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Forum Post: The printing co-operative that emerged from Occupy Wall Street

Posted 8 years ago on March 28, 2012, 10:30 a.m. EST by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA
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Jesse Goldstein | Co-operative News | March 22, 2012 - 10:27am (0) Co-operatives , Democracy , Education , Politics , Producer or Worker Share this page: Share |

The OWS Screenprinters Cooperative has set up a print shop in the former Amalgamated Bank, owned by the United Federation of Teachers This past week, the OWS Screenprinters Cooperative had a table set up at Hunter College’s Women’s Day Fair, screenprinting and selling tee-shirts, or as they call it “anti-retailing”.

The coop emerged out of the OWS Screenprinters Guild, with whom I have been, and continue to be, involved. The Guild (not the coop – it gets confusing) emerged as a staple of the Wall Street occupation, printing tee-shirts and patches on the north side of Zuccotti Park up until Bloomberg finally succeeded in clearing out the space.

Since then, the Guild has continued to function, maintaining a small public presence at Occupy-related events in the city, though the winter – mild as it was – finally got too cold for our ink to cure outside. We have a print shop set up in a former Amalgamated Bank office on the first floor of a building owned by the United Federation of Teachers.

The space, which is called SIS (Shipping, Inventory, Storage) was the OWS receiving space for in-kind donations and acquisitions when they were flowing in last fall, but has since become home to the OWS Library, Medics, Archive and the Screenprinters.

The Screenprinters Guild is a unique OWS working group: whereas most of the working groups (most notably the food working group) need to tap into the OWS General Fund, which at its peak held over $500k, the Screenprinters actually generate revenue for the movement.

When we first started printing in Zuccotti Park, our intention was to provide a free and fun service (see here for some first-person accounts). But right away, we saw that money – that ubiquitous and universal symbol of social wealth – was going to be pushed upon us. From the very first pulls of ink, passers-by would donate anything from a few pennies to a few twenties in exchange for screenprinted shirts, even if the garment was initially theirs to begin with.

Over the course of the occupation, these financial exchanges became increasingly entrenched in the moral economy of the Guild, and at times it could even feel a bit like we were manning the movement’s souvenir stand. No one was turned away for lack of funds, but there was clearly an expectation that tourists should be paying, especially if they were taking a shirt that we had to purchase ourselves.

A full day of printing at Zuccotti Park would net the Guild as much as $2,000 in our big blue bucket, which we’d periodically empty into a plastic bag to take over to the accounting tent and deposit directly into the General Fund. Even though we’d get a receipt each time we made a deposit, we never kept track of exactly how much money we made – because it didn’t actually matter.

However, the Screenprinters did ask the GA for money. At the height of the occupation we were approved to spend $20k on blank tee-shirts, always with the guarantee that this expense would be repaid twice over through the donations that our printing generated. We spent the last of that money around New Years, and now have nine large boxes of tee-shirts stored in Brooklyn, waiting to be put to use.

During the winter, as OWS’s collective energy was no longer focused on maintaining occupied spaces, other sorts of projects emerged. For the Screenprinters, this meant working with the Alternative Economies Working Group, and more specifically, with a network of people from various groups (Food, Tech, Screenprinting, Legal, and Alt Economies) to discuss the possibility of transforming parts of our respective projects into workers’ cooperatives.

All of us had created such incredible infrastructure for the occupation, yet without an occupied space, the question before us was whether any of this infrastructure could be maintained within the market economy that we were struggling against.

This raises some interesting questions about the relationship between the markets we make and their relationship to the commons that we want. Others may disagree, but I do think that the infrastructure we were producing as part of the Zuccotti occupation was an infrastructure of and for commoning – it was that connection that made these projects feel so important, so meaningful, and so generative.

But now what? Now that the Park is no longer serving as our geographical locus – our commons – is it possible to maintain or recreate these same sorts of relations in other contexts?

For the Guild, one approach has been to transform itself – in part at least – into an “anti-retailing” workers’ cooperative.




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[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 8 years ago

Super awesome, hopefully the beginning of a trend. There's many things like this that we could do to begin building the world we're dreaming of.

There are some worker owned firms in NYC. What products do they sell, are those products sourced from other worker owned firms, if not then why not? From imprinting logos on t-shirts, to other types of clothing, to manufacturing the actual clothing. Then, setting up nonprofits to begin purchasing property.

The possibilities are endless.

[-] 2 points by francismjenkins (3713) 8 years ago

That's what I'm saying, we have so many potential friends out there. Labor unions, the thousands of co-ops and worker owned firms in the United States, and again, there's plenty of worker owned companies and co-ops in NYC (like stores, cleaning companies, community health centers, home care and day care companies, and the list goes on and on).

All of these enterprises use goods and services. Between undergrad and law school, I worked in sales for like three years. I mean suit and tie corporate sales (for a global shipping firm). From that experience I can say, there is an endless list of things that people need.

There is no reason, with all the people power dedicated to OWS, why there shouldn't be hundreds of worker owned firms manufacturing, buying, and selling to each other, and I think this could be accomplished much quicker than most people realize.

This is really the nuts and bolts of what we're dreaming about.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 8 years ago

I wonder how we could spread this idea to the wider OWS movement? I'm about to start nursing school next semester but when I graduate i would love to get involved in something like this.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 8 years ago

I thought so too. I'm pretty excited about this as I see it as the future of a better more just world and it doesnt have to involve government intervention and we dont need the 1% to do it. Its like opting out of their whole system.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 8 years ago

Or even better, displacing the system with something better. Obviously, there's challenges. In some respects, this model will eventually have to compete against conventional corporations, but this should not deter us. There's one big and obvious advantage for worker owned firms, a much smaller need to generate profits.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 8 years ago

Agreed. Look up Mondragon they seem to be doing really well in spain. A model like this may be something we should be developing here.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 8 years ago

I've read about that ... and yeah, it's a good model, but OWS has a lot of work to do before it achieves something of that scale.

[-] 1 points by elf3 (4149) 8 years ago

So Awesome - can we order ? Thanks for this - I went to purchase some protest supplies until I realized the irony in buying them from a corporate monopoly (although they would be equally annoyed to know they helped the movement hah!!!) Occupy Wall Street brought to you by Staples "protest goods" and Wal-Mart "political sign and marker, and Occupy Protest aisle. Ha ha - Occupy has co-opted the opposition !!! Got any bumper stickers? (I like the rose with the fist coming up.)

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 8 years ago

How can you be for this and against the steel workers co-op?

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 8 years ago

I dont know but I'm sure its not hard to find out.

[-] 1 points by Demian (497) from San Francisco, CA 8 years ago

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