Solidarity: We Don’t Need to be Perfect

Is there anything in the world of work that at this moment that is required more than unity? And is it possible to consider unity rather than trying identify ourselves with the values that are already universal?

José María Arizmendiarrieta, Reflections

Recently Brian Donovan, a fellow traveller and co-op thinker, wrote about interdependence and the survival of humanity. His article discusses the special need right now for unity across the globe.

In Pendlum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, the authors Roy Williams and Michael Drew discuss a cycle of human behavior and thought that moves from the “Me” to the “We” based on the Strauss-Howe “Generations” or “Fourth Turning” concept. We are a couple years away from the zenith of the current “We” generation (2023). Corresponding times in this concept would be 1940 and 1860. Other years in when the world seemed to be both falling apart and coming together. We are in the moment that Williams describes as “I’m not OK, You’re not OK (we are both broken)” and approaching the zenith (“I’m OK, You’re not OK”). The good news (assuming Williams and Drew are correct), is the the era of 2033-2053 will be “I’m OK, You’re OK (Rainbows and Unicorns): think 1953-1973, marks being half-way down a “we” and half-way up a “me period.

The Pendulum of Generations

The period that we are in, 2013-2033; however, is different. It is one marked by “witch hunts”. Witch hunts (a problematic phrase in its own right) mean dehumanizing people to achieve short-term gains in power and the wealth that comes with it. Williams and Drew predicted the 2012-2033 period as such:

Yes, “working together for the common good” can quickly become self-righteousness. In the words of novelist David Farland, “Men who believe themselves to be good, who do not search their own souls, often commit the worst atrocities. A man who sees himself as evil will restrain himself. It is only when we do evil in the belief that we do good that we pursue it wholeheartedly.”

Of course, we can’t simply wait and hope for the best until 2033. In many ways, this “we” generation has a greater ability destroy itself than any before it. The combined effects of climate change and politicization of the most dangerous pandemic to affect humans in over a hundred years creates a special existential crisis for us.

We need to avoid the temptation to join in the witch hunt, engage in ideological purity, and otherwise dehumanize those we might be in temporary disagreement. Cooperatives operate on a foundation of values and ethics. These values in a worker co-op create a workplace based on human dignity, solidarity, and social responsibility.

I’m not arguing for any of us to ignore bad actors and people seeking to manipulate the genuine fears of people right now for their own power and wealth. Any value based system needs a form of accountability. This begins by creating a culture of communal support (mutual self-help) and transparency. I think that Arizmendi’s argues wrapping ourselves in our values as a means to judge others, defeats the very act of solidarity.

To refer back to Brian’s post on Medium, we as cooperators need to recognize the human even in people with whom we disagree. For those engaging in the unproven hypothesis (sometime pejoratively called “conspiracy theories”), we need to understand the “pull” of those narratives (because the “We” generation is about a strong “pull” while the “Me” is all about the “push”).

Cooperatives offer a different view of the world that is based on mutuality and society. We have a great moment now to act as a “we” that focus on our humanity and prepare for the coming era of “rainbows and unicorns” by building a solid foundation that will create communities that can resist the worst effects of the pendulum (the witch hunts of the “we” and hero worship of the “me”).

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The Weeks of Decades Is Upon Us

The sign of vitality is not to endure, but to be reborn and to be able to adapt.

Don José María Arzimendiarrieta

There are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen.

V.I. Lenin

The worker cooperative community was already having a “moment” before the pandemic hit with all its fury. The aging small business owners were starting to see the value of their employees as potential successors and the offer of worker owned businesses as vehicle for their own ability to retire safely. Efforts to create local cooperative economies sprung up out of Occupy and organizing to build a solidarity economy. One example is Cooperation Jackson (which has strong roots in the Jackson-Kush Plan) but there are many other models to create a version of Mondragón in the US. Symbiosis is a congress of municipal movements bringing many of these local organizations together.

Of course, it is not just the worker co-ops and solidarity economy seeking to make fundamental changes in our society. There are others that also want to make changes that would revert our economy to the era of The Gilded Age. That is why our co-ops and support organizations need to be agile and move quickly. This can be difficult. Part of the difficulty is that many worker co-ops are just trying to survive until they can re-open and until the pandemic dies down enough for people to feel safe in public. There is a level of paralysis that I have seen a result of isolation. Co-op and community development is a face-to-face process at some level. We might be able to have a mass meeting on Zoom, but we lose the humanity of those meetings.

