Previously in this series:
Notice: The Growing Cooperatives Movement & How You Can Get Involved. YES! Magazine Conference Call - Includes some information on cooperatives and YES! Magazine, an important resource for understanding New Economy and other subjects of relevance to progressives, especially those inclined toward direct action.
Call Transcript, Pt 1. (Sarah van Gelder, Laura Flanders)
Conference Call Participants
Sarah van Gelder, Executive Editor, YES! Magazine
Laura Flanders, GRITtv and the Laura Flanders Show
Omar Freilla, The Green Worker Cooperatives
Eric Bowman, The Northwest Cooperative Development Center (NWCDC)
Ted Howard, Democracy Collaborative, Evergreen Cooperatives
Mike Beall, The National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA)
We've found that there's something very different that happens when human beings can make decisions driven by all of the things we care about: our communities, the freshness of our air and the [?] of our water, our children and their children down to the seventh generation, as our native friends say--all of these can come to the forefront if profit and loss statements and returning profits to those who are already wealthy isn't our dominant concern. -Sarah van Gelder
What did the workers do this time? Well, this time, in 2012, they took over the factory. They made it their ask of their owners, the ask for the right from the owners to bid on the equipment. Sure, back pay and severance, but right to the workers to bid on the equipment and on the factory operations was a big part of their demands in that second takeover.Call Transcript, Pt 2 (Omar Freilla)
And they won. They won a promise from the company that they would be able to bid. They had the backing of the group I mentioned, Working World. They had the backing of the United Electrical Workers. They had two years of thinking and training and relationship building under their belt. And, more or less, since the winter of 2012, they've started on this campaign to being their own bosses. - Laura Flanders
This is an opportunity for people who are interested in cooperatives, people who are interested in businesses, business development, and not just to go with the lowest common denominator and accept any kind of a business, but to really push the envelope and develop businesses that actually generate wealth, generate a community and maximize the kind of wealth that you're paying a community and at the same time have people working in the place and making decisions who really have the community's interest at heart, because they actually live there. That's really central to us. - Omar FreillaCall Transcript, Pt 3 (Eric Bowman)
...coops that are dynamic and relevant in our modern economy, they're doing very strongly in terms of sales, assets, employment levels. I mean, these have never been higher.Call Transcript, Pt 4 (Ted Howard)
There's about 29,000 coops that serve about 43% of the U.S. population, whether it's rural electric or a credit union or a farmer coop. And these are businesses that have an internationally recognized set of principles, you know, such as democracy.
And they're really the only utopian vision that can actually operate in a highly complex economy.
The top sectors that we're focusing on at NWCDC are:
1) number one, food systems. So local foods, like food coops, online ordering, like Idaho's Bounty...ad marketing for small farmers.
2) Two would be housing...specifically manufactured housing. I think there's a massive opportunity right now to convert existing communities into cooperative ownership.
3) And finally, low income workers. Home care, house cleaning... I'm a little reluctant to point this out, but we're all on track to become low income workers. - Eric Bowman
It was only a few years ago, when I would talk to people about the need to broaden ownership over capital, and speak with people about Mondragon and the fact that, in their system, they place labor above capital. They know that capital is absolutely essential to having any effective business, as we all know; but, labor's in first place. And, which is a very different concept than our system. And, when I would talk to people about that, including in foundations and the press, people would sort of look at me cross-eyed.Sarah's conversation with the final panelist, Mike Beall, follows.
But I think because of the crises that we've had, the Great Recession, the various first-hand housing bubbles, the great pain of that...[snip]...The growing concentration of inequality and wealth-holding. All of these things have opened up a lot of our perspectives on new approaches to the economy, to jobs, to how to organize work.
[Evergreen Cooperatives'] model's a three legged stool to leverage the purchasing power of anchor institutions--those kind of place-based institutions like hospitals, universities, city government, the kinds of things that, when traditional corporations come and go, they stay behind--and leverage their procurement and purchasing power to drive business locally...and then build up a network of locally owned, community-based cooperatives that can do business with those institutions and ensure that the companies lift their leg of the stool by being green.
Mike Beall is based in Washington, D.C. The National Cooperative Business Association has projects going in thirteen countries worldwide in addition to what is happening here in the U.S. So, Mike, give us a quick snapshot--I do want to get into questions before I get too far into this hour--so, give us a quick snapshot of cooperatives that our listeners particularly want to know about both here in the U.S. and abroad.
MIKE: Well, I am about six months into my tenure at NCBA and the main thing that I'm hearing as I go around the country and try to talk to folks in multiple sectors is what your first guest talked about, which is that...
...the real challenge is that, you know, we have hundreds of millions of people using coops, we have lots of opportunities on different kinds of products, what we don't really have is a good enough system to finance cooperative development.The sector of cooperatism that I come from is the credit union sector. I actually was born of two credit union folks. My parents worked in the credit union movement their whole lives. At NCBA, one of the things we're working on is that we really have to find linkages cross-sector.
The credit union sector as a financing sector for cooperatives is virtually untapped.And that is a sector also that is looking to produce good loans. So, coming from my own background, that's one of my passions, and I believe it's one of the most important tools we can put in place, because that's what a number of coop leaders are telling me is the big issue.
And, if we're going to get folks to live cooperative lives ... I mean, talking to consumers and making sure they understand what their cooperative choices are across a range of the products and services that they use every day, whether that's financing their cars at credit unions, whether that's buying electricity cooperatively through electric coops, going all the way across the line and being able to make coop choices is really, really important.
Ultimately for us, as a trade association, what we see...[snip]...is that folks really still don't understand what a cooperative is.
We're working with groups across the country to form local cooperative business associations. We'd like to be able to support that movement, because there still is government sector that doesn't understand what we are as coops, consumers still have that trouble...and I think we lack, in some respects, that Chamber of Commerce approach in the for-profit sector that really works at helping to sustain and drive profitability, growth, and again, awareness of what businesses have.The for-profit sector is a place for us to take a look at and say, they do a good job of sustaining each other. We need to do that locally as well. We're working with a group in Austin as a pilot, and we want to really connect with those folks around the country on this.
I will say that in Washington, even the Obama administration with their most recent budget, has eliminated the one line item that is the financial support for the cooperative development center. So, even as friendly as this administration is, we still have lots of work to do politically as well.So, I'll wrap up and let you move on to questions as well.
SARAH: Great, thank you.
TO BE CONTINUED