No, a Co-op Version of Uber or Lyft Isn’t Possible

I often see posts and efforts regarding platform co-op that want to co-operatize the “gig” economy. I understand the desire. The co-op community missed this change in our society in a big way. It happened very quickly and utilized an industry whose culture tends not to support collective action (either through labor unions or cooperatives). One of the regularly recurring concepts is to replace Lyft or Uber with a co-op version. I try to be an optimist, but not only don’t I think that it is possible, I think that the co-op community should be thinking about how to reinvent the use to technology in line with the cooperative identity.

Uber and Lyft are not new to the taxicab industry in terms of their model. The only difference between these companies and the traditional taxicab companies, is that they were able to operate in multiple cities and afford political influence at a level that most taxicab company owners could only dream about. The manner in which Uber and Lyft treats the drivers and passengers is part and parcel of the industry that it pretends to replace. It is predatory and extractive.

The primary reason that I don’t think that a co-op version of Uber/Lyft is possible comes from a simple aspect of their plan. These apps are available to provide services in thousands of communities. While it might be possible to create a co-op spanning a similar geography, it would be difficult to have a meaningful democratic control and economic participation through multiple languages, cultures, and nationalities. In addition, Uber and Lyft exist, in my view, more as research labs for their investors (Google among them), so even breaking even isn’t the priority that it would be for a driver-owned platform. It may be possible to simply serve a single area. However, drivers for Uber and Lyft don’t make any more than cab drivers even with millions in marketing support provided by these companies, I a skeptical that a one community company can breakthrough in a single market.

Secondly, a key part of the Uber/Lyft plan works on ignoring liability insurance. This falls on the individual drivers (although there are umbrella plans provided through these companies, the insurance only kicks in if the driver’s insurance is exhausted). However, as far as I know, most insurance companies will not cover pay-for-service transportation on individual plans, which means that the drivers and passengers are completely at risk. Uber and Lyft have a phalanx of lawyers, lobbyists, and a mountain of cash to change laws (as they did in Wisconsin and Virginia) and fight lawsuits.

As to why the platform co-op model shouldn’t re-create Uber, the first act of this company, and others like it, in most cities was to break local ordinances on public transportation (in many cities, such as Madison, taxicabs are considered a “public conveyance”). Most importantly, they effectively red line the ridership based on their ability to own a smartphone, access to either a credit or debit card, and physical abilities. This simple act eliminates a huge percentage of people who need curb to curb transportation. They pretended to have no control over the drivers, even though they do through the software, and this allows drivers to red line their service area for other reasons. These are not cooperative values or cooperative ways of conducting business. Whatever drivers do to collectively challenge the Uber model, they must not copy it.

Taxi cab companies serve their communities and are generally tied to the community. The platform driver model allows a driver with no ties to the community to swoop in and cherry pick rides during peak events. With no connection to the community, there is no responsibility to the community. Co-ops have the ethical values of social responsibility and caring for others. The 7th Principle of Cooperation is Concern for Communities.

Taxi co-ops tend to operate on the co-op values of self-help, self-responsibility, solidarity, and many others. I point out these three, because a connection exists between the drivers of a taxi co-op that enables drivers and staff of the co-op to protect each other, help each other, and provide the education, information, and training that is fundamental to cooperation and a democratic community. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview some of the members of Union Taxi in Denver. They pointed out that with the co-op, their lease dropped by $500/week ($26,000 a year). This meant having weekends to spend with their children. At the same time, they still made more than the Uber drivers, had the support of their peers, and access to material support (maintenance, group purchasing, etc.).

A platform transportation co-op that I could get behind would be a secondary or tertiary co-op that provides technical support for the 7-8 taxi co-ops in the country that would offer multi-city support for consumers, provide dispatch and management software for the taxi co-ops, and help start new taxi co-ops. The individual co-ops would be members of the app co-op, pay dues and service fees, help build the co-op community, and have a national narrative about licensed, trained, and safe drivers. They could message the co-op difference about creating safe working conditions, decent pay and benefits, and being a part of the communities that they serve. The could even encourage passengers to add to a co-op development fund as part of the fare (over the tip, of course).

