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Mountain Equipment Catastrophe

Dru Oja Jay is joined by Kevin Harding, one of the organizers of a spirited hail-mary attempt to save Mountain Equipment Co-op from being sold off to a US private equity firm. Kevin is a public policy professional who works with cooperatives and community enterprises. In this episode, he shares about how tens of thousands of members mobilized to stop MEC's sale, and came very close to being successful. Dru and Kevin also discuss the situation that led to the co-operative's demise, what could have prevented it, and what became of the effort to save MEC.

Allied Community And Co-operative Shared Services (ACCESS)

So basically, ACCESS is a shared services platform and it provides a collective of professional services that are aligned with co-ops, nonprofits and other social purpose organizations. And we just have been working on this for the last year and a half. And the kind of the backstory to ACCESS — I was approached by the ED at ACCA, the Alberta Community Cooperative Association, and I was asked if I would be interested in writing a grant. And I think I was a month into the job there, and I wasn't quite sure what I knew about co-ops and, you know, even writing a grant application at that level. But once I saw what the grant was for, I was like, "You know what? I actually really like the whole heart behind this." Having worked in a nonprofit setting for many years, I think capacity — stretching employees beyond their capacity, expecting them to do maybe a little bit more than what they were trained for, or where their passions lie — that was always a piece that I always kind of argued about at the leadership table, or advocated for, like, "why is our bookkeeper writing a newsletter?

Students Are Making Moves To Ditch Their Profiteering Landlords

As student housing reaches crisis point in the UK, one organisation is determined to break the mould – and the grip of rogue landlords – by creating co-operatives to run accommodation. Housing for university students is in chaos. As the Guardian reported, charities are saying it’s the worst crisis since the 1970s. Housing for university students is in chaos. As the Guardian reported, charities are saying it’s the worst crisis since the 1970s. It noted that the company StuRents did research that: suggests there is a shortfall of 207,000 student beds, and 19 towns and cities where there is more than a 10% undersupply of beds, ranging from 28% in Preston and 25% in Bristol to 10% in Birmingham and Swansea. Martin Blakey from the charity Unipol told the Guardian: purpose-built student accommodation has stopped expanding to the extent it was, and we don’t think that’s going to change. At the same time we think there’s a significant decrease in shared houses – [landlords] are moving back to renting to professionals or leaving the market. The reason for the chaos is fairly obvious: government-driven privatisation of the sector.

Cooperatives Are Key To Climate Action

What successful cooperatives and climate initiatives have in common comes down to how closely aligned they are with the needs and capacities of the people they most directly impact.  Initiatives that take place at the community, town, city, and regional level, even if not coordinated or controlled by an overarching organization, scale up to make large impacts. Co-ops, as democratically run organizations, can design appropriate and achievable steps that are sustainable for their members, even if they would not be attractive for traditional profit-driven investors. A good example is the People Power Solar Cooperative in California, who make co-owning a solar project possible for individuals who don’t have capital or land. In 2019, the co-op constructed a residential-sized solar energy project that sells the power generated to residents in the area and then pays dividends to the member-owners.

A Community Conversation About The Park Slope Food Co-Op

Like any revolution, it takes experimentation, trial and error undergone at great risk, to prove the reliable, rational, and causal relationship between cooperation and economic success. It also takes a willingness to tweak, slightly, the familiar meaning of “success” in the economic sense. Alan Berger, a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op (PFSC) and panelist on the GEO Collective’s recent community conversation in reflection on the movie, describes his draw to the Park Slope Food Co-op as a manifestation of his more general interest in “alternative ways of being.” At PFSC, “success” isn’t necessarily net income, but unquantifiable outcomes, like the democratization (via affordability) of high-quality food, and the creation of a meaningful community with high levels of engagement. This is what PFSC proves about what an “alternative way of being” a consumer of food can mean.

