On Thursday, I published a last-minute announcement of a Conference Call on The Growing Cooperatives Movement & How You Can Get Involved that was held by YES! Magazine later that day.
After the phone call, also on Thursday, I briefly reported upon and posted the first part of the transcript of that call in the diary, The Growing Cooperatives Movement & How You Can Get Involved - YES! Mag Conf Call Transcript, Pt 1.
Due to embarrassing, largely self-induced technical difficulties, I was unable to post follow-up installments of the transcript yesterday. Mea culpa.
YES! Magazine arranged the following excellent panel for this call.
In the first diary in this series, Sarah van Gelder,, the moderator, described her own backstory with cooperatives as well as the basis of YES! Magazine's interest in them.
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)
One of the reasons we're drawn to the cooperative model is because it's such a great way to put enterprises in the service of workers and consumers and producers and people in general...rather than having people in the service of enterprises.Sarah then interviewed the first panelist, Laura Flanders. Laura contributed an article, How Workers Laid Off from a Chicago Factory Took It Over Themselves --When their boss tried to fire them, the workers of Republic Windows and Doors occupied the factory. Now they own it as a cooperative, to YES! Magazine's spring 2013 issue, How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy. Laura's remarks focused upon New Era Windows nee Republic Windows and Doors.
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.
You know, there is not capital to support coops at this point. Financing is very hard for workers to get hands on. They were able to find some $500,000 through private sources, mostly Working World, and it was with that that they've made this happen. But the banks that are supposedly charged with stimulating our economy and encouraging small businesses turned them down for loan after loan, even though they had the equipment as collateral.
It's a big story and while there's great possibility here and excitement and it's fantastic that all the jobs at the factory are not going to be lost it is opening up smaller and it has revealed exactly where the weaknesses are in our system for anyone trying to, well, start a new era in business.
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.
And the story from that point is really the one that I told in YES!...It's got a happy ending, but it's been a long, hard haul...
SARAH: ...I want to turn now to Omar Freilla of The Green Worker Cooperatives. Omar has...I remember meeting Omar in the Bronx some years ago, in the South Bronx, since he had just developed...[snip]...Rebuilders Source...to take building materials that weren't being used and, instead of sending them to the landfill, to use them for rebuilding. That was some time ago and, so, Omar, maybe you could give us a five minute version of what you're doing now and what the coop looks like in the South Bronx.
OMAR: Sure, I would love to. Thank you for having me on. Worker cooperatives are something that we are big fans of at The Green Worker Cooperatives. Clearly. They're something that we really see as having the potential to create a democratic economy, a space where people have the opportunity to practice democracy on a daily basis, starting at the places where we work, where we spend most of our time.
Over the past three years, we have really been focused on promoting a form of cooperative development that we see as being organic and coming from the ground up and creating the opportunity for people from across the spectrum to have an awareness and an understanding of worker owned businesses, worker cooperatives. So, a few years ago we launched something that we call the Coop Academy. And it is our approach to work with people where they are, where they have ideas, and, people who want to start businesses and who are entrepreneurs, but who really don't know anything about cooperatives and worker cooperatives and what they are.
We founded the Coop Academy as a five-month boot camp. Think of it as a green business boot camp for cooperatives, where we really take people through the ringer and work with people to understand not just the sales, marketing, and finance that you would get at a traditional entrepreneurship program, but we're working with teams of people, so we incorporate that element but also the element of being able to work together without killing each other...of operating as a team, of understanding democratic decision-making structures, and really creating actions plans and ways for people to develop themselves as a socially responsible business that is concerned with the community and concerned with the environment.We see worker cooperatives as a way to bring about many of the goals and the aspirations of people throughout the social justice movements across the U.S., particularly--I came out of the environmental justice movement in the South Bronx, in New York City--and one of the tenets that I've long said is that with the environmental justice movement...
...there's always this belief that communities that are the ones that are bearing the impacts of environmental degradation are the ones that have the greatest experience and awareness and great ideas for how to move the community forward.
And we take that as something equivalent in the workplace, that it's workers who are on the ground, who are working in the business, who have the direct knowledge of what's working in the business, and can generate great ideas to save a business and to move it forward. So, those are things that we bring into the work that we do.
So, we are always on the lookout for people who have ideas from across the spectrum, and take the perspective that all businesses, regardless of what they are, need to be green if our planet is to really move forward and we as a society are able to continue and function. So,
we take the view that all businesses can be looked at under a microscope and really dissected to see: what are the opportunities for making that business green.
There's some exceptions for us. We're not going to take a munitions plant and, you know, we're not out there to create a weapons factory in the Bronx...but it is something that we feel, for pretty much everything else, there's an opportunity.
Regardless of what the industry is, there's an opportunity to green this operation. How can this business reduce the impact on the planet? How can it reduce its reliance on natural resources and be a contribution to the community instead of something that detracts from the community?...which is the situation for the South Bronx, for the community that I live in, and for communities around the country that have been marginalized...particularly where you have low income communities, communities of color, that have been the dumping grounds for many industries and no one else wants.So, this 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.
SARAH: That's terrific, thank you so much Omar...(and, some of you may remember that we featured Omar in several issues of YES! Magazine)...[snip]
TO BE CONTINUED
Here is the link to Part 3.