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Forum Post: How the Coop Movement Can Help Us Win Together

Posted 1 year ago on March 3, 2013, 3:03 p.m. EST by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

by Toolbox for Education and Social Action

Workers at the former Republic Windows & Doors have been much celebrated in the press for their victory over Bank of America. Their story is an inspiration, and a precious victory that we will continue to cheer. True to the cooperative movement, their transition to become New Era Windows was supported by a network of allies who propelled the workers into the limelight and helped them overcome those banks that were deemed too big to fail. Theirs is a story of sharing ideas and making a joint effort at movement building, with co-op developers, unions, and the workers themselves as players.

Republic’s workers were unionized, and as members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, they had a sneaking suspicion that layoffs were coming. In late 2008, Bank of America cancelled the company’s line of credit, driving Republic into bankruptcy, the workers were set to be laid off without their dued severance pay or other benefits. Mark Meinster, one of the ambitious union organizers from Local 111, suggested that the embattled workers occupy the factory. Their suggestion was met with some skepticism—even other union organizers thought for sure they’d be arrested—but their risk paid off, and the workers won back what the bank had threatened to take away. Photo: Marianne O'Leary / flickr

However, in 2012, after this momentous win, Serious Energy, the company that eventually bought out Republic, attempted to oust the workers a second time, precipitating another factory occupation. The forward-thinking organizers who won the first time around mobilized again, and after a second victory, began thinking about forming a worker cooperative. It was a hard-fought and ultimately successful showdown, but the union needed more support to make the transition to the co-op model. Those same workers who twice occupied Republic have since decided to take permanent control of the company and turn it into a cooperative called New Era Windows.

Enter the Cooperators

One of the key members of this cooperative team is the Center for Workplace Democracy (CWD). Based in Chicago, CWD was founded in October of 2011 as a “worker-ownership development center.” A four-person organization, CWD knew their business hinged on their ability to work with and learn from their allies. They drew on the experiences of Cooperation Texas and Green Worker Cooperatives, and reached out to the groups that had helped germinate the ideas that made those organizations successful.

CWD is a young organization that mixes public education and advocacy with professional training and technical assistance. These skills have enabled them to assist with Republic’s transition, and they prepared organizational documents for the company that addressed its new business structure, incorporation details, and so on. CWD also provided guidance with regard to cooperation—how to work collaboratively within the new framework—and hard administrative skills for the new worker-owners, who had no prior managerial experience.

Taking control of Republic was primarily a political struggle, and its organizers used economic means to solidify their victory. True to their mission to provide investment capital for worker cooperatives, a nonprofit organization called The Working World extended their help to negotiate the purchase of the factory, and find a new space for the company.

Funding a Worker Takeover

When, in 2012, Serious Energy dragged their feet and delayed the buyout, preferring instead a plan to scrap the machinery and sell the recycled metal, The Working World shined a light on their malfeasance, publicly shaming the owners of Serious while actively fundraising on the workers’ behalf. Donations streamed in, amounting to nearly $9,000 in additional start up funds, which was added to the buy-in capital that workers contributed when they elected to become a cooperative. The Working World then went a step further and became New Era’s sole backer, providing $500,000 in seed money.

In order to move to the next stage, the worker-owners of New Era and CWD worked on crafting their business plan, and obtaining the skills they’d need to make it in the long run. The beacon that New Era lit shined light on a number of other potential avenues for broadening the co-op movement in Chicago, and CWD took up this charge, forming a Co-op Academy to help develop similar aspiring worker co-ops. Based on hands-on, democratic, and experiential learning.

Our own organization, the Toolbox for Education and Social Action, is developing curriculum for CWD’s Academy. We are collaborating with the Academy students on creating program components, and creating other resources to connect the participants with practitioners in the field.

Together, we will work within Chicago’s emerging co-op movement, developing curriculum that is sensitive to the students’ context and responsive to their needs. The curriculum will be put to use in CWD’s 12-week long Cooperative Business Academy, launching in fall of 2013, which includes the full scope of co-op development.

