In early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic forced a retreat into our homes in a grand finale of our atomization and separation from nature — a separation that was exacerbated by enclosures. Yet physically distanced (and with the fragility of the economic system exposed) we remembered our interdependence. Many of us rediscovered ways of self-organizing and returned to the culture of commoning that has been overlooked as a vital way to address many issues, like climate change. Across countries, collective responses to the climate crisis have flourished at local levels, particularly where there were existing networks of support and democratic enterprise. Community energy organizations sent thousands of pounds to support neighborhood responders before governments had figured out how to reach people.
Affordable housing activists spend a lot of time talking about how to bring about solutions that match the scale of the problem. Co-ops and community land trusts—frequently mentioned strategies for creating permanently affordable housing—often face challenges about their potential to scale up. It seems timely, then, that a new book is out about the largest housing cooperative in the country, a development of phenomenal scale and longevity—Co-op City in the Bronx. Freedomland: Co-op City and the Story of New York, by Oberlin College history professor Annemarie Sammartino, traces the history of Co-op City from its initial planning stages in the mid 1960s through the early 1990s, including a major rent strike, the assertion of community control, race and class dynamics, and the ways the development reflected what was happening in New York City as a whole.
What a thrill to learn that Cecosesola (Central de Cooperativas de Lara) -- the Venezuelan network of community organizations from low-income areas – has won the 2022 Right Livelihood Award! Cecosesola is a federation of co-operatives and other groups that has created its own distinct social and economic ecosystem. Since 1967, the group has relied on commoning to develop a humane provisioning system that meets the needs of more than 100,000 families across seven Venezuelan states. The Right Livelihood Award cites Cecosesola for "establishing an equitable and cooperative economic model as a robust alternative to profit-driven economies." It has achieved this in the face of serious problems in Venezuela – a financial crisis, food shortages, hyper-inflation, and a massive out-migration of 7 million people.
So, some quick things, and I'm going to go through some examples actually for everything on this list. Co-op workplaces: you can soft launch a co-op workplace as a pop up business while building community support. So you don't have to actually get a building together, you know, there are ways to do it. So you don't need to be renting a big expensive building downtown in the beginning. And many co-ops also use crowdfunding or even grants to get off the ground. And there's different kinds of funding available, so you can kind of think about, what your business model looks like and and how you might approach bringing in outside funds, if that's the route that you want to or need to take. And I should say, as you can see, pretty much most people under 40 at this point are going to need a level of financial help, and that's that's okay. That's just kind of part of where the economy is for our generation.
Ella Jo Baker will be inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame as an “Unsung Hero” at a ceremony at the National Press Club on Oct. 6 in Washington DC. Ella Baker is well-regarded as a giant in the Civil Rights Movement, known for her unique participatory grassroots organizing style and also for her ability to galvanize young people to bring a militancy in the struggle to end segregation. But Baker is less known for her innovative organizing prowess before the 1960s – forming a network of self-help cooperatives to bring economic relief to black people during the Depression. “Ella Baker was one of the most effective, original and masterful organizers of the 20th century,” one scholar noted about the woman who became a Civil Rights legend (Tutashinda, 2010, p. 33).
This session is the fourth installment of the Black Labor, Solidarity Economy, and Movement Lawyering Series, Co-organized by the Workers' Rights institute and Julian Hill and hosted in collaboration with Coalition for Racial Equity and Democratic Economies (CREDE), the Georgetown Law Socialist Students Union, ONE DC, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), and Claudia Jones School for Political Education. In this session, Jessica Gordon-Nembhard will discuss the history of African American mutual aid and cooperative economics, Black cooperative economic thought, the most prolific periods in the US African American Cooperative movement, and contemporary and previous examples of worker-owned cooperatives, lessons learned, and the way forward.
In April, 19 private equity firms committed to providing equity shares to employees at some portfolio firms, as part of the new nonprofit Ownership Works initiative, which has a goal of creating $20 billion in wealth for low- and moderate-income workers over the next decade. Seems like good news. But we urge impact investors to be skeptical. The industry that has done the most damage to job quality and worker security over the last two decades claims to be reversing course. And there will be workers who see a nice hit of cash. But ownership? Not really. What these PE firms are doing falls far short of what authentic employee ownership represents, which is the beginning of a truly democratic economy where ordinary people have more control over their lives, more stability in their work, a fair share in the wealth they create, and the chance to own and control the places where they work.
