close window  

GEO Special Section

US Federation of Worker Cooperatives

Welcome to GEO’s regular section on the newly formed US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (the name was recently shortened by consensus of the elected board). In each issue we will bring you news of the Federation, and focus on a few members in one part or another of this great country, who are making cooperation work for workers. Your questions and comments are welcome. Send them to:

Federation Member News:

Bay Area Celebrates
On September 10, NoBAWC, the Network of Bay Area Cooperatives (formerly, Collectives) held its first local worker co-op conference. ‘No Bosses Here!’ took place at the Women’s Building in San Francisco. Co-organizer Kirsten Marshall recently reported to GEO that it was planned in response to the formation of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives last May.

“There was a desire to not let the beginning of a national federation reduce support for local or regional co-op organizing,” Marshall recalls. In addition, the Western region has been holding worker co-op conferences longer than any other area of the country. Since the federation will convene biennially, some regions and localities are planning to hold their events on the alternate years “in order to not split people’s availability” Marshall explained. She noted that organizing at all three levels–local, regional and national (as well as international)–offer unique benefits which need to be encouraged.

Keynote speaker John Curl drew on his History of Work Cooperation in America: Worker Cooperatives vs. Wage Slavery; Co-ops, Unions, Collectivity and Communalism from Early America to the Present.

In the final chapter, Curl writes: “Cooperatives have proved to be a strong base for movements for progressive social change, since by their very nature they demand changes in the general conditions of society, and empower and embolden their worker-members…without cooperation replacing competition as our most basic force, the USA will not survive, except in a form of our nightmares. The way of competition offers only increasing bondage, while the way of collectivity and cooperation offers real freedom.” (To read or download the 84-page document:
A three-day film festival preceded the conference, which included live entertainment, a mini-fair of local co-op wares and food largely donated by co-ops and catered by, you guessed it, a local co-op. “It went well,” said Marshall. “Some people who came didn’t even realize there were so many other worker co-ops in the area, dealing with similar issues. At NoBAWC we talk about how to work better for the community, to network more, share resources more. By knowing this co-op or that is down the street or across the Bay, it’s more realistic that you might keep in touch.”

The talk wasn’t all local though. Marshall added, “We were able to talk about the national federation and how that could work, how it could connect with regional and local efforts, not create another bureaucracy…In Minneapolis [at the founding meeting of the US Federation], it was quite inspiring to meet people from across the country who were willing to step up to be on the board. One of my favorite parts was hearing them speak about why they wanted to serve. I’ve been involved with the Western conference for years, and it’s incredibly inspiring to realize the co-op movement is larger than you thought. It gives you more energy to face the challenges of our co-ops, because we may love them but there’s hard stuff to deal with.”

Portland Conference: April, 2005
The Portland Alliance of Worker Collectives (PAWC) is coordinating the first Cascadia Collective Conference in commemoration of May Day. So writes Lori Burge, Western Representative on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and also a council member of the Portland Alliance. She is Development Manager of People’s Food Cooperative in Portland, a collectively managed, consumer-owned organic/natural food grocery store.
The recently formed Portland Alliance, with support from Oregon and Washington collective members, will hold this event April 28–30. At its conclusion, participants are invited to join the annual May Day (International Workers Day) festivities downtown. At the conference, there will be opportunities to socialize and network, as well as panel presentations and open forums. All workshops are open to any interested individual. Organizers are making every effort to keep the cost of conference attendance low, including reasonable meal options from local co-op cafes, limited free housing and bicycle loans. Registration packets available in January. FMI:, email: or call: 1-503-ORGANIC.

Federation Resource:

Resolving Conflict at Rainbow Grocery

Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco formed the first conflict resolution team in NoBAWC, the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives. At present, four of Rainbow’s 200-plus worker owners make up the team; they are training additional people as well as giving workshops to other co-ops. With Rainbow’s 14 autonomous departments, numerous committees, and monthly membership meetings, team member Jenny Glazer says, “There’s a constant state of democracy going on here. It’s amazing we manage to get all that food on the shelves!” Recently, Glazer took time from the cheese department—which manages to sell 300 to 400 pounds a day—to talk about her work in conflict resolution.

