Worker Cooperatives Towards Revolution


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Worker Cooperatives Towards Revolution

 


This writing is broken into three chunks, read whatever is useful!

  1. Theory and strategy

  2. Our praxis as Cooperation Northfield

  3. Resources

 

The majority of this writing is done as bullet point lists under headings, someday we will write these things more eloquently. We hope this is useful for now regardless.

 


This is a writing primarily by Cliff Martin, a member of the cadre of Cooperation Northfield in which we mainly do worker, youth, solidarity economy, and climate justice organizing.

 


 

 

Note: When using the word socialism or socialist in this writing, we mean in the broadest sense, encompassing anti-capitalism and a system for social well being. We see many socialists perspectives such as anarchism, communism, communalism, democratic confederalism, etc. as fitting under this umbrella term for the purposes of this writing.

 

In our current historical moment, we believe that our core task is to build the foundation and infrastructure of what will someday be a massive working class movement that is capable of overthrowing capitalism through mass collective direct action alongside a network of dual power institutions that can fill the power vacuum with decentralized direct democracy in workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, people's assemblies, etc.

 

One of many core components of this long term left project is the construction of socialist or social justice worker cooperatives as well as the solidarity economy as a whole.

 

Simply put, a worker cooperative is a workplace or business that is run through direct democracy of the workers (or by a board of workers from the broader body of workers) instead of a boss. All are equal owners and controllers, worker ownership and control of the means of production.

 

For this writing, we will focus on worker cooperatives exclusively. Fundamentally, we think these types of institutions have the potential to be critical component of revolution in the US.

Here is a brief list of the main potentials that worker cooperatives represent:

  • Material improvement for workers and basic dignity through democratic power.

  • Shift the cultural narrative of large amounts of regular people from death culture to one of cooperation and solidarity.

  • Be material/structural conditions of democracy that are more prone to cultures of social justice values.

  • The basis of economic dual power institutions in a revolutionary moment.

  • A new institutional power base of money and people for the left.

  • A concrete alternative institution to direct masses of people towards in times of crisis, when people are looking for solutions they real things, not ideas. We can point at workers who don't lose their jobs and give back to the community etc.

 

The following writing is to elaborate in as simple and direct of form as possible some the core ideas behind each aspect of worker cooperatives as a revolutionary force.

 

And lets get clear right away, there are some fundamental limitations.

 

Limitations

Worker co-ops are not the end all be all solution or main thing we need to do. The work of building worker cooperatives and the solidarity economy in general (and really, all of our work) will be and is filled with contradictions to which there are no solutions except to navigate through democracy. We cannot actually realize a fully socialist or solidarity economy while capitalism exists with strength. The state and capital will work hard to destroy anything we build as it comes to power, as it will (and always has) with unions or other social movements as well. Our task then is to build these institutions for their benefits nonetheless and prepare our bases of people to fight for what we have built when the attacks come. So, acknowledging that we cannot “build cooperatives” our way out of capitalism and oppression, here are some other limitations we see:

  • While worker cooperatives are worker control of the means of production, they are not socialism on their own. Some may be/usually are at the whims of the free market and thus not be able to fully fulfill their socialist potential until we can build large scale democratic and decentralized planning instead of markets.

    • In light of behaving in regards to markets, that means cooperatives can be undercut in their attempts to pay higher wages, do less harm to the environment, etc. by capitalists firms. That means worker co-ops will be fundamentally limited in their ability to “take the high road” as employers when still competing for market share with capitalists.

  • Just like unions, they are not inherently socialist or even left politically, radicals have to organize within them and make them that way.

  • Workers seizing the means of production slowly and not in a revolutionary moment is of course not as radicalizing for workers as it has been in moments of revolution and revolt.

  • They can take a long time to build, especially to get to scale that is impactful.

  • They can take some serious money to build.

  • Are unfamiliar to the public at large, as is direct democracy and the skills required to run it. We have to teach many old dogs new tricks.

 

And yet, we think there is massive potential and need. We will here outline some core aspects of what worker cooperatives can do to achieve revolution as well as some notes of general benefit.

