Workplace Democracy

Most new small businesses fail. That's a fact, whether they are in the Basque Country or in the U.S. Or anywhere else. Yet the Mondragon Coops, which all started as small worker-owned businesses, have hardly ever failed. Why? The key is in Father Jose Maria Arizmendi's original founding conception of cooperatives as the interlocking of school, factory and credit union.
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Our topic this morning is the wider range of the cooperative movement, both in the Basque Country and Spain. Mondragon is a part of the Basque Cooperative Confederation. There are currently 755 cooperatives in the Basque Country, and only 80 of them are the worker-owned MCC coops. There are a total of 537,000 members of all the coops, but only 54,919 are worker members, and 37,860 of these are the MCC worker-owners. 

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In the recent series on his blog, The Workers' Paradise ,McNamara is very strong on the possibility of the cooperative movement being able to move to scale.  But he wisely directs our attention to the big problems this is going to bring, problems that are already burdening cooperatives.  The primary one he refers to is “the agency problem” (which is pretty much what I mean by “top/down problem”).

...As we left, many in our group were debating the pros and cons of global economic justice. I shared their concerns, but I also saw something else. Here was the beginnings of some of the most advanced productive forces in the world, the means of both economies of abundance and the means of clean and safe renewable energies and far lighter ecological footprints.
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Thank you, John McNamara for advancing the conversation about the opportunities, issues, and problems of taking the cooperative advantage to scale.
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At the conclusion of the seminar, Mondragon's Director of Cooperative Dissemination, Mikel Lezamiz, and I signed a letter of intent and endorsement to pave the way for initiating conversations with stakeholders in Richmond and beyond.  I want to share with you what I learned and also hear your ideas.
To this end I would like to invite all who are interested to a presentation and discussion on Mondragon and the potential for worker cooperatives in Richmond.  The same presentation will be given on two dates...
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Below is a report from Steve Rice (volunteer with the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives  [NoBAWC]), Poonam Whabi (Design Action Collective), and Rick Simon (Just Alternatives for a Sustainable Economy) on the Worker Co-operative component of the Congress.  This component calls on local government to...

 

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Vermont Employee Ownership Center reports onthe field hearing of the Senate committee on Health, Education, Kabir, and Pensions (HELP) conerning worker-ownership legislation Sen Bernie Sanders has introduced.   http://www.veoc.org/hearing.html

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In 2005, Johnston Birchall addressed the International Co-operative community. It was the occasion of the the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Statement on the Co-operative Identity. Prof. Birchall called for the community to "operationalize" the statement. Researchers at St. Mary's University in Halifax have created a tool to help worker co-ops do just that.
The 2010 Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation AGM and Conference is being held from Thursday, October 28th to Saturday, October 30th, 2010 in Vancouver, B.C. at the YWCA Hotel.  The theme is "Worker Co-operatives and Sustainable Development."
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How do we create a competitive advantage through the worker coop model when we treat ourselves so much better than the workers in our industry and pay for the higher cost of democracy?

One of the great treats at a national worker coop conference is to learn about the incredible stories that exist. It is easy, sitting in our cooperatives at home, to imagine a world where we are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then we come to a conference and get our mind blown--not just once, or twice, but several times.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I wandered into the meeting room. The description discussed the important role of compassion in dealing with conflicts as opposed to the more common acts of assigning blame.

It was led by Michael Johnson who is part of the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives, GEO and has been living in an intentional community for 30 years. Part of this workshop was based on his real-life experiences in attempting to find more productive methods of resolving conflict.

The mascot of the Alvarado Street Bakery (ASB) is an orange and black cat, with a swinging tail and a sly grin. Perhaps his feisty smile is the result of good working conditions. ASB is the worker owned and run cooperative featured in Michael Moore’s recent film Capitalism: A Love Story as an example of economic democracy. ASB is based in Petaluma, California, but ships nationally through their website. In this interview, Joseph Tuck of ASB tells The Socialist about the company’s practices.

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From grocery stores and bakeries to bike shops and day care centers, worker-owned cooperatives are gaining popularity across the country. How are they faring in the recession? What solutions do co-ops offer for today’s recession/depression? If they gain even more popularity, could they transform the economy and the way we think it should work?

Guests include Dan Thomases, a founding member of Box Dog Bikes co-op, John Kusakabe of the Arizmendi Bakery co-op, and Hilary Abell of Women's Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES).

 

 


 

 

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I still have a few more posts on the National Worker Cooperative Conference held in Berkeley last week, but this post isn't about the specific workshops, but a general feeling and vibe that I found at the conference (and at other conferences). The work of building a cooperative society isn't quite like other trade associations or business cultures.

We are not going to become the solution any time soon, but I believe that we have the opportunity to achieve a lot, like laying down a foundational strategy and infrastructure open to diverse approaches for the generation to come.
The mascot of the Alvarado Street Bakery (ASB) is an
orange and black cat, with a swinging tail and a sly
grin. Perhaps his feisty smile is the result of good
working conditions.
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A new video interview with Jim Hightower on "unemployment and worker cooperatives."

Watch it here!

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