©2004 GEO, P.O. Box 115, Riverdale, MD 20738-0115


Building a Cooperative World

Record Attendance at Hot Springs Conference

By Jessica Gordon Nembhard, GEO Newsletter

This year's Western Worker Cooperative Conference broke another of its own records with an attendance of 115 people—an all time high, more than a 10% increase over last year. Participants' excitement of being together again for another year was evident, and extended to anticipation of the National Conference to form the U.S. Federation of Democratic Workplaces, May 24-26, 2004 in Minneapolis (see Calendar for details).

After the traditional welcomes and introductions, this year the Breitenbush conference began with a successful general plenary session for all to attend on “Creating Jobs, Creating Community, Creating Change.” Representatives from a spectrum of cooperatives discussed how they pursue their various missions, the tensions and interconnections between elements of their missions, and how worker cooperatives fit (or don't fit) into the larger dynamics of social change shaping our society. All agreed that even though some co-ops have a more defined sense of contributing to social change than others, all make contributions to their communities and to improving people's quality of life. Most participants resonated to Tim Huet's (Association of Arizmendi Cooperatives) articulation that worker cooperatives are demonstrations of democracy in practice—democracy demonstration projects and schools, developing skills for a new society.

Workshop tracks were “Money and Planning,” “People Working Together” (personnel topics divided according to small-and-medium size or large cooperatives), and “Creating Change.”

Workshops included dealing with conflict, facilitating meetings, finances, dynamics of oppression, cooperatives and community-based economic development, strategic planning, passing on skills and sharing power, and group dynamics (“One Big Family?”). In response to requests from last year, the Conference added a third day of post-session intensive experiential trainings for those who wanted more. The three intensive trainings offered were in the dynamics of oppression, mediation, and facilitation.

The Conference was held as usual at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Detroit, Oregon, October 19-22, 2003. Breitenbush Hot Springs is a beautiful, rustic, “off-the-grid,” worker-owned intentional community and retreat center with 24 hour access to natural hot springs, hot tubs and sauna. Other sponsors of the Conference were Rainbow Grocery Cooperative (San Francisco), National Cooperative Business Association (Washington, DC), Burley Design Cooperative (Eugene, OR), Alvarado Street Bakery (San Francisco), Citybikes Workers' Cooperative (Portland, OR), Cheese Board (Berkeley, CA), and Open Enterprises Cooperative (San Francisco).

The scholarship auction raised $2400. Elections were held for the Western Conference Planning Board. Congratulations to the following new board members:


Connecting With Co-ops Around the World: the CiCOPA Oslo Conference

By Randy Zucco

The excitement in our ever-expanding, United States worker co-op movement grew even larger this past September. The newly forming United States Federation of Democratic Workplaces (USFDW) attended and received “observer status” at CICOPA's World Conference and General Assembly. (CICOPA is an acronym for the International Organization of Industrial, Artisan, Service and Social Producers' Cooperatives). USFDW board members ­ Tom Pierson of the Mid-West Worker Cooperatives, Tim Huet from the Western Worker Cooperative Conference, and I, Randy Zucco of the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy, were able to make our way to Oslo, Norway to represent the emerging Federation.

CICOPA, a specialized committee for worker co-ops within the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), is made up of worker cooperative federations from nations all over the world. Its objective is to ensure that the worker cooperative voice is heard not only in the ICA, but throughout the global economic landscape so that worker cooperatives are recognized as a key economic option in these times of rapid corporate globalization. The ICA, which is heavily weighted towards consumer and agricultural co-ops, has not been able to thoroughly represent the importance of worker cooperatives,­ thus the need for a special organization. Through CICOPA, worker cooperative issues are addressed and all regions of the world have a forum to share information, problems, and strategies.

In response to some serious abuses of the term “worker cooperative” brought forward by CICOPA- Americas, where exploited employees were forced into work groups which their employers called “cooperatives,” the major topic at the General Assembly was the Oslo Declaration on Worker Cooperation. This important Declaration provides a standard of worker ownership that can be used worldwide to define worker cooperatives. With minor changes, the draft was accepted and should be finalized by spring of 2004. With this international yardstick, CICOPA hopes to protect against abuses from those who might use "worker cooperative" as a marketing gimmick, rather than creating genuine forms of workplace democracy.

