We have all experienced it: Some organization or service starts out good — or great, even — and then as time goes on, either costs and fees go up, or quality declines. In the context of a dominant economy that demands faster production, cheaper labor, and lower quality — all for the sake of channeling wealth upward to shareholders who have little to do with the real-world value created by a business — it is understandable that people may feel cynical about any type of retail organization. This is a story of how the makers who create a living off their hard-earned skills, banded together to challenge this dominant business ethic, and about the cooperative they built that’s just now getting off the ground.
The Gulf Islands Food Co-op was created in 2018 to foster inter-island co-operation and develop new resources and practical supports for food producers and consumers on Galiano, Mayne, Pender and Saturna islands (the Southern Gulf Islands SGI). The co-op’s main goals are to help sustainably increase island food production, food security and resilience by encouraging the growing and purchasing of local food. Its initiatives range from educational programs, such as “healthy soils and regenerative agriculture,” to sharing of local resilient seeds, supporting an Indigenous Venison/Deer workshop offered by The Galiano Conservancy Association, bulk buying of farm supplies, setting up free tables for producers at local markets and supporting growers donating to local food banks.
Stroll down the intersection of Bowdown and Topliff Streets in Boston and you’ll see the shiny automated doors of the brand new Dorchester Food Co-op, where a few friendly faces are adding some finishing touches to the space before it opens to the public in the coming weeks. The worker- and community-owned grocery store, which aims to increase access to nutritious and culturally relevant food, is a project over a decade in the making. As Next City reported during last year’s groundbreaking ceremony, the co-op is the result of more than 10 years of organizing around investors and gathering the funds to make a dream come true.
The 10th of July had been a typical day at work for Caroline Hauser until she received an urgent email from the Intervale Center and its farms. They were calling for volunteers. The Intervale Center, a nonprofit farming cooperative in Burlington, Vermont, was bracing for intense rains and flooding forecasted to hit in the next 24 hours. It needed all hands on deck to harvest everything they could before disaster struck. Hauser messaged her manager to say she needed the day off. Hauser has been a Burlington resident since 2015 and a regular volunteer at the Intervale Center since 2019. She and her husband are summer and winter CSA members—she estimates that 80 to 90 percent of their food comes directly from the Intervale’s seven organic farms.
In 2011, workers at the Vio.Me factory in Thessaloniki, Greece, stopped receiving wages. Management and owners abandoned the facility shortly afterward. Instead of dispersing, the workers of Vio.Me held an assembly and voted to take over management of the factory themselves. Over the past decade, they’ve kept the factory running, jointly determining production decisions through democratic procedures, and sharing in the profits. Although their former bosses and the Greek state have attempted to auction off the land and evict them, the workers have held on with the power of solidarity from their community, and workers across Greece and the wider world.
Established more than a century ago, The New School was set up in New York City as a haven for academic freedom and intellectual inquiry. As a private, progressive, research university, it now has five divisions – design, liberal arts, performing arts, social research, and public engagement – and is home to the Platform Cooperativism Consortium. Founded on the principles of community self-governance and social justice, The New School, through a historic strike fueled by the solidarity of its faculty, students, and staff, has secured better pay and health insurance for its part-time faculty. Though the strike has ended, the echoes of its impact continue to reverberate through the halls of the university.
When you think of workers hamstrung by the “independent contractor” label, you probably don’t think of Maine lobstermen. But it turns out that lobstermen—a title claimed by women as well as men who catch and sell lobster for a living—have something in common with warehouse temps and Uber drivers. As independent contractors they’re denied the collective bargaining rights and various other workplace protections and benefits afforded (to some) by U.S. labor law. And the strategy they used to confront low wages is one that similarly exploited workers might want to try too: they teamed up with a union to set up a worker-owned co-op. The lobstermen partnered with the Machinists to create both an affiliate union local and a marketing cooperative.
In this episode, I speak with executive director Noni Session about how EB PREC is garnering support to shift real estate ownership from extractive developers into the hands of the BIPOC community in Oakland and the East Bay. She shares the difference between a permanent real estate co-op and land trust, ancestral remembrance of cooperative ownership, how they got the first group of people to invest, their governance structure and multi-stakeholder model, prioritizing inclusivity and accessibility to individual investors, transparency of investment risks and how they mitigate it, and their exciting new venture - a historic Black arts venue they’ve acquired for Black artists and small businesses at 50% of market rate.