 

We will address these as simply, shortly, and plainly as possible. In the following categories:

  • General benefit

    • Personal benefit

    • Immediate material impact

    • Institutional/structural

  • Systemic change and revolution

    • Political Power

    • Narrative, paradigm, culture

    • Economic

    • Organizing and the struggle

 

Personal benefit

Worker cooperatives are a material power structure that allows a culture of democracy, collaboration, and self worth to grow and flourish. This kind of structure can lead to a workplace culture (and thus deeply influencing other parts of life/culture) that is better for us as individual human beings as well as the collective.

 

Here are the core components that we believe create personal benefit in worker co-ops:

 

  • In a worker cooperative, the sense of worth, power, belonging, and dignity that is more likely to occur (especially in comparison to hierarchies) because of a decision making structure that inherently includes and relies on each individual being a decision maker. The regular experience of having your value and power validated can help to produce these deeper self beliefs.

  • Real democracy (direct, one worker=one vote) such as in a worker cooperative requires highly effective teamwork.  As people learn more effectively how to work in teams, it requires us to more deeply understand our own emotional patterns in reaction to situations and decisions. This can result in better emotional intelligence and emotional health in all aspects of life. We are held accountable to this standard of reflection by the nature of our serious interactions with co-worker-owners asking us to consider ideas and ourselves differently.

  • There is psychological benefit in not being immediately separated from the things you produce and actually getting to control and own your production. When we create using our labor, we put a piece of ourselves into everything we do. Capitalism takes that bit of ourselves and uses it for private profit. In a worker cooperative you collectively decide what to do with your creation, thus reducing the negative impacts of this separation of self and creation.

  • All of these benefits are very possible in direct democracy but not inherently, it takes institutionalized structures of training and facilitation for people to learn these self love and teamwork skills that make cooperatives function well.

  • Upon learning the practices of emotional intelligence and teamwork, we can begin to internalize belief patterns around teamwork and our own worth and power as well as believing in the worth and power of others as equals. Worker cooperatives can create the material conditions necessary to achieve such a personal belief and culture sustained through material practice.

 

These benefits are achievable but not inherent. It takes work to manifest such a culture and does not automatically come from basic direct democracy. However, the form of direct democracy is an incredible/needed foundation for such a culture to exist eventually as the dominant culture. We believe that worker co-ops can be one institution that manifests that form and create the foundation of that culture.

 

Immediate material impact

Economically successful worker cooperatives concretely improve people's lives emotionally and economically.  

 

Here are the simple core components that make worker co-ops materially beneficial to worker owners:

  • Generally true for worker cooperatives is increased wealth and equity for workers. Workers make more money and begin to be able to not live in the cycle of poverty. (Who knew, when workers control their workplace they raise their wages and benefits?)

  • You have workplace dignity through shared power instead of constant disrespect and humiliation from your boss as most workers face today.

  • Worker cooperatives are mostly localized wealth production that is rooted in community. Workers don't ship their own jobs overseas, and are less likely to pollute their own backyard or expose themselves to harmful chemicals or practices.

  • In a worker cooperative you have literal decision making power over your own life economically.


While these are good benefits of worker co-ops we seek to address the role they could play in building towards and carrying a revolution, beyond the way they can help slowly change culture.

Institutional/structural

Worker cooperatives represent a structural (referring here to the structure of decision making or power) change from hierarchies to democracy. This is one of the larger implications. When a workplace is shifted from a hierarchy to a democracy, a massive amount of change culturally and practically is possible. Think of every decision only a boss would make, now think of what workers would decide instead democratically.

  • This is also a key way to attack white male positions of power, first we remove them from having structural power over others, then when we are all equal structurally, we can help them unlearn their racism and sexism in social environments while intentionally making policies and practicing the development of team leadership in the hands of people of oppressed identities.

  • Similarly, if we can accurately identify institutionalized oppression, we can use democratic structures to undo and replace it with more liberatory practices (think women or femme majority's for decision making like in Rojava or the Zapatistas, get concrete)

  • Capitalism is the maintenance of supremacy hierarchies, anything we do to foster structures and cultures of democracy contradicts some fundamental logic of those systems in our material conditions and in our paradigms

  • Don't just fight the existing power structure, change it permanently to democracy.