In addition, in some ways we have already been socially distancing ourselves. Part of this is from the use of social media to present “hot takes” with little discussion. A cute meme or picture only feeds into confirmation bias. One of my frustrating issues arises from privacy rules. While those rules are in place to protect us from bad actors, they also make it very difficult to organize. How can you organize a group of people if you have no way of contacting them? Of course, you can use paid advertising and other top-down organizing practices but this is a difficult and expensive process.

As Arizmendiarrieta reminds us, it is not enough to “endure” we must adapt and become re-born.

That all said, the use of technology is providing a moment for national and international connections and development. Next Friday (May 15th), I and many others will be participating in the Worker Co-op Weekend. Normally, this UK event is outside of my orbit, but we can participate this year on-line. Later this fall, the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives will hold their National Worker Co-op Conference on-line. The USFWC also has a number of councils that meet regularly to help people interested in building an economy based on human dignity. Conferences and council meetings, though, are just the beginning. We need to take the energy from those events and others like it and begin putting plans into action.

If you have an idea for a worker co-op, the time to start creating it is now! I have been fielding a number of calls from people who are seizing the moment to create new structures such as a food delivery system in a way that connects small farms, unemployed chefs, unemployed drivers, and consumers. There are co-op development resources available and while it helps to have someone help, people have been creating co-ops for centuries all by themselves. The most important thing is to begin.

If something is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly.

Marshall Rosenberg

We are essentially in the chrysalis right now and while the old economic patterns dissolve before out eyes, we need to focus on the work required to emerge as a new and wonderful community.We don’t have decades to build an economy based on the health and well-being of humans and the planet. We have weeks. I hope that when we look back on this era, one of the great stories will be that of the beginning of the Cooperative Century.

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May Day 2020: A Day of Solidarity and Support

Normally, I see May Day as the international workers holiday. It would, in my view, be an international paid holiday where nobody labors and celebrates the value of people. A number of worker co-ops close to celebrate (Rainbow Grocery Co-op and Olympia Food Co-op to name two of them). This year, however, I think that we need a different way to celebrate especially since many workers have been idled and many worker co-ops are struggling to survive.

Celebrate May Day by supporting worker co-ops or co-ops that include workers as owners. Celebrate businesses in your community whose workers are unionized and let those union members know that you have their back.

For the co-ops, do what you can. For instance in Olympia, people can order coffee from Burial Grounds, order a meal from New Moon Café, order a book from or join Orca Books Co-op, support home care workers like Capital Homecare and keep entertainment venues like Le Voyeur on life support. In Astoria, OR, Blue Scorcher Bakery offers incredible bread, chocolate, and more! You can probably google “co-op” to find co-ops in your community but you can also access the US Federation of Worker Co-op’s Directory. The Federation also has a page for co-ops seeking support.

What else can we do? Write a letter to the editor of your paper supporting workers, write/call your elected representatives AND their opponents in the fall election: those on the front lines helping us shelter from the virus and those hoping that they can manage the economic crisis that will follow the virus. Let’s make worker co-ops and worker dignity a major campaign issue this fall.

I say this in all seriousness, but one of the most formative books in my childhood is Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day“. At one point, he proclaims “Everyone is a Worker”

Why Does “Busytown” Love Bernie?

Of course, “almost” everyone is a worker. People who don’t produce, manufacture, provide a service aren’t workers. We need to create an economy that values the workers and the humanity that they represent. People who spend their day to make something of value or provide a service to others are the heros*. Our economy should be built around the value of their humanity.

Can May Day 2020 be the beginning of a new labor movement? A labor movement not divided by credentialism, artificial class divisions* and other systemic systems designed to divide us? I hope so. I think that this is a generational moment. We have a pandemic that cares little for people’s identity and we have had to rediscover the concept of mutual aid and support to manage through it. Perhaps we can keep this energy moving, growing, and creating a new world.

Let’s make this May Day the beginning of a new world.

*people who provide capital stolen over generations from laborers and then extorting contemporary workers (including small business owners) to get access to it are not providing a service. Theft is not in my definition of work.

**imho a “small business” means that the owner works on the line with the people that they hire in addition to managing the business. They may take a draw or a wage, but they are actually working, not idling away on a golf course or beach.