The success of community-supported farming has coincided with rising demand for organic food since the late 1970s. But the model’s popularization has meant that, sometimes, CSAs can be misrepresented as ‘just another way’ for consumers to purchase fresh, seasonal food. Important elements embedded into the CSA model, such as that of shared risk among members, make the arrangement more than merely transactional. In fact, the origins of the CSA movement in America have radical roots, drawn from the prominent environmental movement and a subculture dissatisfied with the prevailing economic system. A 1985 paper newly digitized from the Schumacher Center archive, “Community Supported Food Systems”, clarifies the deeper motivations which brought CSAs to the US in their present form.
Restaurant workers have one of the most tiring jobs, yet many industry professionals remain notoriously underpaid. Employees often rely on customer tips to make a livable wage, adding another layer of stress to the already tense working environment. Sadly, most restaurants in the U.S. transfer the cost of labor onto customers in the form of tips, leaving their hard-working employees with no safety net. But the owners of a San Francisco eatery have been defying the status quo for years with their “tip-free” model that offers all their staff a living wage with full benefits and even a share of the restaurant’s profits.
I am with USDA Rural Development, a long time co-op developer, and we have Alex Stone, the Executive Director of CooperationWorks!, and we are pleased that we are able to offer this first in a series. What we're going to present today is just the basics on the steps to forming a cooperative. So I've been a co-op developer, based in my home state of Wisconsin. I've helped organize about 35 different cooperatives in all kinds of different industry sectors. And I'd like to share with you some knowledge that that the field of cooperative development has developed, and some personal lessons I've learned along the way that I'd like to share with you as well.
On paper, a Community Land Trust [C.L.T.] is a non-profit organization first, but not necessarily foremost. Indefinite land leases within inflated financial and real estate markets are most desirable for the procurement of actual wealth equity. C.L.T.’s are a proactive model for sustainability and break the vicious cycle of our archaic Colonial past. The sociological relevance of a C.L.T. is in developing a community orientation for living a life aligned with autonomous Degrowth and the promotion of New Local Post-Capitalism. New localism is therefore characterized by a cautious devolution of power to the local level in an attempt to better implement national goals. It emphasizes the devolution of managerial over political power — the aim is generally to allow local managers to meet national priorities more effectively, rather than to allow local politicians to derogate from national goals.
In most cases, it would be absurd to think that the same approach that created a problem would also be the one best suited to solve it. Yet this is exactly what we are expected to believe regarding the existential ecological threats our world now faces. As predicted by many since its inception, capitalism and its core interconnected tenants — private ownership of the means of production, market allocation, and exponential economic growth — have brought us to the precipice of both environmental and social disaster. Yet, year after year we continue to be told that capitalism will save us. Just a few more dashes of regulation here, some different market incentives there, and the turning point is right around the corner. All the while, temperatures climb, species disappear, the air is choked with smog, waters rise, forests burn, and storms rage.
As economists and policymakers are seeking to explain the “Great Resignation” sweeping the labor market, the traditional wage and hour issues became less important to employees than in the recent past, according to a recent report. A big takeaway from the data is that organizing people as workers is not enough. Economic democracy in the twenty-first century cannot be achieved solely within a framework focused exclusively on worksites. Rather we must explore a more expansive definition of collective bargaining that adapts to the context of global capitalism and all its features, including addressing the material and cultural needs of the modern worker—who, shockingly, does not solely identify as a worker, but sees themselves as having a diverse array of identities.
Most of us are familiar with the social and environmental impacts of life under the Capitalocene (‘the age of capital’ — the historical era shaped by the endless accumulation of capital): inequality, commodification, imperialism, racism, and much more are already causing intragenerational suffering and ecological collapse. We are bombarded weekly with publications that assess the dire state of the world — and while I don’t want to focus on this, a brief reminder is in order. There is extensive literature portraying the social and ecological degradation of our times (e.g. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, Stockholm Institute planet boundaries studies). Each Earth Overshoot Day is another reminder of the unsustainability of our current socio-economic model.
This article is a continuation of a previous one titled “Rethinking Revolution for an Age of Resurgent Fascism.” Ella Baker’s work leading the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League (YNCL) from 1930-1933 is here used to further inform today’s anti-fascism. Overall, this article relates Baker’s work to the dissenting views of German Communist Party (KPD) co-founder Clara Zetkin, specifically her views on fascism and the systemic alternative she referred to as a “Soviet Congress for a Soviet Germany.” This was a federation of autonomous councils formed in neighborhoods and workplaces for mutual aid, self-defense, and as dual power to succeed in revolution through general strikes in the event of a Nazi coup.