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Social.Coop: A New Year’s Resolution for You

If you are looking to connect with the co-op world on-line there are a number of resources. However, a unique one is social.coop. This is a cooperative owned and managed social network site through Open Collective. There is no cost to join or participate; however, if you want to be a voting member, that level of participation starts at $1 per month. Participation includes being involved in decision-making using Loomio and there are also workgroups helping to manage the site. You aren’t obligated to participate, but everyone is welcome.

You might see some familiar names and people. Some folks cross post on other formats as well (I tend to post a link to my page).

It doesn’t have the flashiness or functionality of reddit or facebook. The interface reminds me a bit of tweetdeck, but it is our place in the internet within the Mastadon world.

Come join us in 2020!

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New Belgium Brewery Goes Flat

A couple of weeks ago, a tremor ran through the “employee ownership” establishment when New Belgium Brewing announced that it had sold itself to Kirin, a Japanese conglomerate with international holdings. New Belgium was a highly touted ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) that boasted 100% “employee ownership”. The workers will receive an average $100,000 payout. Kirin’s subsidiary, Little World Beverages, which is the official buyer says that everyone keeps their job and everything will remain the same.

I’ve been wondering when the craft beer market would begin consolidating. A few years ago, shockwaves went through the Cascadia craft beer community when 10 Barrels sold to Anheuser-Busch and worse, Full Sail sold to an investment company. New Belgium, around that time, also acknowledged that they would be open to a seller. There was another ESOP brewery in Oregon that sold as well, but I can’t remember the name. It was notable because, as with Full Sail, the trustees were the founders. At this brewery, the couple that were trustees also had a majority share. They said that they wanted the workers to vote on the sale so that they could “feel like owners.” ugh.

Fifty by Fifty created a great discussion about the sale and what it means to employee ownership. I mainly come down in the same commentary of Sonja Novkovic and Erbin Crowell (which shouldn’t surprise too many people). In addition, I would add that, as I mentioned in my previous post, the point of worker ownership goes deeper than creating decent paying jobs (just like the point of labor unions is more than wages and benefits). Ultimately, worker ownership must be about human development and human dignity not only in the workplace but in the community served by the workplace. If human dignity and development isn’t centered in the project, it only offers a few pennies in return for maintaining a larger system aimed at using up people and the planet.

What I found interesting in the commentary was the lack of information about the sale. I held off writing about this because I have more questions than anything. I wonder how the voting went. Was it a unanimous decision such as with Good Vibrations? What is a majority of shareholders? With Full Sail, it was “near unanimous” for the sale (the trustees held 42%). What constituted a majority of shareholders (a minority of actual workers for instance could hold a majority of shares). The reported payout of $100,000 per worker was not reported as either an average or a median number. I think that it would be useful to see a breakdown of how the sale price is distributed to the workers.

That said, $100,000 isn’t a lot of money today. By comparison, Burley Bikes, a co-op in economic crisis, sold in 2005 or so and the workers averaged $30,000 (about $40k in today’s dollars). It will certainly be life-changing for some but will the trade-off be worth it. How does it compare to the wages of these workers? I know that Kirin claims that no jobs will be lost, but there isn’t a guarantee (and if the workers haven’t unionized, it would be a good idea to do so in my opinion). Eventually, Kirin’s shareholders will expect a return on their investment and this will either come from wages, expanded growth in a market that is already saturated, or a sale to a larger company (Miller SAB, AB, etc).

The constant drumbeat of the established worker co-op movement has been how to “get to scale” for several years now. But when companies get to scale, the pressure to sell out becomes even greater. There are ways of “getting to scale” that can still center the individual human in the equation: Rainbow Grocery, Union Cab, Equal Exchange come to mind. Other larger co-ops,such as Cooperative Home Care NY, use labor unions to help keep the social purpose of worker ownership alive. The idea of using a retirement plan in lieu of true worker ownership or real social change has always seemed flawed to me.

I can see using ESOPs as an aspect of a worker co-op, but agree with others that we need to quit calling ESOPs worker owned. Perhaps we should just refer to ESOPS as Worker RVs (retirement vehicles). An ESOP paired with a worker co-op (though a Limited Co-op Association) would allow the best of both worlds, but I don’t know of an example. However, the workers need to democratically control of the business or it will always be investor focused which is inherently pro-capital and anti-labor.

