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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Jim Johnson

Two major influences have guided my life from the very beginning. One is that my parents ran a small technical business out of our house, and the kids were expected to work in the business. So from an early age, I learned how bills got paid, how customers were treated, and what made the difference between sweating the rent or having money in the bank. My second major influence is progressive activism - my parents were early supporters of the Civil Rights Movement and early opponents of the Vietnam War. Their outspoken positions lost them some friends, but gained them many others, and our house hosted lots of interesting people engaged in ponderous, altruistic discussions. Thus, trying to run a business ethically, while also living and working in a dissident, quasi-tribal culture, has always felt like home to me.

When I struck out on my own in the late 70s, I found my first affinity group through my local food co-op. Before long I had joined a DC collective publishing a dissident 'zine, and was organizing punk and reggae benefits and training people for non-violent civil disobedience actions. I got into freelance IT work in the mid-80s, and remained involved in many different democratic grassroots activities until the mid-90s, when I decided to focus my efforts more exclusively on economic democracy and website development. This again led me to my local food co-op, and to a local software company that was just beginning to convert to a worker-owned co-op. Through those experiences, my studies in co-op development, and my networking with other worker co-ops, I started working with the GEO collective in 2005, and began to do an increasing amount of consulting to co-ops as well. After 10 years with my worker co-op, with the movement growing quickly, I decided to go back to full-time freelancing - but this time, as an advisor to worker co-ops and other types of co-ops, with the perspectives of a worker-owner.