The contributions of these organizations and their ongoing collaborations shows that Republic Windows & Doors struggle was more than just a flash point. It energized those involved and brought about new partnerships that continue to give shape to the new economy, and we can use these partnerships as a model for other struggles. The workers who initiated and sustained New Era’s efforts bring out the best of the cooperative movement: that empowered workers can create profound, fundamental change.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/03-3

37 Comments

37 Comments


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[-] 4 points by shadz66 (19985) 1 year ago

Re. Co-Ops, absolutely brilliant post !!! Got me all misty eyed !! Fantastic and utterly heart warming !

I extract the following important links from the article, for consideration in due course :

Solidarity and thanx 'PK' for yet another terrific post : http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/03-3 and there are more embedded links therein.

fiat lux ...

[-] 5 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

Good links shadz. I plan on buying one of those coopoly games and that was a great little mini doc in the cooperationtexas site. Hope you are doing well

[-] 6 points by shadz66 (19985) 1 year ago

Nice One ! Viva Co-opoly !! Also fyi PK et al :

As you will probably know, the distribution of wealth in America, highlighting both the inequality and the difference between our perception of inequality and the actual numbers - is often not what we think it is !

verb. sat. sap. ...

[-] 4 points by JesseHeffran (3903) 1 year ago

You know, after going to college and realizing the truth of our ponzi scheme nation, I decided that I was not going to try my hardest to be wealthy. If my nation would allow its distribution of wealth to get so skewed, then I wanted no part of her rewards.

Before I came to this site, I thought I was the only one who had come to this conclusion, but having read a lot of different people's posts, I believe my sentiment is shared by a number of people here.

This sentiment has gotten me to think. The reason we embrace capitalism is for the reason that the narrator stated. He believes an uneven distribution compels people to work hard. Well after seeing the reality of our ponzi scheme nation, I believe most people wont allow themselves to become the exploiters our incentives create.

Our system is supposed to allow the smartest and hardest working to rise to the top. looking at that graph, I believe our system entices the most selfish and egotistical to scrape and claw their way to the top.

I sometimes believe that my perception is just me rationalizing my status in life, but after delving deeper I'm beginning to believe I might be right.

[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 1 year ago

Very strong comment Jesse and I believe that you are right ! Very Right !! We are ejected on to "this mortal coil" with little other than an attached umbilical and we "shuffle off" with even less - having all lost said attachment !!!

Nothing material is made to last so why chase our tails shitting on each other and The Planet so as to secure more and more stuff when ultimately - only Love Is Real ?

nil desperandum ...

[-] 0 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

The best force to compel good work is love of the job, not money. Someone who works in coop run business, who feels he's as part as the business as others, who feels is getting is fair share of retribution, who feels like a human and not a slave, this person has more chance to love his job than his neighbor working for a top-down capitalist style company.

[-] 2 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

Yeah I saw this this morning. Pretty eye opening.

[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 1 year ago

Yep, fkn shocking actually !!! Also re. Co-ops and other small businesses :

"Capitalism without competition always leads to monopolies and oligarchies, and thanks to Reagan's refusal to maintain competition in our markets by enforcing the Sherman Act, these formed in every major industry in America, from telecom to food and even the media. Today, the Sherman Act is never used against the big boys. Big banks have grown out of control. Megastores like Walmart have wreaked havoc on local businesses, while telecom and cable companies like Comcast and AT&T have all of us in economic chains. Even our media has been consolidated. Look at some of the companies that dominate the marketplace today. Google has 90% market share of internet search engines. Facebook has a 64% market share of social media sites. And Sirius/XM Radio has an astonishing 100% market share of satellite radio in this country."

fiat justitia ruat caelum ...

[-] 0 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

An year old post of mine you might enjoy if you're into co-ops.

http://occupywallst.org/forum/why-and-how-ows-must-change-or-onto-anarcho-syndic/

Sadly, we are few here who believe in co-ops. If you read the comments in my posting linked above the twinkles/stinkles will reveal that most people here favor capitalism over communist and anarchist ideas. It makes me wonder, if most occupiers are pro-capitalists, how can we ever expect to create a better world?