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Help Support Co-op Development

On May 5-6, the Give Big WA event will happen. This is an annual event similar to #GivingTuesday that highlights Washington non-profits and helps them raise funds to continue their mission

I am engaging in a peer-to-peer campaign as well and hoping that 49 people who appreciate the co-op movement, or maybe just like reading my posts on this blog will join me with a $10 donation! So far, I have raised $55 towards my $500 goal. If you donate before the 5th, then our numbers will show up on the page with other early donations on May 5th.

Northwest Cooperative Development Center is hoping to raise $25,000 on this event. Anything from $10-$25,000 will be appreciated!

You don’t have to donate to my page, you can give directly to the NWCDC Page . Those numbers won’t show up until May 5th when the event begins. I would love to see NWCDC get to 10-20% of its goal by May 5th.

Almost everyone I know has benefited from either a co-op or a credit union and these organizations succeed when they do two things: engage with the cooperative community and obtain co-op specific technical assistance. When the pandemic ends, the hard work of rebuilding our economy will begin–in fact it is already starting! Organizations such as NWCDC will be vital to building a resilient economic community. Please join me (and Chuck, Cathy, Kristy)!

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Becoming Human Through Cooperation

“Work is, before anything else, both as a service to the community and as a path towards personal development.”-José María Arizmendiarrieta (reflection 263 from Pensamientos)

As a member of a worker cooperative and as a co-op developer, there are few quotes from Mondragón’s spiritual founder that resonate as much as this one. The quote expresses my lived experience. I have heard people in the co-op community also express this concept such as Tracy Holland Dudzinksi, a founder and long-time president of Cooperative Care in Wautoma, WI. She had a great stump speech entitled the “Mouse that Roared” about her personal growth that came about from being part of the Co-op. But her story is one of many and these stories are what makes the worker co-op model so amazing.

Of course, I think that the concept of “work” that Arizemendiarrieta refers to is work that is meaningful and aligned with human dignity. What is meaningful, to me, can be defined on an individual basis. Turning a crank or working on an assembly line may not seem meaningful to many, while being a transplant surgeon might; however, the task doesn’t make the work meaningful. If the assembly worker enjoys their work, has a voice in the planning and operations, has a work environment that encourages collaboration, it is meaningful.

At Union Cab, I saw people change as they become more involved with the management and governance of the cooperative. For some, it may have been a natural progression in their lives as people who grew up in privileged communities (like I did) and they may have had a predilection to moving into leadership positions, but for others, especially in the working class world of cab driving, the co-op model provides a paradigm shift. People change because they are suddenly in an environment that values them as human beings, not as a means to generate profit.

As a developer, I see the paradigm shift happen with conversion projects and it is amazing. One group that I worked with had a fair amount of fear about how they would manage. The sellers were in a horrible cash flow battle (it wasn’t dangerous, but it wasn’t healthy). However, once the workers took over the shop, their productivity spiked and suddenly the cash flow problems disappeared. Something happens to people when they quit being an “employee” and become an equal member of an organization. We, as a movement, should create a word for it!

At the same time, it is also interesting to watch people who were the principal owners change as well, almost always for the better. The reduced stress and the realization that they can now explore other paths in their life is remarkable. A sense of ease comes over them.

I spoken mainly about the existential shift that occurs at the moment of becoming a member. However, another important part of the quote refers to the nature of co-managing that develops new skills with people. People are perfectly capable of managing themselves and do not need professionals (or a boss) to do it. I imagine that most people reading this, already believe that statement, but many don’t. Many business owners believe that their employees could never manage the business–this is actually one of the reasons why business owners don’t sell to their workers.

Worker co-ops give people the opportunity to learn new skills and develop their perspective. This isn’t just about reading spreadsheets, it is also about creating relationships, building communication skills, and developing empathy. Engaging in a democratic workplace helps people become more engaged citizens in their communities (adding a second meaning to the “service to the community” concept expressed in the quote).

Worker co-ops benefit the community by creating jobs at a living wage or better in a safe, humane, and democratic environment. This model benefits the community not just through better compensation but also through acknowledging and enhancing the humanity of its members, which creates a cascade effect through the community served by the cooperative.

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The Resilience Doctrine

My good friend, Dr. Zoltán Grossman, just posted these videos from his contribution the “Pandemic Academy”. If you share, please give him credit. . .