At the CICOPA World Conference in Oslo we heard stories of worker cooperation from Japan, South America, South Africa, Sweden, Italy and California. We learned about what is working and what some of the challenges are in various regions of the world. For example, we learned how some national Federations have received government aid and other sorts of funding to spread worker cooperation in their countries. It seems that the challenges still lie largely in convincing workers of the cooperative advantage, especially in the more developed countries where unemployment rates are still relatively low. I also learned from the CICOPA-Europe representative that one of the driving forces of their rapid evolution has been the high unemployment rate throughout Europe.

The fact that we are now organized enough to be a member of CICOPA is a tremendous step forward. The USFDW is able to contribute input into the Oslo Declaration (e.g., we were unsettled by the term "associated labor") and we are on our way to having a legitimate presence in the international, as well as national, worker cooperative community. However, we must understand that we in the U.S.A. still lag far behind most of the world in numbers of worker cooperatives, people employed through worker cooperatives, and supportive legislation for worker cooperatives. We have issues here in the United States (comparatively low unemployment, individualism, anti-unionism) that make the expansion of our movement a little more difficult. Nonetheless, participation in international forums such as the Oslo CICOPA Conference is a step that takes us closer to realizing our goal of making worker cooperation an opportunity available for anyone in this country.

Randy Zucco is the Treasurer of Collective Copies (a worker cooperative located in Amherst and Florence, MA and profiled in GEO issue #58), and has been a member since 1998. He is a Member of the ECWD Coordinating Council and a USFDW Board Member. Contact info: randyz@collectivecopies.com; www.collectivecopies.com.

Towards a Global, Non-partisan Left: the "Defense of Humanity" Conference in Mexico

By Betsy Bowman, GEO Newsletter

A new, non-partisan global left is awakening. Social
movement activists and intellectuals committed to
social transformation joined in Mexico City October 24 and 25, 2003 to start a global “network of networks,” a people's court on new colonial occupations, and an international university to pursue world peace, freedom, and justice.

The conference “In Defense of Humanity” drew up a declaration inspired by anti-globalization successes in Bolivia and Argentina—the former represented by opposition leader Evo Morales. US delegates included myself and Bob Stone from GEO, historian James Cockroft, political scientists John Tito Gerassi and Phil Brenner, and journalist Karen Wald.

Main organizers included: Mexicans, Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, Victor Flores Olea, Gilberto Lopez y Rivas, Maria Rojo, Adolfo Gilly and Hector Diaz-Polanco, with Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemala) and Angel Guerra (Cuba). Most Latin American nations were represented, as was Cuba, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, with one delegate each from Belgium, Austria, and Cyprus.

Participants included Radical Philosophy Association (RPA) friends Horacio Cerrutti, Lisandro Otero, Gabriel Vargas Lozano, and Adolfo Sanchez Vasquez. All accepted invitations to the RPA-initiated workshop “Alternatives to Globalization” to be held August 3-14 2004 in San Miguel Allende (3 hours north of Mexico City). Via Campesina and Not in Our Name representatives also accepted the invitation.

About 80 delegates from diverse parties agreed on a declaration analyzing the global situation and offering strategies. It addressed major upcoming events like the European Social Forum in Paris, the multi-national tribunal inauguration in January 2004, and the world-wide mobilization March 20, 2004 against the war in Iraq. After closing, a delegation took the declaration to Havana, Cuba for strategy discussions with Samir Amin, Noam Chomsky, and others.

The conference was addressed by Zapatista leader Subcommandante Marcos in a film specially prepared for the purpose. One participant said the Encuentro felt like the Jakarta world peace meeting of May 2003. We'll soon post the summary of the Declaration and the Declaration itself. We urge you to check out the website (www.defensahumanidad.org), read and sign the Declaration, and discuss its proposals.

The $25,000 Challenge: Equal Exchange vs. Proctor & Gamble

Equal Exchange, the 60 person employee-owned cooperative that has led the nation in Fair Trade coffee sales expressed disappointment at the very modest scope of Procter & Gamble's recent decision to begin selling a Fair Trade Certified™ coffee under its Millstone brand.