    • A key trend here is the process of radicalization in workplace and revolutionary struggles

      • Build relationships

      • Turn relationships into groups

      • Move those groups into action against the bosses and owners

      • Get better at winning reforms and cohere as a collective force

      • Realize that instead of fighting for them to decide better, that you could all run it better yourselves without them

      • Think of a union contract that says: after x event, occurrence, date, etc. the company will transition into full worker control.

        • Or a revolution/direct action take over is solid too of course :)

  • Workers who control their work are less likely to make decisions that outwardly destruct the community in which they live or themselves.

 

Systemic change and revolution

Here we come to the crux of this writing. We have laid this out still not as a grand framing and argument but as a set of simple points meant to convey the simplicity of the power of worker cooperatives as a potential force for revolutionary change, specifically by being democratic dual power institutions that have a track record of improving people's lives.

  • Worker control of the means of production. Plain and simple. Again, not politically left if divorced from struggle and left culture/politics, but we can build those in.

  • Ownership and control, who benefits and who decides? Capitalists or workers? This is fundamental and in a worker cooperative, its the workers.

  • Democratic workplaces is one key part of socialism. Some others are democratic control of markets, schools, general assemblies, etc. but workplaces means we control our economic surplus and thus the funding for the other institutions.

  • Economic and political institutional power base for the left. Will elaborate further down.

  • Worker cooperatives can be a foundation of dual power, especially economically. This means, is a crisis of the state and capitalism, the system, etc. and/or during a revolution, we have the chance to say “let's do something different and better everyone! Look at our peoples assemblies and worker cooperatives (and a myriad of other institutions, democratic schools, neighborhood assemblies, participatory budgeting, etc.) let's all join those democratic things instead! All power to the cooperatives and assemblies!” And if we are legitimate, people will actually join us.

    • The term dual refers to the instance that we juxtapose this system against the still existing but in crisis one, and masses of people must choose between ours and the old one.

    • They can be a basis of dual power because as institutions they will have trained layers of workers in direct democracy as a skill and a culture and developed left consciousness in a layer of workers. Thus, these layers of workers will more easily be able to lead mass democratic processes (peoples assemblies, workers assemblies, etc) as institutions/moments of dual power for broader layers of people looking for alternatives in times of crisis.

    • Worker cooperatives will be a concrete living breathing example for regular people to use as a reference point and a model for a concrete alternative to capitalist workplaces and governance. People will be able to look at them and see functioning democracy that is making their lives better and say, hey, lets have more of that!

    • We are saying that people will not chose ours unless we have a long proven track record of a better system as some amount of real scale for people to see and then say “alright, that alternative really does look better, how do I join?”

    • We have to have economic dual power as well as political because we have to show alternative ways of doing things in at least geographic politics, schools, and economics  as the main arenas of peoples lives in institutions.

  • In societal crisis, they will provide a base of people who can democratically organize mutual aid, defense, production and distribution, etc. because they will have control of their own production and surplus and the democratic skills to make it happen at some scale, plus left politics to go along with it.

  • Worker cooperatives can be democratic and community benefit oriented infrastructure to usher in new economic logics away from debt and markets eventually. Such as:

 

Some other Economic factors

  • In the current state infrastructure, companies that are worker owned means the government would be reliant on workers for both income tax and business tax. Sure that’s not revolutionary, but it is interesting!

  • We can start concentrating wealth in the hands of democratic workplaces, that can then be distributed through networks of co-ops using participatory budgeting among members and supporters.

  • In economic crisis, their production and material distribution, if done democratically and for the community, can win over masses of people and help them literally survive on a model of democracy and mutual aid.

 

Political power

  • We can point to our concrete existing alternatives and list why they are better as the direction for a mass political program dedicated to radicalization and democratization as opposed to just reforms.

