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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Looking for Good in the Bad

Article type
GEO Original
April 20, 2020
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The good in the horror of Corona times is that something that has been relatively murky is now becoming crystal clear. People across the country and globe are responding to the crisis in one of two ways: first, and by far the greater in number—at least from one can tell at this point, is the reach out to others, I’m my sister’s and brother’s keeper, we’re in this together way. The second, watch out for numero uno, me first, exploit the situation and make a quick buck.

Coops, of course, are built on the first principle. One of my favorites here in San Francisco is the Arizmendi (worker-owned) Bakery. Here’s a letter I recently sent them:

Dear Arizmendi Friends,

As I walked by your store late last night and saw your diminished hours, I realized your patronage is probably diminished as well, and a thought occurred to me. You could invite people to become “subscribers” (I don’t have a better word right now to define it). They would buy in advance Arizmendi’s “bread of the week”. Let’s say a loaf is $5.00 when you walk in and buy it at the store. If they purchased 26 weeks in advance, you’d offer an 8% discount; if they purchased a year in advance, they’d receive a 12% discount.

Their agreement would include this: if you can’t pick up your bread on “bread pickup day” it will be donated to a nonprofit that is serving the homeless or otherwise helping put food on the tables of those who are stretched economically.

The idea is to:

  • give you some advance capital when normal purchasing is down so you can better deal with cash-flow issues;

  • create a predictable market so you can do whatever your version of “mass production” might be;

  • create a regular source of great bread for nonprofits, religious groups and others that are feeding people who are economically stretched and stressed.

I can picture an increasingly large shelf with bags or boxes of breads with people’s names on them. At the end of the day, the nonprofits on your list would come by for their share of what remained.

And it would get the word out about Arizmendi, offering you an opportunity to broaden education about worker-owned coops.

Hope you find this useful.

George Cheney, a great student of and advocate for coops read my letter and suggested it might be of interest to people beyond the bakery. I hope you, the reader, fall in that category.

Another way coops could help their cash flow during these difficult times is by selling gift cards.  If you make "redeemable at Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other end of the year celebration" you'll have a lot of lead time to deal with honoring the gift.


Mike Miller’s background includes the early student movement at UC Berkeley, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1962-end of 1966), directorship of a Saul Alinsky community organizing project (1967-68), and a number of subsequent organizing projects. His articles on labor and community organizing and politics have appeared in The Ark, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Christianity & Crisis, Class Matters,, Communique for New Politics, CounterPunch, Dissent, Farmworker Documentation Project, Generations, Grassroots Economic Organizing, International Journal of Urban & Regional Research, Just Economics, the liberal democrat, The Movement, New Conversations, New Labor Forum,Organizing, Organize Training Center Publications, The Organizer, Poverty & Race Reports, Race, Poverty & The Environment, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Social Policy, Socialist Review, Shelterforce, Stansbury Forum, Sun Reporter and Working U.S.A.

He is author of Community Organizing: A Brief Introduction (Euclid Avenue Press/Milwaukee) and A Community Organizer’s Tale: People and Power in San Francisco (Heyday Books), co-author of The People Fight Back (Organize Training Center/San Francisco), and co-editor of the recently published People Power: The Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky (Vanderbilt University Press). He adapted and abbreviated for publication Rachel B. Reinhard’s PhD dissertation The Politics of Change…The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party: A case study of the Rise and Fall of Insurgency, and is currently writing An Organizer's Life: Behind the Slogan. (Euclid Avenue Press/Milwaukee).

He lectures, mentors and leads workshops in community organizing, and has taught community organizing, urban politics or political science at major universities, including University of California, Stanford, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Notre Dame (Catholic Committee on Urban Ministry), San Francisco State, Hayward State and Lone Mountain College.

He has consulted with labor, religious, broad-based community, interest and identity organizations.

He directs ORGANIZE Training Center at You can reach Mike at


Mike Miller (2020).  Looking for Good in the Bad.  Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

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