Portland Alliance of Worker Collectives
by Lori Burge
The Portland Alliance of Worker Collectives (PAWC) awoke from a winter hibernation of resting, dreaming and independent visioning about the future of our regional network. Some of the questions that new and long-time members of this two-and-a-half year old network have been asking include: How can we make PAWC stronger, more exciting, effective and sustainable? How do we keep the regional movement vibrant when we all also have workplaces to manage and govern, and especially when some of us come from very small workplaces? How do we ensure that we have avenues for workers to be involved who don’t want to come to monthly governance and planning meetings?
We have accomplished much over the past couple of years: PAWC cards for individual workers; a website; joint publicity efforts such as public tours of coops by bike, a Member-Business Directory, and ads in local progressive papers. We also provided scholarships for some member-workers to the Western Worker Cooperative Conference and the Cascadia Collective Conference. There are still many exciting goals we have on the horizon but first we are focusing inward for a period to refine the infrastructure needed to carry them out.
Workers began gathering again late this spring to create a plan to rally member businesses and workers in our local cooperatives/collectives. A working group meeting regularly to discuss our successes and challenges over the past years and possible ways to improve PAWC through structural changes. We are looking to the structure of the national Federation and of other regional networks for examples and experiences. If you have experiences to share, we’d love to hear from you. The new national networking is already making the local movements stronger. The connections we have made through the National Conference and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives is proving to be of support to our regional grouping as we seek to develop a more sophisticated, long-lived organization.
The working group is currently considering three projects aimed to celebrate, educate, motivate and re-organize. As Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Thus we are planning and promoting a PAWC Labor Day picnic with fun activities as well as information- sharing at a General Membership meeting. Our work also entails crafting a proposal to the membership about structural changes that will be decided at a meeting in early fall. This group is considering proposing the adoption of a board structure, while still having workplace delegates and committees/working groups and implementing an affordable dues structure (with work trade option) to finance our organization. We are also developing an educational program to present at the general meetings of each worker coop. Included in the presentation is a historical report about PAWC, time for interactive input about the network’s future and priorities, announcements of the PAWC Labor Day weekend picnic and a report on the working group’s draft proposal and the input process/surveys that will be sent out following the meeting.
It is a hopeful and exciting time for PAWC. Our existing local network, coupled with connections to other networks means that we can be a vital part of supporting coops in our community and on a larger scale in collaboration with the coop movement. By working together, PAWC has the opportunity to make so many of our visions come true: from a conflict resolution team and joint advertising to coop development. Local and national networking are making it possible to stop reinventing the wheel. We can learn so much from each other while still retaining the unique character of our coops and regions. A number of member-workers are already looking forward to the national conference in New York as a way to further cultivate connections with other cooperators from around the country. See you in October!
Lori Burge is the Western Board Representative of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, a Delegate Member of Portland Alliance of Worker Collectives and the Development Manager of People’s Food Cooperative, Portland Oregon.
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