  • We can absorb people into our institutions in times of crisis, and steal them from the movements of the right trying to do the same thing if our solidarity economy is actually materially useful and deeply meaningful in paradigm.

  • Worker co-ops can fund our organizing and form our own independent economic base for economic power. That could mean a funding source that is a. Not from foundations or nonprofits and b. Not only reliant on small member dues.

  • Members can/must be engaged in politics and incentivized to participate in activism and organizing. Similar to how unions have historically been the power base of the left. We think our base can be union workers and union worker owners from cooperatives.

 

Narrative, paradigm, culture

  • We have a culture of separation and competition, we need one of connection and cooperation. Worker cooperatives create the concrete conditions of direct democracy in which we need to get along to move forward and function and everyone's power is fully centered as well as the reliance on the collective.

    • Direct democracy over important decisions means you have to acknowledge everyone's role in a decision, we are all connected, and find a way to make a solution together, cooperation. It is an inherent acknowledgement of self worth and power in the decision making structure.

  • Can teach skills of communication, facilitation, team work, group process, efficient decision making over time with lots of practice and training. These are essential skills for mass layers of people to possess both to create and maintain a revolution. If we can achieve revolution, the task of mass democratic governance will be a lot easier if there are layers of workers already adept in those skills through their co-ops (and hopefully mass democratic unions and movements)

  • Require deep self reflection and clarity for bringing yourself fully to a space and participating usefully

  • Worker co-ops can build a sense of community where we need each other, not just where we consume together.

  • Capitalism, its institutions, and its narratives are failing people. People are looking for concrete, useful, alternatives and narratives, the solidarity economy can offer this in real life with real deliverables for people in crisis. Such as:

    • Look here, none of our workers lost their jobs in the last crash

    • None of our housing co-op members were foreclosed on

    • None of our democratic schools were shut down and privatized

    • Now which system is better for working people?

  • Create the material and structural conditions needed for a genuine culture of needing each other, connection to each other, and cooperation as cultural values and norms are possible from democratic institutions, that, at scale, can change our culture fundamentally.

  • Create material and structural conditions for equally shared power between genders and races, with the opportunity for cultural political education around anti racism and anti sexism built as an institutionalized practice

 

Organizing and the struggle

  • Can be an independent funding base of workers for left organizing. Dues to unions, surplus into political accounts, organizing campaign funds, direct aid, housing, action camps, strike solidarity funds, the potential is limitless for money that left workers control with no corporations or foundation strings attached.

  • Can be run by cadre of revolutionaries to fund their work at a small scale. We will elaborate on this as a model later.

  • Can be unionized, or otherwise have workers engaged in the bigger project of scaled social change, be a political and movement base.

  • During strikes, cooperatives can stop trade with relevant capitalists

  • During strikes, cooperatives can directly supply aid, and employ striking workers if need be.

  • Depending on what they produce, they can directly give materials to struggles and workers movements.

 

Remember, worker co-ops are just a part of a healthy revolutionary breakfast. As in they are not the only thing we should do. But they are a crucial thing we have to do alongside other work.

 


From here on out, you have read the arguments for why we think worker cooperatives are critical to revolution. The rest of this writing is dedicated to what this has looked like in early practice and how we intend to use it going forward.


 

Praxis

Here we hope to show how we are using worker cooperatives in practice as revolutionaries alongside other critical work in rural Minnesota. Another, and arguably the  most developed and explicitly revolutionary, organization doing this work is Cooperation Jackson who you can read about extensively in their own writing at their website and through many other articles. They are a bit older (in some respects, like their peoples assemblies, a lot older) and a lot more advanced than we are.

 

We will present some political, economic, and cultural context, then go through a timeline of development of how we got to where we are and where we see our projects going. We are including all of our main projects, not just the cooperatives, to illustrate that they are part of a larger strategy and not merely a stand alone cool project.

 

Context

  • Northfields political economy, Rice county

    • Rural college town of 20,000, 45 minutes south of the twin cities, not quite suburbs. Surrounded by agriculture with two liberal arts colleges, one large factory

    • middle class workers, a small amount of poor workers, and a lot of middle class white liberals connected to the colleges (liberals in every sense of the world insofar as paradigms and social position) These folks are the main market for compost collection for us. Very unique for a rural city.