The Resilience Doctrine: Disaster Cooperativism in the Climate & Pandemic Crises (Part I: Individualism & Community)

The Evergreen State College in Olympia WA is holding a “Pandemic Academy” lecture series in spring quarter 2020. On April 7, Dr. Zoltán Grossman (Member of the Faculty in Geography and Native Studies) here presented “The Resilience Doctrine: Disaster Cooperativism in the Climate and Pandemic Crises,” as two narrated powerpoint presentations. This Part I (26.5 min.) examines the question of “Individualism vs. Community” (https://youtu.be/9iP-HCloTPs ) and Part II (31.5 min.) looks at “State Authority vs. Mutual Aid” (https://youtu.be/dlIR8UVoN9g). Links that appeared in the presentations are available at https://sites.evergreen.edu/zoltan/The-Resilience-Doctrine Please feel free to share the videos, and comment here or on on the youtube channel.

The Resilience Doctrine: Disaster Cooperativism in the Climate & Pandemic Crises (Part II: State Authority & Mutual Aid)

Dr. Grossman holds a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Wisconsin. His expertise is in political/cultural geography and Indigenous Studies, and he twice co-taught “Catastrophe: Community Resilience in the Face of Disaster.” He was co-editor of Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis (Oregon State University Press, 2012) and author of Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands (University of Washington Press, 2017). His faculty website is at https://sites.evergreen.edu/zoltan

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Get Ready for the Recovery

“The old temptation of Esau, who sold his birthright for a plate of beans, is something that is something that is constantly being offered to people. Workers, with their hope and right to a new order, have the same temptation in front of them: the options to obtaining immediate advantage.”–Don J. M. Arizmendiarrieta

It may not feel like it, depending on where you live, but the efforts to flatten the curve have begun to take effect although as a friend of mine, The Evergreen State College professor Zoltan Grossman points out, there is still a long way to go: “Even if the slope has become a little less steep, the toughest part is still ahead, when we’ll be most out of breath—figuratively and literally. We’re not yet at the top, the point of maximum human suffering, and only then will we start to descend on the other side, and it will take a while to go down.”

Nevertheless, co-op people, and especially those of us working with co-op people need to think ahead to when the stay at home orders get lifted and the rubble of the economy can have our full attention. As Naomi Klein documented so well in Shock Doctrine, not planning for the recovery now may allow the worst aspects of humanity to jump into the void to seek their advantage. The vulture capitalist class likely already has a plan.

As the quote suggests, of course, people are in a tough position and it may be tempting to take the short term hand-out ($1,200) instead of pressing for change. We need to be formulating plans to help workers buy their companies as co-ops (not ESOPs). We need to create new financial instruments to help homeowners collectively buy their homes as limited equity co-ops not condos. Most importantly, we need to be ready for the next time–we need to create solidarity funds wherever we can create them.

Our CDFIs that service co-ops could dedicate a percentage of the interest to a solidarity fund that would protect those with existing loans. Co-op networks such as the US Federation, NCBA/CLUSA, NCG* could build funds into their membership program through their dues structure and our insurance mutuals could provide a backstop for extreme once-in-a-century events (like a global pandemic that forces 1/2 of the world’s population to shelter-in-place).

More importantly, though, we need to create some messaging for our co-op members and workers in the non-coop workers, that this is, despite how horrible it may seem, a moment of opportunity to change our economy to one that values human life and a dignified workplace. There will be all sorts of calls to “return to normal”, but I don’t recall that “normal” was all that great. The siren call will be that people need to enjoy life again and get back into nightclubs, restaurants, and the beaches. I agree, and our messaging should reflect that urge. We just should argue that those venues could be cooperatively owned and managed.

The last pandemic on this scale was the 1918 Flu. It also occurred as the most horrific war to that point in human history came to an end. It shouldn’t surprise people that the 1920s became a decade of hedonism that led to a global depression and a war even more horrific than World War I. But that wasn’t the only story. The labor movement gained new life: three general strikes in Toledo, OH, Minneapolis, MN, and San Francisco, CA led to a rebirth of the radical and industrial labor movement. The Harlem Renaissance revived the push for civil and human rights for African-Americans. The decade wasn’t just gambling on the stock market and speakeasys. Unfortunately, the structurally unsound foundations of the system remained intact.

