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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Introduction: The International Year of the Cooperative

Article type
GEO Original
April 12, 2012
Body paragraph

One billion people (yes, ONE BILLION!) on the planet are working together in cooperatives of all kinds.

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This is a staggering statistic – one that the United Nations recently released as part of the rationale for its declaration making 2012 “the year of the cooperative.” While the United Nations could not be considered a revolutionary organization, this declaration could end up being a revolutionary act. The declaration has focused many eyes of all shapes and colors on cooperatives, cooperation and the cooperative way of doing business, living life and conducting our social affairs – a way that values people and the planet, and that has the potential for eradicating hunger, poverty, alienation and isolation, and bringing peace, justice, joy and prosperity to the entire Earth.

As cooperators, we gain heart knowing that whether we are sewing handbags in Alabama, baking bread in the San Francisco Bay Area, or creating technological solutions in Madison, WI that we are working in solidarity with our cooperative counterparts in Albania, Nigeria and the Philippines. We are an integral part of a larger planetary movement full of dynamic potential to usher in a more humane world. We cooperators are part of the 99% working every day to foster democracy, creativity and cooperative human values in our workplaces, in our communities and elsewhere in our lives.

In “The Power of Cooperation,” we learn that the number of people who are members of cooperatives are three times that of corporate shareholders. In three countries, we learn that more than half the population are members of cooperatives. As Charles Gould of the International Co-Operative Alliance, writes in his article, “2012 – Not Business As Usual,” we are living and working in a critical time. How we respond and what we do at this point is pivotal to continued economic evolution.

The Year of the Cooperative kicked off in October 31, 2011 with the theme, Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World.” The aims of the declaration are to

  1. promote cooperatives and to raise public awareness about them;
  2. establish a policy of legal empowerment to grow the cooperatives; and to
  3. encourage governments and regulatory bodies to establish policies, laws and regulation conductive and forming and growing cooperatives.

A goal of the U.N. declaration is to promote policy change on a global level toward cooperatives. Peter Frank writes in “Will the U.S. Government Legislate Cooperative Development?” about an initiative in the U.S. Congress on the National Cooperative Development Act that would help the U.S. become more like Canada where the government has been supporting cooperative development for since the 1990s. Micha Josephy, of the Cooperative Fund of New England, writes in “SBA Recognizes Worker Cooperatives as Small Businesses” about the Small Business Association making it possible for CFNE to give six worker cooperatives their first loans. Josephy also explains now others may take advantage of this historical development.

The National Cooperative Business Association Marketing Director Andrea R. Cumpston writes about the value of IYC for cooperatives and society in general in article entitled, “Marketing Your Cooperative During IYC – What Steps Will You Take to Observe the International Year of Cooperatives?

We also report in “International Year of the Cooperative Inspirations” three short examples of what the IYC has inspired in two cooperatives, and one individual so far this year. We hope these examples spark more ideas and ways to expand cooperation. We hope to run more of these throughout the year so send them to us at

Brian Van Slyke and Andrew Stachiw of The Toolbox for Education and Social Action brings good news with the production of their Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives during this Year of the Cooperative. They write of this and other educational ventures in “Creating Democratic Education Resources for Building a Democratic Economy.

Co-op researcher Jessica Gordon Nembhard and co-op developer Jim Johnson report on the October formation in Quebec of the North America branch of the international worker cooperative organization, CICOPA, and the election of Rebecca Kemble, of Madison, WI in “CICOPA-North America Formed: Madison Cab’s Rebecca Kemble is President.

Immanuel Ness, in the article “Cooperatives and Worker-Owned Enterprises as Transformative Strategies,” reports on a conference at the Rosa Luxemburg Institute in Germany where scholars debated whether the time is ripe for a mass conversion of traditional business into worker cooperatives.

Also included in this issue are articles about cooperation in a social context. In Italy, a wonderful “slow revolution” is taking place where people have been changing society using cooperation. Economics professor and human geographer Alberto Corbino, in his article “Italy’s Slow Revolution: A Twist on Solidarity Economics” reports on this movement, which has had success in using Mafia money for the common good.

GEO’s Michael Johnson writes about “Cooperative Principles and the Common Good.” This article came about after a discussion with Terry Mollner, founder of the Trusteeship Institute in Shutesbury, MA about his ideas around the common good.

Finally, we include a list of IYC Activities and a short list of Resources that will hopefully help to nurture growth and development of cooperatives this year.

Hopefully the momentum of this year, will leap, as Gould projects, enough so that the International Year of Cooperatives leads to the Decade of the Cooperative and moving us swiftly into a Cooperative Planet. 2012 was ushered in with the Occupy Movement and it the year when the prophecies state there will be great changes on the planet. While some of these are cosmic, let cooperatives and cooperation be a foundational part of that change to the billions occupying the planet. Nature is cooperative. Why shouldn’t we be?

In cooperation,

Christina A. Clamp and Ajowa Nzinga Ifateyo, issue co-coordinators.

Thanks to Tom Pierson of the North American Students of Cooperation for help with a list of activities International Year of the Cooperative and National Cooperative Business Association’s Andrea R. Cumpston , and new GEO Associate Marty Heyman help with putting together the list, as well as editing and posting Gleanings and calendar items. Anonymous, whose passion or cooperatives has been an inspiration to many is also very much appreciated. In addition, thanks to the following for photos on short notice: Hazel Corcoran and David Wilson of the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation;, Jennifer Stocker and Yilda Campos of Rainbow Grocery Cooperative; Joe Rinehart at Firestorm Café; Elena Fairley at Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security or WAGES; Ann St. James, Collective Copies; Vanessa Bransburg at Center for Family Life; Sarah Brobow-Willams at Southern Black Women’s Initiative; Lori Burge at the New Orleans Food Co-op, Ole Olson at Isthmus Engineering; and Marilyn Langlois of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s Office in Richmond, CA, and Lexi Hudson, California Center for Cooperative Development. It was indeed a cooperative effort.

Ajowa Nzinga Ifateyo got her start in the worker cooperative movement in 2003 when she was elected to fill a vacancy on the Eastern Coordinating Council, the board of the Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy, eastern regional worker cooperative organization, where she served for nine years.  A year after joining the ECC, Ajowa went on to become a founding board member of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives in 2004 where she participated for eight years. She has also served as Chair of the Democracy at Work Institute and trained with the Democracy at Work Network.  She has also served on the boards of NASCO and NASCO Development Services, and the Ujamaa Collective in Pittsburgh.  She had cofounded the Ella Jo Baker Intentionally Community Cooperative in Washington DC in 2002 and lived in that community for eight years, serving as its Secretary and Treasurer for most of her stay. Ajowa joined GEO in 2005 as a co-editor. She has a master's degree in Business Administration and in Community Economic Development, both from Southern New Hampshire University.  She also earned a degree in Mass Media Arts from the University of the District of Columbia.  She traveled to Mondragon in 2011 and continues to do cooperative organizing in the Washington, D.C. area where she is based. She has a particular interest in internalized superiority and inferiority, and the role of love and spirituality in changing the world.


Christina A. Clamp, Ajowa Nzinga Ifateyo (2012).  Introduction: The International Year of the Cooperative.  Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

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