Eat, Grow, Share: Communities Building Food Resilience

Food can be a great social and cultural leveller. But as the cost of meeting this basic need rises fast for all, the impact is anything but level. Access to nutritious food is uneven and people’s resilience to price rises and scarcity varies massively. Food campaigner and chef Jack Monroe highlighted how rising supermarket prices are not impacting all shoppers evenly. In January, they calculated some basic food items rose by over 300% while the official inflation rate was 5.4%. Meanwhile, the Food Foundation reported that those on the lowest incomes need to spend 47% of cash to meet the government’s healthy diet guidelines, compared with 11% for those with highest incomes. This isn’t a “cost of living” crisis; it’s a cost of inequality crisis.

How Co-ops Are Transforming Quebec’s Food Deserts

Montreal, Québec, Canada - In French, the word for food processing is the same as the word for sweeping social change: transformation. Alex Beaudin dreams of doing both. Beaudin, 25, is the coordinator of Le Grénier Boréal, an agricultural co-op in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, a village of around 450 people in northeastern Quebec, 550 miles northeast of Montreal. Longue-Pointe is one of about 20 villages strung like beads on a necklace, between Route 138 and the vast St. Lawrence River. The highway and the river are the villages’ lifelines, and depending on either one for supply shipments — as the Nord-Côtiers do — can be maddening. Ferry service is unreliable; a damaged ship can cause weeks of disruption.

Growing Worker Co-ops In Vermont

Bret Keisling is joined by worker-owners Alex Fischer and Andrew Stachiw who discuss USFWC's (US Federation of Worker Cooperatives) efforts to network and grow worker co-ops in Vermont to further societal goals including economic, racial, and social justice, and working in business as anti-capitalists. Alex and Andrew share their individual and combined passions for democratized workplaces and their beliefs that changing the very structures of jobs, equity and community will transcend society. Each guest also shares their EO A-ha Moment. Further show notes, and all of our past episodes, are available on our website.

The Case For Democratic Worker Control

First it was the “Great Resignation.” Then it was “nobody wants to work anymore.” Now it’s “quiet quitting.” Yet it seems like no one wants to talk about what I see as the root cause of America’s economic malaise – work under contemporary capitalism is fundamentally flawed. As a political philosopher studying the effects of contemporary capitalism on the future of work, I believe that the inability to dictate and meaningfully control one’s own working life is the problem. Democratizing work is the solution. What can be said about the malaise surrounding work under capitalism today? There are at least four major problems: First, work can be alienating.

The Cost of Not Going Co-op

At most landlord-owned mobile home parks, residents live in a property owner’s fiefdom, with no control over how their community is managed. While residents usually own their homes, they must pay rent on the land that the home is on, and face annual unfettered rent increases with not a semblance of tenant protection. Despite their name, many mobile homes are often immobile after sitting in place for a few years; any attempt to move them could potentially lead to major or even complete structural damage. Cooperative ownership offers a way for residents to not only have a say in their community’s decision-making, but also to prevent rent hikes and keep their housing costs affordable. Compare the space rents in two California parks over 27 years: Leisureville, which residents purchased and transformed into a cooperative; and Rancho Yolo, a mobile home community where the owner refused to sell to the residents.

The Making Of Co-op City, The Nation’s Biggest Housing Co-op

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.

Cecosesola Of Venezuela Wins Right Livelihood Award!

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.

Free Stores Offer An Alternative To The Exploitative Capitalist Economy

Queens, New York - We all love a good bargain, and are sometimes willing to go to great lengths to secure one. But for a few hours at Woodbine, an experimental hub in Ridgewood, Queens, New York, thrifting was entirely free and there wasn’t a catch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a flood of people showed up to the space 30 minutes before its “Free Store” event was supposed to begin. At a free store, people are encouraged to bring things they no longer need, but are too nice to throw away, and take things they want or need without any questions asked. It’s meant to be an experimental space for building an economy based in solidarity, not sales or barter, and to harness the immense amounts of waste and excess generated in capitalist economies.

Catalyzing Worker Co-ops And The Solidarity Economy

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.

The Genius Of Ella Jo Baker

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).
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