If worker ownership centers only on maximizing wealth for the employees, it will ultimately do little more than create marketplaces for the real capitalists to exploit. Our movement needs to be about more than making the marketplace great for investors again. To paraphrase an old adage: we don’t need to sell ropes to the bosses to hang us with.

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Worker co-ops are not the solution, but a vehicle (and a sturdy one at that).

“We do not aspire to economic development as an end  but as a means.”-– Don José María Arizmendiarietta (029)*

In early December, I attended a workshop in Post Falls, Idaho for Reimagining the Rural West. This initiative of the Western Governors Association includes several workshops and the Post Falls event included a panel discussion on the power of cooperation. It was convened by the Governor of Idaho Brad Little.

During the discussion on cooperatives and their role in rural communities, a state lawmaker from Idaho made a comment about the importance of agency among individuals. She expressed concern about seeing cooperatives as a solution and a flawed history of professionals coming into communities with empty promises.

Here is the full panel the discussion:

On the way back to the airport, I kept thinking about those sentiments and how the co-op movement in unique in community development in that it uses professionals to facilitate the discussion and share experiences, but the actual development and organization has its foundation in the people of the community. Even when a top-down model operates, it quickly gives way to the members of the cooperative.

“The human person that proceeds to cultivate his or her abilities with the only objective of being productive, insensibly and fatally becomes a slave to the productive machine.”— Don José María Arizmendiarietta (030)*

Co-ops aren’t a solution to the community’s problem. The solution resides within the commitment and energy of the people. Co-ops offer a vehicle in which everyone’s agency remains intact through a shared purpose and democratic structure. More importantly, the very act of cooperation is reciprocal, especially in a worker cooperative.

Co-ops that only engage in commercial activity don’t reach their full potential. The real power of cooperation is the development of the individual as a human being. Co-op developers generally only come into a community when asked by the founding members of a co-op. They don’t bring empty promises or gimmicks, they bring experience, advice, and tools, but it is always the members of the co-op that create the vision and work to fulfill it.

Arizmendiarietta speaks eloquently of the role of co-operatives in human development. I’ve heard many worker co-op members also speak eloquently of how their experience in a co-op helped them gain new understandings and uncover latent talents and skills. The “co-op”, at least for worker co-ops, is never an outside actor coming into to “save” a community. Worker co-ops are the community and its members are working to build a better world at the local level. In the process , but the members and the community mutually benefit–the definition of mutual self-help.

 

*Arizmendiarietta, J.M, Pensiamentos translated by Cherie Herrera, Cristina Herrera, David Herrera, Teresita Lorenzo, and Virgil Lorenzo. Otalora Management Institute.

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Willy St: Co-op for Consumers, Union for the Workers

Beatrix Potter ( who with her husband Sidney Webb led the Fabian Socialists (predecessors to the Labour Party in the UK) generally opposed the notion of worker co-ops. The argument went something along the lines that all humans share the status of “consumers”. A worker co-op would create a tyranny over the consumer. For this, and many other reasons, the co-op movement in the UK has largely focused on consumer co-ops (until recently that is). However, the Fabians also supported labor unions and helped form the Labour Party (and to some extent the Co-operative Party). The Labor and Co-op Party run as sister parties in the UK and right now, I believe that the Co-op Party has a record number of candidates (50) for the current election. For many years then, the operating rule has been “co-op for consumers, unions for workers”.

Of course, that this the UK experience. In the modern US experience, consumer co-ops have generally only been friendly to labor unions in competing businesses, not their own. Right now, a historic effort is underway in Madison, Wisconsin to negotiate a contract between the Williamson Street Grocery Co-op and United Electrical Workers. UE won an election among the workers with a staggering 80% of the voting workers in support of representation by UE.

Willy St. Management, while claiming to be pro-union, hired a firm that specializes in helping companies undermine labor unions and sent out a 1950’s era management letter attacking the union right before the vote. Nevertheless, at this point, everyone seems to be negotiating in good faith.