For the last decade, the Co-op community has been saying that this is “our moment”. Now, more than ever, it is our opportunity to claim our moment and make it an era. We can replace the foundation with a solid cooperative model. Between the retiring small business owners and the pressure of the pandemic, there has never been a time to engage in wholesale change of the economic system. To do so, we need to keep true to our values and avoid short-term solutions to long-term problems.

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Human Dignity

“We should begin by considering all humans as citizens of equal dignity and destiny.”

“The destiny of each one of us is linked to that of others”

–Don José María Arizmendiarrieta

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. –John Donne

The common line between all worker co-ops around the world lies in the connection to each other as humans. All workers are essential precisely because they are human.

The role of worker cooperation exists primarily to connect each other through our labor and create a community of equals. Engaging in a worker cooperative is living the value of solidarity. However, the connection to other workers doesn’t stop at the borders of our cooperative. Even though co-op members have the ability to control their labor and manage the wealth that they create, they must still recognize their role in the larger labor movement.

I would love to see a world where all workers control their companies, link together within their industry to build networks, and create a pathway to a truly democratic economy with a commitment to human dignity and social justice. Some of you might see this and think “Mondragón“, but I am also thinking the ideals of the Industrial Workers of the World from more than a century ago.

Regardless of the structure that becomes created, all workers deserve dignity. Even those workers who don’t work for a cooperative or work for a co-op that competes with a worker co-op. A caregiver faces the same struggles in their day-to-day whether they are members of a home care co-op or work for an agency or as an independent contractor. Likewise with grocery workers, cab drivers, and down-the-line.

Ideally our worker co-ops can grow in a sustainable way to keep their identity while also building a community that brings human dignity to all the workers in their industry. This may seem like a given, but at this unique point in time, while our world facing a raging pandemic. It is important to remember that our struggle to recover and repair our economy lies with supporting all workers. Today, we are “all in this together”, but as workers we will always be all in this together even if, in the day-to-day, we are forced to compete with each other for scraps. We need to move forward to build a labor movement that combines the labor power of unionism and the identity of cooperation.

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The Unnamed Co-op Value: Gritty

Calvin Coolidge, the US President that symbolized the 1920s, has been credited with this statement: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, ‘press on’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”

I think of that quote often when working with co-ops, especially these days. Embracing the values and principles of the co-operative identity is important; however, it is not enough. The people stepping in to create a new co-op or convert an existing business into a co-op also need the value of perseverance. This value, while not stated in either the ICA’s Statement or Mondragón’s list of principles, plays a deciding role in the success or failure of a cooperative. In many ways, it is the expression of this value that creates the cooperative difference of worker co-ops.

Perhaps the essence of being “gritty” provides a more working class way of thinking about perseverance. The value of Gritty combines with that of Solidarity, Self-repsonsibility, and Mutual Self-help to create an almost unstoppable force. The synergy of these values combined in the leadership of an organization can overcome so much.

A co-op, that I worked with, was struggling a bit, but making a go of it. About a month after adding a new director to the board, almost everyone else on the board quit (for personal reasons) leaving this person holding the bag. I would have completely understood if they just left as well (since they really hadn’t anything invested). Instead they pushed forward, recruited new leaders, got the co-op operational and made it a successful and well-respected co-op in its sector.

I see this a lot. I usually encourage people who seek to start a co-op to find a group of five people who will be champions. By champions, I mean, really, the people who are gritty enough to see it through to the end. Why five, because the value of gritty is expressed differently in every person and life gets in the way: a family member becomes ill, a once in a lifetime opportunity arrives, and people discover that the project doesn’t really tap into their gritty after all. The value of grittiness doesn’t manifest until it is needed, so we can only guess and hope.

Today, as our co-ops fight hard to survive the covid-19 pandemic, the gritty manifests. My day job supports a number of co-ops and part of that now includes helping to promote their covid-19 survival models and the US Federation of Worker Co-ops also promotes the efforts of these gritty co-ops.

Stay Gritty!

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Adding a Pop-Up :(

This is news about the site. I added a pop-up today. It will be used sparingly. I mainly wanted to highlight several co-ops that I am working with that need your support. I got the idea of a pop-up from one of them (Capital Homecare).

The pop-up doesn’t “pop” until one has stayed on the site for more than 3-4 seconds and it has a very easy to access “close” button.

Any money donated to the co-ops goes directly to the co-ops. This is a free service that I am providing them.

Please support our co-ops during this pandemic!

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