Previously in this series:
Last Min. 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 FreillaThe transcript for Sarah's conversation with Eric Bowman follows.
SARAH: ...I want to introduce Eric Bowman, who is a coop development specialist for the Northwest Cooperative Development Center in Olympia, WA, where he provides business development advice to farms and natural resource cooperatives. He's authored feasibility studies and business plans and provided technical assistance to start-ups of coops. And he serves as board chair of the Tulips Credit Union, which I, I haven't heard of a tulips credit union before Eric, but, welcome to this program and glad you're here. Some of the questions in particular that we're starting to get suggest that people are really interested in the technical side of, of how you do this...How do you actually get a coop going? But, before we get to that, just tell us how you got involved in this and what sort of trends you're seeing in the cooperative movement.
ERIC: Excellent, thank you for the wonderful introduction.
Yeah, I've been with NWCDC for about 9 years. And before that I had my own small business and, basically, I just hated being alone. I thought: there's gotta be a better way of doing this. From there I kind of transitioned into the work that you were describing.
To cue off of the trends on where I see the cooperative business sector transitioning...one, I just want to mention a little bit about where coops are, and, I would point out that...
...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.
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.So where is this going?
From my perspective, the investor-driven sector is increasingly dysfunctional, they've been prone to some ridiculous bubbles and crises; they're pouring resources into political self-preservation. They've broken the social contract through tax evasion. And it's not been as good at meeting our needs as it claimed or thinks it is.
Meanwhile, government is in gridlock and a period of contraction. And--I say this as somebody who's been around nonprofits, you know, and has a lot of friends in it--the nonprofit sector is increasingly under strain, due to less resources and increasing demand.
Within the generation, we're never seen this much interest in new cooperative formation. My goal is that this isn't the high water mark but rather the start of an even bigger trend.
So, for these reasons, mutalism is in.
The top sectors that we're focusing on at NWCDC are:I'm a little reluctant to point this out, but we're all on track to become low income workers.
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...
So, you know, food, housing, and employment...there's not a coincidence that these are some of our most basic human needs.
SARAH: Thank you, Eric, that's great.
TO BE CONTINUED
Part 4 is now available here.