Cooperatives

“Difficult times call for creative strategies. Time and again during periods of economic hardship and market failure, cooperatively owned businesses have emerged as a democratic, grassroots, and do-it-yourself response. It happened during the economic upheavals of the 19th century and again during the Great Depression. Today, as the current economic crisis deepens, co-ops are again coming to the fore as producers and consumers seek stable sources of employment, goods, and services.”
From “Worker Co-ops: Green and Just Jobs You Can Own”, by James Trimarco, Jill Bamburg in YES! Magazine, June 2009.

In the late-1970s I worked at Red Start Cheese, part of a robust network of co-ops and collectives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and co-founded a worker-managed interstate trucking company in California’s Central Valley.  Now, as we are faced with challenges like an increasing gap between rich and poor, climate change, and resource depletion, I am inspired by the examples of the Mondragon Federation of Cooperatives in Spain, Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives in the San Francisco Bay Area, the continued success of longstanding co-ops and the variety of new co-ops cropping up.

There is an upsurge of interest in cooperatives in the U.S. in recent years. 2012 was the United Nations declared International Year of the Cooperative.  I have completed the CooperationWorks! training in Cooperative Development. I serve as a professional member of the Democracy at Work Network (DAWN), which provides technical assistance to start-up and existing worker co-ops, and am a member of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives.

Resources:

In Seattle: Worker Cooperative Development Program at Pinchot’s Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship. Provides comprehensive training, technical assistance, and community support to underserved entrepreneurs to start or strengthen worker cooperatives or to convert existing businesses to worker ownership. http://cie.pinchot.edu/worker-cooperative-program.

Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI) facilitates education and skill-sharing among existing cooperatives; supports them with research, training, tools, and standards; builds relationships among institutions supporting, developing and financing worker cooperatives; and educates the public about the need for and benefits of democratic worker-ownership. Publications available at: http://institute.usworker.coop.

Democracy at Work Network (DAWN) – www.dawn.coop – is a network of certified peer advisors, all with strong social and professional ties, who provide technical assistance services to worker cooperatives.

Shift Change, a  film by Mark Dworken and Melissa Young featuring worker co-ops in the U.S. and Spain. www.shiftchange.org

Northwest Cooperative Development Center (NWCDC) – www.nwcdc.coop. NWCDC provides  training, coaching, and technical assistance for start-up and existing co-op businesses in the tri-state Northwest of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and the Hawaiian Islands.

SLICE (Northwest Cooperative Alliance) – www.slice.coop – is working to grow the co-op economy in the Puget Sound area.  Read the results of the 2011 Survey of Cascadia Region Cooperatives: Cascadia Cooperatives – 2011 Preliminary Survey Report, FINAL

About Cooperatives:
Nearly 30,000 cooperatives operate at 73,000 places of business throughout the U.S. These cooperatives own over $3 trillion in assets, generating over $500 billion in revenue and over $25 billion in wages annually. 2008 Study on the Impact of Cooperatives, University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
http://www.uwcc.wisc.edu/whatisacoop/Impacts/

Co-op Principles
The International Co-operative Alliance has established seven Principles that define co-ops as part of their Statement on the Co-operative Identity.

Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.

Member Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

Co-operation among Co-operatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

Concern for Community
Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

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