[-] -1 points by vaprosvyeh (-400) 1 year ago

Ok, help me understand.

I have nothing against a co-op at all. But in the example above, the occupiers took control of a real business, a window and door company, and now they run it, and I can only assume they run it for profit. So that makes them capitalists. Manufacturing and selling a product for "capital" is capitalist.

So obviously capitalism is not a bad thing. It's just a concept. Money isn't inherently evil either, it's simple a method of exchanging the work of one man/woman (or groups of them) for the work of another.

In ANY system, you have to have a simple means of exchange because even a bartering system only works as a means to get what you need if you have something everyone else needs in return. You have to have a way for someone whose skill or trade isn't necessarily in demand to interact with and "purchase" the work of others or they'll "go broke" and starve.

So I'm unsure of what you believe should take the place of the "capital" in our system because even communist countries use currency.

[-] 0 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

Where did you get the idea that we should do without money? Who said money was inherently evil? You make many assumptions in your comment.

Simply manufacturing and selling a product for capital is not capitalism. Capitalism is much more than that. Money is only an abstraction of wealth (resources, services, etc...). There's exchange of wealth in every single economic framework ever invented. I suggest you read more on capitalism and why it's an absolutely evil economic framework. There's all kinds of resources that can explain this.

Here is a succinct definition of capitalism - "Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of capital goods and the means of production, with the creation of goods and services for profit."

One key element of capitalism is private ownership. Anarcho-syndicalism is not private ownership, it's communal ownership. People make money with anarcho-syndicalist coops, they just make that money together because everyone owns the company together.

[-] 0 points by vaprosvyeh (-400) 1 year ago

First, I appreciate your response, but please don't assume from one post the level to which I might be informed or not. :-)

Aside from the assumption regarding "capital" as in "money-, my next question then is what about people who want to work alone-as in they make a product or offer a service which does not require partnerships with others? Those people WOULD be the private owners selling their products or services for profit on their own and as such would be considered "capitalists".

Is there room in your system for such individuals?

I agree with you that money is not inherently evil. But people can and will be evil in ANY system. What keeps one co-op from trying to dominate the market they work in? What prevents corruption and crime from happening in Anarcho-syndicalism? Or any group of people from saving up money and then using that money to influence or control others? What makes the transfer of wealth more secure/fair etc as compared to anything else?

[-] 1 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

First, I appreciate your response, but please don't assume from one post the level to which I might be informed or not. :-)

My reply was in direct response to your comment, I made no assumptions. You presented ideas that showed you did not understand capitalism. Now you pose questions that show you don't understand anarcho-capitalism. There's nothing wrong with that, however, if you truly care about these answers you should not be posting in a forum, you should go to the library and get goods books on these subjects. Numerous scholars have written about capitalism and anarcho-syndicalism in much better fashion than I can.

I don't think this forum should function as a school, certainly not for old ideas that have been discussed in length. I also think politics have no place here. This forum should be used to organize Occupy events.

Find some good books on anarcho-syndicalism and capitalism.

[-] 0 points by vaprosvyeh (-400) 1 year ago

When did "Occupy" discuss the merits of anarcho-syndicalism "in length" and determine that the solutions to our problems are best addressed by it?

[-] -1 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

anarcho-syndicalism was discussed in length long before Occupy came along. Occupy discussed it since the beginning of the protest. Read up on the history of anarcho-syndicalism, the history of Occupy, and David Graeber's role in shaping the protest.

[-] 0 points by vaprosvyeh (-400) 1 year ago

You didn't answer my question.

[-] -1 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

Occupy discussed the merits of anarcho-syndicalism in length at the beginning of the protest, and throughout thereafter. Many of these discussions are still available on the web.

Occupy was started by anarchists. Anarchists have been debating ideas such has anarcho-syndicalism for hundred's of years. It's natural they would consider anarcho-syndicalism as the best antidote to capitalism.