    • Retail and grocery, some other light manufacturing, some trucking companies/their warehouses, many small business and restaurants, etc.

    • Mostly white folks and a chunk of latinx people, pretty expensive housing for a rural area so many workers live in cheaper places

  • Faribault is the city of 30,000, 20 minutes south of Northfield, it’s the county seat so lots of immigrants and people of color and working class whites. Much more manufacturing and food processing and distribution. Cheaper housing, many workers who work in Northfield live in Faribault. Lots of different religions and racial tension.

    • We are less connected here and have less knowledge, but we know this is where we need to end up more seriously.

  • Very little presence of organized labor, cooperatives, or social justice and community organizing.

 

Our organizations

  • Cooperation Northfield (Coop Nfld)

    • Our central organization that is an umbrella org for all of these projects and the central org for hosting the (eventual) peoples assembly. Will also host a collective of activists dedicated to this overall strategy of:

      • Worker organizing

      • Build the solidarity economy

      • Youth organizing

      • Independent political power, candidates and peoples assembly

      • General solidarity mobilizing and community issues organizing

  • Young Peoples Action Coalition (YPAC)

    • High school student organizing around intersectionality and solidarity. 3 core teams of about 10 youth each in different cities in MN. Each doing their own campaigns as well as general solidarity with many other organizations and movements. Use of popular and political education. The goal is to radicalize youth as a long term method to rebuild the left.

  • Curbside Compost Cooperative (CCC) https://www.facebook.com/Nfldcompostcoop/

    • A four person worker co-op, super part time, we drive around a pick up truck and dump food scraps into it from peoples five gallon buckets that they place on the curb once a week.

  • Feed The People Cooperative Farm (FTP)

    • Same four people run a farm as a worker cooperative with flocks of 1000 chickens at a time in a free range permaculture system.

  • Cannon River Organized Workers (CROW)

    • Worker organizer collective that will focus on building bases of workers in key workplaces, moving them into direct action struggle, and eventually helping them unionize with United Electrical workers (UE) or a good UNITE HERE local since they are super rank and file democratic and militant.

  • Northfield Against Line 3

    • Our effort to delay construction and eventually stop the tar sands oil pipeline called Line 3 through northern MN. This entails building a base of activists and training them deeply in direct action tactics and strategy to be deployed against the pipeline.

 

Here we have outlined the basic timeline of our development. We included this as a frame of reference for how these things have actually gone and looked over time so as to be maximally useful as a reference. The bolded bits are specific to the cooperatives.

 

2013 Year one:

YPAC

  • Started learning how to do popular education and mobilizing with a group of local high school activists

FTP

  • Started business planning, or really learning what the hell a business plan was for the farm.

    • What the actual model consists of, basic business economics like cash flow, marketing, etc.

 

2014 Year two:

YPAC

  • Moved the core team of student activists into more action and started facilitating after school political popular education workshops on social justice topics

    • Honing the skills of group facilitation and pop ed as well as mobilization to actions.

FTP

  • Started working on the farms that we model our farm off of and are connected to. Continued light business planning.

CCC

  • Started business planning for CCC when opportunity spontaneously presented itself.

    • Mental modeling for the actual operations, what would it literally look like to do this? Research existing models.

 

2015 Year three:

YPAC

  • Develop first attempt at cadre of out of school organizers

FTP

  • Keep working on farms that are like ours

CCC

  • Work on and off on compost business plan. Getting a little more concrete with numbers once in awhile when we have time

    • Through college student door knocking, ID around 150 interested potential subscribers

 

2016 Year four:

YPAC

  • Develop first core team in minneapolis of youth from many schools and mostly POC

FTP

  • Finalize most of chicken business plan with real numbers and a few years of experience. Looks profitable and can pay us for our work.

  • Start clearing land to get ready for chicken coop construction.

CCC

  • Put wind in the sails of compost, start to get very concrete about the business plan, looks like we can do $15 an hour and be profitable

  • Start process of permits, incorporation, waste hauling license, etc.

