development of co-operative members, and by “urging governments to use the worker co-operative model to contribute to this better future.”

CICOPA General Secretary Bruno Roelants placed the development and strengthening of worker co-operatives in North America in context of the world wide worker co-op movement. He observed that “Our models are fundamental to territorial self-governance,” and charged participants to go out and communicate our ideas and successes, and to influence policy.

José Orbaiceta, President of the Worker Co-op Federation of Argentina, joined other notables from the Worker Cooperative Movement around the world such as Bruno Roelants, Felice Scalvini (Co-President of Cooperatives Europe and Vice President of the International Co-operative Alliance), Patrick Lenancker (President of CG Scop in Europe), Mikel Lezamiz (Director of Co-operative Dissemination, Mondragon Cooperative Corporation); and Rejean Lantagne (Canadian Representative to ICA-Americas).

Orbaiceta reminded us that the people, with the community, provide the political will to rebuild the country. “Worker cooperatives grew out of communities” – are created and sustained by people and organizations who “care about their people and their country.” In worker co-ops “decisions stay with the workers.” Orbaiceta echoed the sentiments of many that the current dominant systems in our countries are oriented the wrong way, causing crisis. “We want a society where capital is the fuel of the business, not the owner of businesses. That is another world. The world is in crisis because it keeps fattening up the owners of capital.”

Obraiceta energized the group by urging that the “first task is to build the ‘cooperative person,’ ” then to build capacity, educate and train. Communication is essential, and we should have our own media outlets.”

6 Mont Marie Rue, Lévis, Québec, the birthplace of the first caisse populaire (credit union) in the Desjardins Group, founded by Alphonse Desjardins and a small group of fellow citizens in 1900.

(photo:Jim Johnson, GEO)

Lenancker added that we can brand the logo: “democracy succeeds for us,” and raise awareness in new ways. We can make sure that people are talking positively and accurately about co-operatives, and that any conversation about business succession includes conversation about worker co-ops.

Similarly, Aaron Dawson, aworker-owner at Equal Exchange, afair trade co-operative, and a member of the board of directors of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, acknowledged that “every year we are growing and get new people involved.” He urged us to ask “yourself what is it that you or your organization value. Urging partiicipnts to pinpoint what we value and build it even stronger.“

Attendees participated in over 20 workshops, sharing ideas, practices and lesson learned in the areas of management, governance, collaboration, networking, and visioning. We discussed how to practice democratic governance and management; how to measure our successes; co-op development; developers networks; inter-regional collaborations; financing worker co-operatives; engaging young people in worker co-ops; working with trade unions; and developing a favorable climate for worker co-ops.

Conversions of founder-owned businesses to worker-owned cooperatives were of particular interest, since the CICOPA conference was immediately preceded by a two-day conference on that topic. Many members of Canada’s CoopZone Developers’ Network Co-operative were in attendance, and they and others stayed busy discussing strategies to seize the opportunity presented by the large number of baby-boomer business owners that will be retiring in the near future.

The conference also offered excellent tours of several local worker co-ops and allied organizations. Tour stops included the Coopérative des techniciens ambulanciers du Québec, a very successful worker-owned ambulance cooperative with around 300 worker-owners. But the highlight of the tour was the Maison Alphonse-Desjardins, the birthplace of the first caisse populaire (credit union) in the Desjardins Group, founded by Alphonse Desjardins and a small group of fellow citizens in 1900. The Desjardins Group is now the largest federation of credit unions in North America, and has been a primary force in the development of the 250+ worker cooperatives in Canada.

Amy Goodman of the U.S. independent media program Democracy Now! keynoted the conference on Friday October 14, 2011. Goodman told the audience that “We need a media that covers the movements that create static - and history - Like yours.” While her main message was about the importance of independent media, she also commented that “As the Occupy Wall Street movement looks for solutions - this is what all of you are about!”

Sponsors of the conference included: The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, the Fédération des Coopératives de Paramédics du Québec, the Fédération Québécoise des Coopératives Forestiéres, and CoopZone. CICOPA stands for The International Organization of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Cooperatives, and is a sectoral organization of the International Co-operative Alliance.


About the author: 

Jessica Gordon Nembhard is an editor with Grassroots Economic Organizing, a member of US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and a professor at City University of NY – John Jay College

Jim Johnson is an editor at Grassroots Economic Organizing, a member of the Democracy at Work Network, and the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives

When citing this article, please use the following format: Jessica Gordon Nembard and Jim Johnson (2012). CICOPA North America Launched. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter, Volume 2, Issue 12.
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