If you are genuinely interested by anarcho-syndicalism, I suggest you go to your local library and read up on the subject. You'll get much more information there. This site cannot serve as a school. It was built to plan and organize Occupy events.

[-] 0 points by vaprosvyeh (-400) 1 year ago

I'm aware that anarchists have been debating for hundreds of years. So have Christians, and socialists, and politicians, capitalists and quilting guilds and mechanics and every other large group of individuals. Human beings like to discuss and debate things.

To conclude that any group stands in agreement upon something based only upon the sheer amount of time it has spent discussing something is a non sequitur. Your premise and your conclusion might both very well be true, but you have not demonstrated that all those who consider themselves to be Occupiers have agreed upon and adopted "anarcho-syndicalism as the best antidote to capitalism".

[-] 1 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

Read the minutes of the NYCGA general assemblies. They are still posted on the NYCGA site linked above. That's when and where Occupy decisions were made.

I don't consider it my job to educate you, nor to demonstrate anything. I can only lead you to the fountain, but I won't force you to drink.

but you have not demonstrated that all those who consider themselves to be Occupiers have agreed upon and adopted "anarcho-syndicalism as the best antidote to capitalism".

And, please note I never said that all Occupiers agreed that anarcho-syndicalism was the best antidote to capitalism. These are words you are trying to put into my mouth. Since the beginning of this thread, most of the ideas you have are mere assumptions. My opinion is that anarcho-syndicalism would be a good antidote for capitalism, and I believe many occupiers feel the same way. However, I'm sure many occupiers believe some other framework could be used.

[-] 4 points by quantumystic (1710) from Memphis, TN 1 year ago

The only way to really attain the means of production is to take it, or whats left of it anyways. This is why america has a long and storied fear of communism because it advocates nothing short of the VIOLENT overthrow of the ruling class and the seizing of the means of production. It was so bad that at one point the elite financed teddy roosevelt rather than face a democrat. America has a long and storied history of the expulsion, imprisonment, and execution of communists, socialists, unionists, anarchists, and insurrectionists. People often say well it could never take hold here, well this is true; we killed, jailed, and deported the radicals.

[-] 3 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

This is where I part ways with some marxists. The whole violent overthrow of the capitalist system and the installation of a dictatorship of the proletriat in one fell swoop. In my opinoin you just don't go from a capitalist culture to a socialist one overnight. There has to be a change of consicousness among workers and that takes time. Cooperative enterprize is a step in the right direction in changing that consiousness. Doing so will slowy start fostering a culture of mutual cooperation and solidarity instead of the consumerist culture that we have now. If there was a revolution today without the right cultural changes then we could very well end up with a soviet style government ruled by buerocrats. Or worse some quazi facsist movement like the tea party in power. Neither is very appealing to me.

[-] 1 points by quantumystic (1710) from Memphis, TN 1 year ago

meaning they will literally take away your ability to participate in the political system. in every meaningful way. think they won't? better ask an anarchist or socialist from the old school.

[-] 1 points by quantumystic (1710) from Memphis, TN 1 year ago

simply stating the facts. if you want it you must take it. tptb will never hand over the keys to the kingdom willingly. as a matter of fact any threat to the status quo will be met with heavy handedness. you think co-ops are the answer? i say go for it, you will be destroyed legally and financially by the system once it recognizes you as a threat. you think they will allow you to challenge their established systems of control and enslavement? do you read history? do you think anarchist and socialist groups just arrived in america? do you think the idea of co-ops or worker governed business is a new idea? these ideas have been around for a century or more. as i said before they allow these ideals into mainstream discourse they will do everything in their power to marginalize and nothing short of legal disenfranchisement and deportation/prison for those who advocate said ideals.