  • Through more door knocking, well placed cashiers at the local food co-op, and other advertising, increase potential subscribers to 300

Co-op Nfld

  • Legally incorporate the central nonprofit, Cooperation Northfield, do nothing with it.

 

2017 Year five:

YPAC

  • Two core teams, starting to organize around concrete winnable things

FTP

  • In spring, start farm building construction!

  • In summer, finish enough of it to start first flock of chickens!

CCC

  • In spring, acquire enough permit things, including stuff like insurance and tax ID numbers, to be able to launch compost, acquire truck, buckets, paint them, fix truck

  • In summer, launch curbside compost collection!

    • Only 200 of 300 potential people actually subscribe right away.

    • Grow subscribers slowly, In December we're 275. Solid. Pay ourselves $10 and hour for one day of work per week. Simple and small but paying for our labor and will be profitable.

CROW

  • Two local union campaigns launch, one with our help directly and the other less directly, start slow foundation of research and some practice for worker center launch.

 

2018 year 6:

YPAC:

  • Two growing core teams, a third in progress, developing new organizers, and running a successful direct action campaign to get cops out of schools

Co-op Northfield:

  • Launch the co-op nfld collective, a group of activists who are part of at least one of the many organizations/projects who come together for political education and training and cross campaign strategizing and support. About 10 members to date.

CCC:

  • 450 members!

  • Increase our wages to $15 an hour.

  • Hire 3 politicized high school and college students for summer jobs of collection and education

  • Raise the price to $7.00 per month for a subscription

  • Soon able to donate surplus directly to YPAC organizing

FTP:

  • Ran three successful flocks this season

  • Almost totally done with construction, finally

  • Making plans for future production units

 

CROW:

  • One union campaign has slowed significantly (the one we are less involved in)

  • Lose our other union election by 1 vote

  • Continuing to organize with those workers for another election

  • Regular meetings for strategizing and internal training

  • Co-op Nfld collective members have been elected along with a slate of other pro-union folks to take a majority of seats on the food co-ops board (where we lost the union election)

  • Currently have 5 salts at another workplace and 3 at the food co-op.

 

This is where we are at at the time of this writing.

 

We run two small worker cooperatives, each run by the same four people, all of us are of a radical cadre dedicated to organizing for revolution. We all get paid for our very part time work in our two cooperatives and thus hold down other very part time jobs outside of the coops as well. We all spend roughly half our time working (20 hours a week, in the coops and some in other jobs, like coffee shops) and half our time organizing through YPAC or increasingly CROW. This coming year, we will likely be able to all work exclusively in the coops and thus on our own schedules and together democratically. This enables us to spend even more time organizing as our basic economic needs are met by our work. This means we spend almost no time and effort fundraising and instead all of it on actually organizing people.

 

Here is where we hope to go. These are all ideas, not meant to reflect reality deeply, just enough to be rough goals.

 

Our core strategy is two things:

  1. Building dual power institutions with left politics

    1. Worker cooperatives

    2. Peoples/Workers assemblies

  2. Building a base of workers, students, and allies that learn to take collective direct action and grow in class/social consciousness.

 

We believe that through Co-op Northfield, YPAC, CROW, and our worker cooperatives, we are building these things slowly but surely.

 

Here is how we see some of that developing:

 

Immediate goals:

  • Increase CCC membership to 500, engage it in more solidarity economy oriented education.

  • Start construction of a training/education space at the farm

  • Grow ypac into three distinct core teams all orienting on their own issues fights while slowly building a program for liberatory and democratic schools.

  • Grow bases of worker leaders in key workplaces across northfield, start to engage them in direct action and maybe some early union campaigns

  • Grow cadre and/amount of workers in cooperatives  

 

Near future goals:

 

This is the basis for the start of a workers council/assembly.

  • Between 15 to 20 worker owners from co-ops plus 30-40 of the most active union members, start a workers council for organizing, political decisions, and participatory budgeting with the cooperatives surplus.