Rink Dickinson, Equal Exchange co-founder and President stated, “We want what is best for small farmers, even if it means serious competition for us in the marketplace. Unfortunately, P&G, by far the nation's largest coffee company, isn't offering either. In fact, based on available information it appears that well less than 1% of P&G's coffee imports will ever be Fair Trade Certified™. They could easily do much, much more.”

To draw attention to this gap between what farmers need and what large coffee companies like P&G are offering, Equal Exchange has issued a public challenge to the multi-national corporation. If in 2004 P&G can at least match the small Massachusetts cooperative pound for pound in Fair Trade coffee sales, then Equal Exchange will donate $25,000 to one of their small farmer cooperative trading partners in Latin America.

Dickinson added “We fear that the P&G decision will disappoint as many struggling farmers and concerned consumers as Starbuck's Fair Trade announcement several years ago. Neither company seems willing to honestly address the fundamental inequities inherent in the world coffee trade. If the likes of P&G and Star-bucks, with their massive resources, can't commit to Fair Trade for even 1% of their coffee, their announcements appear more marketing driven than substance.” He continued “With their massive volume of imports P&G has a huge opportunity to make a difference for farmers and send a signal to the rest of the industry. We'd like to see our competitors aspire to 100% Fair Trade. Unfortunately, their choice to only offer a single Fair Trade coffee, at a higher price, and not make it available in stores where people shop, says they're trying to do as little as possible.” As of mid-November, Proctor & Gamble had not responded to the challenge. The corporate giant has apparently only engaged in half hearted marketing of its fair trade coffee, which is not sold in supermarkets. It is only available on line, at $14 per pound (plus $5 shipping).

Equal Exchange, a profitable and still growing 17 year old company, imports 100% of their coffee, tea and cocoa under Fair Trade terms, and in 2003 will import approximately 3,000,000 pounds of Fair Trade Certified coffee. (P&G's two major brands, Folgers and Millstone, together import over 500,000,000 pounds of green coffee every year).

Equal Exchange, the pioneer and U.S. market leader in fair trade coffee since 1986, is a full service provider of high quality, organic coffee, tea and cocoa to retailers, restaurants, and places of worship. To bring the Fair Trade model to more sectors, and more farmers, they have recently launched a nationally distributed organic, Fair Trade Certified cocoa baking powder. 100% of Equal Exchange products are fairly traded, benefiting 29 small farmer cooperatives in 14 countries around the world. Their Fair Trade products are distributed nationwide and are available in major supermarkets. In keeping with its business philosophy Equal Exchange is a worker cooperative, owned and controlled by its employees.

For a Greener World: the Green Festivals

By bringing together visionary thinkers, innovative companies, passionate activist organizations, and the general public, we hope to illuminate a path to a green economy in which everyone on the planet enjoys the basic human rights. This two-day party is tons of fun, but has a very serious objective: strengthening the locally controlled, green economy and expanding popular support for policies aimed at sustainability and social justice.

Green Festival works with thousands of individuals and organizations that are constructing a healthy, living economy based on three core principles: sustainable economy, ecological balance, and social justice. These principles are springing up at the grassroots level around the world and take many forms: community-supported agriculture, the fair trade movement, renewable energy, farmers' markets, socially responsible investing, and a host of others.

Green Festival attendees experience cutting-edge green technology and discover creative, life-enhancing ideas, providing them tools to take out into the world. They spread a powerful message of hope: a new economy is just around the corner.

We have the power to usher in a new era of sustainability. If we all unite to rethink consumption, demand responsible business practices, invest in a sustainable economy and build more loving communities, we can live together in a society that nurtures each of us and respects the limits of our planet's resources. Let's do it!


Kevin Danaher, Global Exchange

Alisa Gravitz, Co-op America

Green Festivals took place in Austin TX, and the Second Annual San Francisco Green Festival took place November 8-9, 2003. Workshops around the nation are also offered. For more information: www.greenfestivals.com; www.globalexchange.org.

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