GEO: Do you think co-ops have more or different kinds of conflict resolution than investor-owned businesses?
JG: People wonder why we don’t have a union, and I say, ‘Well, we don’t have management, and we’re in constant negotiation with ourselves!’ Co-ops have lots of opinions on how our business should be run and how it should benefit us, so we may have more conflict than a traditional business might, where you can fluff off the burden of responsibility and blame on management or management can fluff it off on their workers.

GEO: Do you do a lot of conflict resolution?
JG: We primarily do mediation and training. But we also can be an unbiased ear and just listen, maybe give a little advice. Sometimes this is a prelude to setting up a mediation, or what I call ‘guided conversation’ which is less formal, where people can talk with a witness present and have some ground rules so they won’t fall into their own conflict patterns or be manipulated by the other person.

GEO: What are the conflicts about?
JG: I think the biggest challenge is the struggle over what level of participation is acceptable and necessary. There is often tension between people who just want a job–or who are perceived as just wanting a job–and people who think participation means running for every committee and speaking at all the meetings. I tend to be one of those people. I’ve been on ten million committees, in part because I think that we as co-op members have an obligation to take part in some of the more organizational labor that happens here.
One of the things that helped me step back from my strictness on this is recognizing that we have a lot of different people who work here. For instance, a lot of Central American workers, especially the women, have more traditional family roles than many of the [Anglo American] workers. They finish work and go home to be wives and mothers. And having them here still benefits us all in a lot of ways.

GEO: What’s involved in conflict resolution?
JG: People usually request mediation when their conflict with someone has been long standing and deteriorated to the point where they either can’t talk to each other or they have a fight on the floor. First of all, we maintain very strict confidentiality. And mediation takes keen language skills; we have to work extra hard at being neutral, because they know we all have opinions so knowing someone will be objective despite their feelings builds trust.

Trust is really key in mediation. If either party believes nothing can be improved and that the other person won’t listen, it doesn’t work very well. So we model things like calm, non-judgmental speech and non-threatening body language. We talk about how communication works best for them, how they prefer things to be. We ask, ‘Having heard this person’s concerns, what can you offer?’ It doesn’t work as well to say, ‘What do you want this person to do for you?’ You want people to do this work from a giving and considerate stance, and you want them to be framing up solutions on their own that they feel they can agree to. Even under the almost-worst circumstances, people can say things like, ‘Please don’t talk to me while I’m on my shift’ or, ‘I would prefer you send me e-mails.’ And at least that’s better than what they had the day before.

GEO: We talk a lot about trust in co-ops. What is it we’re supposed to trust one another to do?
JG: To listen. To hear our concerns and complaints, and to put ourselves in the other’s shoes briefly, so we’re not just nodding our heads but actually paying attention, maybe even empathizing a little with the other person. And you have to trust people to keep their word, and hopefully to have similar perceptions of what happened because many co-ops are pretty informal, people don’t take minutes at meetings and so forth.

GEO: How have you benefitted from this work?
JG: Learning mediation has made me a much better meeting facilitator and participant, which in a cooperative is probably the most important skill you can have, along with proposal writing. Meetings are a really special thing. In a traditional business the boss comes in and says ‘We’re going to have a meeting’ and pretends to listen to your opinion, then says, ‘Now I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.’ Here, we have all these empowered people accustomed to having a voice and feeling that our opinions are valuable, and this actually encourages conflict in a way.

GEO: Do you think doing good conflict resolution can make or break a co-op?
JG: A lot of places use meeting time designated for other things on conflict, so having good conflict resolution skills would probably have helped some co-ops who went out of business. Rainbow is a large co-op, so we can avoid people. I can switch departments and work other hours and probably never see the person I’m having a conflict with. In smaller co-ops, there are fewer places to hide. If there are only 15 people and five committees, you’re going to be on three committees with these people no matter what. Smaller co-ops have the burden and merit of intimacy that we don’t. They probably don’t have to spend as much time in as many varied meetings as we do, so maybe they can also be closer to each other and understand each other’s ways and foibles better.
One of the nice things I found was an ability to step outside and allow the results to belong to the people who are participating, to say ‘This is not my conflict and it’s up to them to make a wise decision, I’m here to help them do that.’ It’s good for me to develop a little humility, to step away and trust that my co-workers can run the store without me. Frankly, I think I can be more helpful when I imagine myself as less helpful.

