In truth, our times don’t just require a new movement. They require a new type of movement, because the old movements and ideologies and organizations are not achieving what are needed. Too many of them are artifacts of an archaic, fading order of economics and political action. Think about it: It’s been more than three decades since we first learned that science had confirmed the reality of climate change. The 2008 financial meltdown – 15 years ago! -- revealed the arrogant power of global finance and capitalism – and yet the liberal state still has not significantly reformed those financial structures.
I am a cellist and worker-owner of a cooperative. As an ICDE fellow, I hop out of my usual action-oriented work to reflect on why cooperativism is an alternative to the status quo for freelancing musicians. As a professional cellist, I witnessed the infrastructural fractures that musicians in the United States have to navigate. In 2020, I returned to the U.S. from a year of studying in France, after contemplating during quarantine about the economics of working as an artist. One important question I wanted to solve: Rather than competing with my colleagues for limited paid gigs, how can I generate new opportunities and resources with them?
Co-op models have a marginal position in business education, the technology industry, and the popular imagination. In response, co-operators and their allies have created incubators, accelerator programs, and mutual-aid networks to support early-stage tech co-ops. Join us for an online panel facilitated by co-op researcher-practitioner Emi Do that brings together presenters from several such projects: CoTech, Exit to Community Collective, Platform Cooperativism Consortium, SPACE4, Start.coop, UnFound Accelerator, and Union Cooperative Initiative. These projects advance democratic business formation and co-op theory-building, and they offer valuable lessons on the promises and challenges of accelerating worker ownership today.
Taxi workers in the late 1960s and through the 1970s struggled against the transformation of their industry from regulated and unionized jobs to deregulated independent contracting work. This meant the loss of collective bargaining rights for taxi workers and a sharp rise in precarious working conditions as employers were able to shift business risk onto workers, cut expenses on benefits, and increase profits in-turn. In a spirited response, taxi workers self-organized and sustained union-like alt labor groups, for example the New York Taxi Workers Alliance in New York and United Taxicab Workers in San Francisco, that fought for better working conditions for taxi workers through municipal and city regulations.
Jake Urtes and Jonah Gallagher were getting ready to play a show in Brooklyn when they found out they had lost their jobs. The pair had taken the week off work for a short tour with their band, Shift Meal. To everyone’s surprise, their boss and owner of Common Ground Bakery Cafe, a long-established and beloved coffee shop in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood, had abruptly shut down the shop. On the Common Ground internal Slack channel, workers read owner Michael Krupp’s brief message to all staff informing them that they wouldn’t need to come to work the next day, Monday, July 3.
When the longtime owner of Hometown Foods in tiny Conrad, Iowa announced in 2019 that he was closing the community’s only grocery store, some residents quickly mobilized to buy the business and keep it open. A few of them pooled their money to buy the building; one bought the fixtures; another bought the store’s inventory. They then approached Andy Havens, who owns two small grocery markets in nearby towns, about managing the store. He agreed to do so – and he is now gradually buying out the initial investors. Like Conrad, a growing number of towns and cities recognize that access to fresh, healthy food is a basic human right – and a civic responsibility.
Informality often makes something beautiful. A rapper freestyling. A jazz musician improvising. A drag queen lip-syncing. Their organic, in-the-moment, uncodified nature is a huge reason they captivate and excite. Street vending is supposed to be the informal version of commerce. In this country, lawmakers and law enforcement have made attempts to codify street vending, and usually it gets pretty ugly, pretty quickly. Maybe this summer in Washington, D.C. will be the start of something different. After years of street vendor-led organizing, earlier this year D.C. Council Members unanimously passed legislation overhauling the District’s street vendor regulations.
Sociocracy and cooperativism stem from the premise that humans thrive as social animals. Quite possibly, cooperation acts as our most characteristic trait as living beings. We need each other. No human effort, made by a lone individual, succeeds. Since the dawn of our species, we have engaged in cooperation, and we're still figuring out how to do it best. We could certainly do it better than we are now, and sociocracy sheds a light on the way forward. Sociocracy (also called dynamic governance) means governance by the socios: those who associate together. In other words, if you join, if you participate, you get to have a voice in decision-making.
The day we refinanced our first student loan, four debt cooperative members met for coffee and eggs at a greasy spoon at 8 a.m. to prepare the paperwork. Together, we all went to the bank, got the cashier’s check, printed the letter, and put it in the mail, and it was elating. So elating, in fact, that residents of downtown Seattle looked concerned as four grown adults let out shouts of joy outside a perfectly average post office after doing a seemingly simple task. But the task was anything but simple—and we had done it together. Like an untold number of ideas throughout human history, the nuts and bolts of what would become Salish Sea Cooperative Finance (SSCoFi)—a cooperative built to address the student debt crisis—were hammered out over nachos and beer.
Professor Jessica Gordon-Nembhard explores the potential of cooperatives and solidarity economics as pathways towards economic democracy and justice. Drawing on historical examples from the civil rights movement and the Knights of Labor in the 1880s, Nembhard demonstrates how cooperative economics can counteract the exploitation inherent in capitalist systems. She underlines the importance of communal ownership and shared decision-making as mechanisms for wealth redistribution, arguing that such models can liberate communities from economic exploitation.
For his 91st birthday three years ago, Bob Moore, the namesake behind the ubiquitous Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods brand, surprised his employees during a celebration of his 91st birthday. He unveiled an Employee Stock Ownership Plan that, as of April that year, turned his roughly 600 employees into co-op owners of a company that generated more than $50 million in annual sales in 2018. While Bob’s Red Mill might be one of the most high-profile examples of an employee-owned business in the U.S., it’s far from the only one—especially in Ohio. For more than a decade, Co-op Cincy has been working to both create new cooperatively-owned businesses and help current businesses transition to co-op models across the greater Cincinnati area.
Sometimes the money’s good, sometimes not so good. Either way, Shaun Beckles loves the human aspect of working as a for-hire vehicle driver — getting to know fares even just a little in passing, gaining a glimpse into so many different lives over the course of a single shift. “I’ve always liked driving for the mere fact that you get to meet some interesting people who can connect with your passion, you’d be surprised,” says Beckles, now operations manager at The Drivers Cooperative. The driver-owned ride-hailing platform, which launched in 2021, is hitting some major milestones this year: It has a new app, it’s the official transportation partner for Juneteenth NY, and
In my hometown of Ithaca, New York, GreenStar has been, for many, a symbol and a center of ethical food retail since its birth in the early 1970s. When its Bylaws were first written in 1971, the GreenStar operation consisted of Ithaca volunteers driving the 56 miles to Syracuse and back every Saturday morning, transporting healthy and local farm food which they pre-ordered and distributed to community members at just 5% wholesale mark-up. Today, the consumer-owned grocery cooperative boasts three stores across the city, servicing 12,000 member-owners and thousands of non-members who are also free to shop.
The housing-supply crisis in the United States has most impacted low- to moderate-income households. And, while the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program plays a valuable role in increasing housing access for low-income families, there is no similar source for moderate-income households. Lacking a targeted funding scheme, the demand for moderate-income housing grows, yet the supply is negligible. There are loud voices demanding resources for moderate-income households, but there is not as yet an agreed-upon policy or viable funding format to meet that demand. Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHC) — a cooperative corporation that owns the entire site of the cooperative, including all the apartments and buildings on the site — could be a supplier of much-needed, permanently affordable housing for moderate-income households.