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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

GEO 74: From the Editors

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April 29, 2007
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This issue focuses on the 2nd National Conference of Democratic Workplaces in NYC last October. About 300 people from more than 100 different co-ops and support groups attended.

Overviews of the conference are provided below by federation staffer Melissa Hoover and by Len Krimerman. Chris Heneghan writes about the Boston Workers Alliance and John W. Lawrence fills us in on the presentations about sources of capital for cooperatives. Len also comments on the Canadian Worker Co-op Conference in November There is a separate discussion of that conference by Chris McCarville.

The NY conference was primarily about U.S. co-ops, yet it also had an international flavor. The welcome meeting was held at Colors, a new cooperative restaurant in Manhattan. Many of its worker-owners are recent immigrants. Colors was organized by the Restaurant Opportunities Center, with help from a $500,000 investment from a group of Italian cooperative food service enterprises. Spanish-English translation was provided by members of the Rhode Island-based Connections Co-op.

The conference held several plenary sessions including Rick Surpinâ??s keynote address as well as numerous workshops including â??Co-ops and Social Movements,â? â??Rebuilding New Orleans in the African-American Cooperative Tradition,â? â??Confronting Internalized Oppression: Fostering Leadership among Marginalized Groups,â? and â??Unions and Worker Cooperativesâ?.

Regional federations represented were: Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives, Valley Alliance of Worker Co-ops (MA), Boston Workers Cooperative Network, Portland Area Workers Cooperatives, Eastern Conference for Worker Democracy, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Federation of Workplace Democracies (MN) and South Sound Cooperatives (WA).

Two large firms participating were Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) and Equal Exchange, both in business for 20 years or more, both with sales over $20 million. CHCA, a NY home care agency, provides work for over 1000 people. Its workforce consists primarily of Black and Latina women. Equal Exchange is a Boston area fair trade co-op that buys coffee, tea and chocolate from 30 farmer co-ops in 15 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

International participants included members of the â??recuperated factoriesâ? movement in Argentina, two from the Venezuelan Cooperative for Social Services, and one from the Canadian Federation of Worker Cooperatives. $15,000 in travel support was donated by the Venezuelan petroleum corporation, CITGO

The final conference session featured a showing of the Avi Lewis and Naomie Klein film, â??The Take,â? about the takeover of Argentine factories abandoned by their owners and converted to worker self-management when Argentinaâ??s economy collapsed several years ago.

GEO editors were present at the conference, where we talked about future directions for this publication, a discussion to be continued at our winter editorial retreat. Concerns include how to reach out to more people with the cooperative message, and how to use our limited resources most effectively.




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