Co-op Tool Kit: CR Profile

In the spirit of sharing our resources – a stated goal of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives – Rainbow Grocery has made their Conflict Resolution Profile available to GEO readers. Send your request for ‘Rainbow CR profile’ to GEO PO Box or mejane@

Resources for Change


There are thousands of references to PB on the web, most of them about Porto Allegre, Brazil. But PB has been going on for several decades, and you will find articles about Uganda, Malawi, Bosnia, Argentina, Nepal, Egypt, Peru, India, and more. Here are some sites:

Participatory Budgets in Europe: Between Efficiency and Growing Local Democracy by Giovanni Allegretti & Carsten Herzberg

The Transnational Institute’s 9-04 report on PB in France, Germany, Spain and Italy to the Network Association of European Researchers on Urbanization in the South is downloadable at: participatory.htm

‘Participatory Governance’ in 4-04 Environment and Urbanization Journal; PB in 25 cities in Costa Rica, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Kenya, Ecuador, etc.. html

‘Another Canada is Possible’
by Shannon Devine, May 28, 2003


As with PB, there are thousands of citations about LME on the web, and quite a few organizations rallied around the concept.

Jackson (MS) Free Press
‘Revolution on Main Street’
by Jesse Yancy 11-12-03

Institute for Local Self-Reliance
927 15th St. NW 4th Flr.
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 898-1610

For 20 years ILSR has done research and education about environmentally sound economic development. They publish the Home Town Advantage Bulletin on efforts nationwide to stop chain store proliferation, and the Democratic Energy Bulletin on the emerging debate between absentee ownership and regulation and those who favor local ownership and control. They also run the New Rules project for sustainable local economies. Their web links makes the trip worth it.

Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
The Economic Impact of the University of Massachusetts Amherst on the Economies of the Pioneer Valley and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by Barry C. Field and Selene Weber, Dept. of Resource Economics (10-96)

‘The Rape of L.A.’
For an article about possible negative impacts of LME, here’s one by a noted Libertarian and L.A. radio commentator
‘Larry Elder


More resources from the folks who bring you the Democracy Schools, and their networks.

A Citizen’s Guide to Corporate Charter Revocation Under State Law
by Thomas Linzey, Esq.
Part 1 includes sample documents, references, etc.; Part 2 is about moving into the courts for environmental and social justice. Download from the Center for Democracy and the Constitution at:

Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy
P.O. Box 246
S. Yarmouth, MA 02664-0246
Phone: (508) 398-1145
FAX: (508) 398-1552

POCLAD formed in 1994 and has since held 200-plus community meetings on “Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Democracy They work with individuals and groups to ”launch democratic insurgencies that put corporations once again subordinate to ‘We the People’." Reading lists, pamphlets, a publication By What Authority, an anthology on corporations and democracy, videos, PowerPoint presentations, more.

Unequal Protection: The rise of corporate dominance and theft of human rights, by Thom Hartmann
Rodale Press: 2002, reprinted 2004

Because of a mistaken interpretation of a Supreme Court reporter’s notes in an 1886 railroad tax case, corporations are now legally considered “persons,” equal to humans and entitled to many of the same protections guaranteed only to humans by the Bill of Rights. To remedy this blunder, Hartmann offers specific action steps to be taken by citizens, courts, legislatures, communities. This book has gotten rave reviews from Jim Hightower, Margorie Kelly, Ernest Callenbach, Paul Hawken, Marianne Williamson, Ed Ayres, Granny D.


Include the citation below and GEO Newsletter grants permission to copy, use, and distribute this article.
Permission not for commercial or for-profit use.

©2004 GEO, P O Box 115, Riverdale MD 20738