[-] 1 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

I am fully aware of the bloody labor history of this country. The Haymarket affair, the IWW, the battle of Blair mountain I know what happened in North America and I know coops are not a new phenomenon. But what you advocate has less a chance of succeding than trying to build an economic and democratic culture to achieve class consiousness first. Where is this revolution supposed to come from at this moment in history? Who would support it? Say there was a revolution today? What would prevent it from becoming a top down totalitarian state like the old soviet union? Without a widespread cultural frame work for economic democracy how is this supposed to succeed? Capitalism did not develop over night. Do you really expect a major cultural and economic revolution to happen spontaneously without seeds being planted and germiating first?

[-] 1 points by quantumystic (1710) from Memphis, TN 1 year ago

LOL, wow really? "Do you really expect a major cultural and economic revolution to happen spontaneously without seeds being planted and germinating first?" That is funny shit, the "revolution" has been on for several generations sorry your sheltered suburban ass was unaware. Christ, I knew this shit at 13 in 1991.

[-] 1 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

Now you are just talking nonsense

[-] 1 points by quantumystic (1710) from Memphis, TN 1 year ago

sure i am and you are peterkropotkin

[-] 1 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

Exactly. We can create co-ops within this system so let's do it. When people see the advantages co-ops will spread like mushrooms. We just need to make sure they are able to compete against traditional capitalist corporations. Co-op banks have already shown they can survive in the world of big banking.

[-] 0 points by HCHC4 (-28) 1 year ago

Its amazing what people can achieve when they decide to get involved.

Its all there for the taking for us, we just have to decide its a priority.

[-] 0 points by Kavatz (464) from Edmonton, AB 1 year ago

I hope you don't mind but I'd like to link back to here from the Conglomerate's experimental (Phase 1 project task) Subsidiary Directory website. Actually, I just did, but let me know if you want that undone.

[-] 0 points by peacehurricane (293) 1 year ago

Right on I say this with tears in my eyes. This is what it is all about people I love it! The person inspired was called crazy at the start of this growing ideal that reaches the stars and so are the actions of sincerity operating the truth, bigger than the bullshit forever and ever amen. All One in Solidarity Worldwide FREEDOM!

[-] 0 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

I agree. I believe we should change the world through positive actions like creating co-ops. Nothing is better than leading by example. Resistance has its place and is necessary to a point, but I don't think we can change much in this manner. Its helps create awareness, but without offering solutions people get tired of complaints quite quickly. Providing solutions is what really empowers the people, and co-ops are one of those great solutions Occupy must work on with more energy.

[-] 7 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

I think we can change things through resistance but not the fundamentals with out changing who owns the means of production. Like during the depression workers got a better deal than they had had before but they left the same people in charge of the economy. If we push for changes this time and we have economic resources to back the change and slowly install worker cooperatives as the economic power behind the change then I believe we can have real positive change not just here but all over the world.

[-] 0 points by Kavatz (464) from Edmonton, AB 1 year ago

I think you would proudly support the 99% Conglomerate initiative. It's a really basic concept too, with basic, easy to understand rules.

Why not pick it apart and tell me what you don't like.

http://groupspaces.com/99Conglomerate/pages/subsidiary-types

and click Home after reading those few bullets.

I look forward to your reply.

[-] 0 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

It's crucial to offer workable solutions as you push for change. A revolution without a clear alternative is very dangerous as it opens the door to those who want to create a new framework based on corruption and dictatorship. Occupy must show what it has to replace the things it fights against.

[-] 3 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 1 year ago

Agreed

[-] 1 points by clearsimpletruths (-204) 1 year ago

What scares me is that Occupy did not have these alternatives ready at the beginning of the protest. Instead, it experimented with these replacement ideas (direct democracy, general assemblies, etc...) and encountered quite a few problems along the way. Now we question why consensus did not work, i.e. is it a failed concept, or was our implementation flawed by way of misunderstanding the concept. It's good and crucial to debate these issues, but to onlookers it looks like we don't know what we are doing. I think this drove many people away from Occupy. As in - "Guys, you're against representatives and have good reasons why, but you fight like kindergarteners in your general assemblies. Why should we think this is better?"

We need to pull our sleeves up and really start implementing solutions that work.