  • Initially, engage the workers council/assembly in participatory budgeting using the surplus from the co-ops as a way to start teaching mass democracy with practical and concrete implications, then slowly introduce political decisions over time and as experience grows.

  • This council/assembly is the core of an explicitly political dual power institution derived from economic dual power/counter power (unions and co-ops)

  • Convene the workers council plus YPAC youth into peoples assemblies around key political moments and issues

  • Normalize the people's assembly with collective members, workers, and youth, slowly let in anyone/liberals around key moments

  • Move bases into collective struggle/direct action campaigns on a shared program on specific and concrete demands politically and economically.

 

Medium term goals:

  • Build bases and win union campaigns in Faribault MN.

  • Broaden the workers assembly with more members, working groups

  • Launch independent political candidates from the ranks of the workers on a platform of democratization, unions, cooperatives, etc. in rural MN

    • Mostly on  the basis of candidates as a means of spreading the message and testing it with people.

    • Secondarily as a means of advancing a municipal platform for democratization (participatory budgeting, governance maybe?) and environmental policy.

  • Continued growth of cadre membership, collective membership, worker cooperatives in general, worker owner numbers, more and new cooperatives, etc.

  • Regular peoples assemblies, large base of regular participants

  • Multiple local level office holders and city and county levels, maybe state legislature. Up for debate on the state level. Directly accountable to workers and peoples assemblies

  • Creation of housing cooperatives and community land trusts

 

This is a brief glimpse of where we see ourselves going and how we are building power in the short and medium term. Power is organized people and organized money, we see these methods as the route to do that for our context.


 

Some basic worker cooperative startup principles, ideas, and resources

 

Three main routes to developing worker cooperatives

  1. Founder driven:  the people who will become the worker-owners are the ones driving the process and business planning. This method has the most long term success in that a culture of ownership grows from the worker-owners themselves.

  2. Incubator: A group of developers creates a solid business plan and hands it off to a group of potential worker owners. This process can work and has success but is often marred by the incubator organization expending a lot of time and money towards training and developing an ownership culture for the workers and has mixed success in long term stability or sustainability.

  3. Conversion: a singular business owner sells their business to their employees. Often similar to an incubator in that there is a ready business handed over to workers who likely have no experience in democratic control and are used to living under the decisions of someone else. It takes a lot of time and money to contradict these behavior patterns and learn new ones but can work for sure and has the added benefit of an already successful and operating business.

 

Depending on the business, financing a worker cooperative can be a challenge. Here are some organizations that do just that.

 

Institutions that specifically finance worker cooperatives

  • The Working World - financed many worker takeovers of factories in 2001 as they transitioned to cooperatives, also financed the transition of the worker factory takeover of New Era Windows in Chicago in 2008

  • Shared Capital Cooperative - a cooperative of cooperatives that have received financing for their cooperatives then reinvest in cooperatives. A cooperative loan fund.

  • The cooperative fund of New England - Same as SCC excet just in the NorthEast US.

 

  • One worker one vote.

  • A business can be hard to run profitably. Don't start a cooperative without a lot of forethought and research. Especially if you are bringing working class and oppressed people into it, you can’t set people up for failure especially economically if they put their own money in.

  • Work with a politically left or radical co-op developer for help. Ask us to help you find one!

  • There has to be a market, someone willing to buy what you produce or serve at a price that meets your needs. If that does not exist, organize it, or don't start the cooperative.

  • Spend a long time making a really good business plan before you start.

    • Check out any online resources, even from capitalists, they have developed a lot of useful tools for business planning that we can use.

  • Spend a lot of time researching and learning about how worker cooperatives work and how yours should look before you start.

  • Governance structures vary, but mostly worker cooperatives in the US are run by a board of workers made up of either all the workers or a democratically elected smaller amount (for large cooperatives)

  • Get trained on democratic decision making, culture, and teamwork if you are lacking in these skills (Most of us are)

  • Some other relevant organizations that help start worker cooperatives

 

Hit us up at cooperationnorthfield@gmail.com if you want to learn more about socialist worker cooperative development!

 
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