In 2001, my main task in Nicaragua was to be a "Karen": the obnoxious, entitled white woman who uses her privilege to get her way. Although I was only 25, I was able to lend my white face, my American accent and my pushy “get-me-your-manager” skills to women’s cooperatives to gain them access to and help them navigate the Nicaraguan bureaucratic system. This was during the neoliberal years in Nicaragua, a time when the women we worked with – poor, working women – were simply dismissed by virtually any institution. Following on the popular Sandinista Revolution of the 1980s led by grassroots movements, the neoliberal governments from 1990 to 2006 were led by oligarchical elites who not only looked to the U.S. embassy for policy guidance, but culturally deferred to the U.S. as well.
Like every other country, Nicaragua needs more affordable housing. To deal with the shortage, in many places it’s trying out community-based solutions, sharing responsibility between the government, the local authority and the families that need better conditions. It relies on mutual aid: hours of work put in voluntarily by those benefitting from a scheme, to build not only their own houses but those of their neighbours. It’s a cooperative that really works. I talked to two women members of one such group, Yadira Aguirre and Margine Martínez, about their work building houses in their small community in La Dalia in the mountainous north of Nicaragua. They are working women, part of a group whose main earnings come from coffee harvesting on large farms for three months each year.
With schools across the world shutting due to Covid-19, e-learning has become an increasingly popular option around the world – but while this has increased platform revenues, teachers’ pay has stayed the same. “Last year, during lockdown, I decided to start something different,” says John Hayes, co-founder of MyCoolClass, an international teacher-owned platform co-op set for launch next month. He hails from California but has been living in Warsaw, Poland, for nearly six years while working as an ESL teacher, in language schools and online. After speaking with other freelance teachers and professionals affected by pay cuts, he decided the best solution would be to launch a co-operatively owned online learning platform.
On your first day working at Taharka Brothers, a majority-Black-owned ice cream maker in Baltimore, you can join the flavor committee and help create flavors like the limited holiday edition Sweet Potato Crumble. Or you can join the social justice committee and vet local organizations to support through ice cream sales, like the Baltimore Action Legal Team. If none of those are to your liking, there are other committees you can join. If you work there for at least 15 months and earn top marks on your most recent performance review, you can become a part-owner of Taharka Brothers, and have not just a say but also a final vote on major business decisions and policies like those performance reviews.
Ken Lewis grew up on the island of Grenada, and witnessed the progressive aftermath of its 1979 revolution. “I remember the power of cooperatives, people getting land, turning places that were barren into productive places,” he says. That image stayed with him after he moved to New York City for grad school and started driving a taxi on the side. Now, several decades later, Lewis is finally getting a chance to put the power of cooperatives into practice, in service of the drivers he worked with for so long. He is one of three cofounders of The Drivers Cooperative (TDC), which aims to realize a long-held dream of socially conscious New Yorkers in a hurry: a ridesharing app that you can feel good about.
When a group of campesinas in the community of Santa Julia, Nicaragua founded the Gloria Quintanilla Cooperative in 2008 with the Rural Workers’ Association (Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo – ATC), one of their basic rules was that men were not allowed to hurt women. With much struggle, they have rid their rural community of machismo and established a high value on women’s work. In collaboration with the ATC and the Sandinista government, the women have fought for and won land titles in their names, their own homes, access to education, improved roads, and most recently, a community water well.
Hatfield, MA - For many farmers, the 2020 season has posed numerous difficulties: an ongoing drought, early frost and a need for extra public health precautions amid the pandemic, to name a few. But in a year marked by challenges, Riquezas del Campo farm, now in its second season, is growing. The immigrant-led, worker-owned cooperative farm got started later in the growing season when it started in 2019 and had just one customer, said Lorena Moreno, a founding member of the farm. This year, the farm, situated on the Northampton-Hatfiled line, has multiplied its sales around four times over, is attracting new members and selling to more vendors.