The Union has been engaging the consumer-owners of the co-op as allies (and I am a former member). This short video provides a very concise argument for why anyone who supports cooperation should also support labor unions:

My take has always been that, in a consumer co-op, the consumers are joining together democratically to speak with one voice in the marketplace to meet their needs. Likewise, the workers should also be able to come together in a democratic fashion and speak with one voice. We need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that just being a co-op makes a group of 35,000 people a “good employer” especially when almost all of the power of ownership is concentrated into the single person of a General Manager.

If the idea that consumers can band together to get a stronger voice in the market, why shouldn’t workers also band together to get a stronger voice in negotiating working conditions and compensation.

As Carl notes in the video, the wealth created by the Willy St. Co-op didn’t just happen or fall out of the sky. It came from the hard work of over 450 employees of the cooperative.

The co-op movement has always been about social justice. The Rochdale Pioneers started out as a means to gain universal suffrage, create a fair marketplace, and overturn the social injustices of the Industrial Revolution. The Co-op Movement and the Labor Movement began hand-in-hand in Manchester, UK. The board of the Willy St. Co-op and its management should be embracing the union, not fighting against it.

 

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Sociocracy: The Worker Co-op Operating System

Over the last couple of years, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with Sociocracy For All (SoFA). This organization has worked diligently to bring the concepts of sociocracy out of the “best kept secret” category and into the mainstream of organizational culture. I sit on the Co-op Circle for SoFA which meets about every four weeks to discuss the aspects of building sociocratic practices in the co-op community.

Sociocracy offers a form of governance and management that operates on the fundamentals of inclusion, transparency, and consent of the governed. In the US, it has been referred to as Dynamic Governance due to the tradition of red-baiting in the US. The method, however, seems like a perfect model for worker-owned and operated businesses.

If this is the first time that you have heard the term, I would invite you to visit SoFA’s website and watch a few of the intro videos. Essentially, it was a system of interlinked work groups (called circles) that are based on the primary aim of the circle. For instance the board of directors might be called the “mission circle” and it job would be that of any board: create policies that enhance the mission and review other circles in terms of their ability to enhance the mission.

In this sense, Sociocracy offers a different form of hierarchy. The format is often considered a “hierarchy of work, not a hierarchy of power.” It turns out, that worker co-ops create this concept even if they don’t follow all the standard formats. Two large co-ops, Union Cab of Madison and Rainbow Grocery Co-op both use a systems of autonomous management groups linked to a steering committee or team. Again, Rainbow and Union don’t use “Sociocracy”, but one can easily see the connection between these organic co-op structures and the official format of Sociocracy.

There are better posts and video about the ins-and-outs of sociocracy. The aspect of Sociocracy hat doesn’t always get discussed or understood is that it challenges the notion that “governance” and “management” are separate things. In a worker co-op, in my opinion, they simply aren’t separate. The same people making governance decisions make management decisions and often the line between the two is fuzzy. In a traditional organization based on the capitalist mode, Governance is designed to protect the equity of the owners against labor while management is designed to control labor in the furtherance of protecting that equity. When worker co-ops adopt this model, they fundamentally undermine their missions. The very aspect of a traditional hierarchy privileges capital over labor (see Kathy Ferguson’s Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy).

Worker co-ops need a different governance model. The Collective/Consensus model works as long as the co-op is small, but it can also be difficult to change once the organization gets too big to effectively manage as a collective and can also be rife with informal hierarchy and soft power. Sociocracy allows small co-ops to learn strong transparent governance/management practices in a system that grows with the organization.

Sociocracy, of course, doesn’t automatically remove soft power and informal hierarchies, but it does create a place where those aspects can be contained, exposed, and reduced in power. When I first learned about it, I realized that Union Cab effectively stumbled its way into a sociocracy-like model. It seems to be an Operating System for cooperation in general, but for worker co-ops in particular.

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The Worker Co-op Movement in 2040: Revisited

Ten years ago, when I was blogging much more regularly, I wrote a series on envisioning the worker co-op movement in 2040. You can read them here. As the Co-op Decade comes to a conclusion over the next couple of weeks, where should the co-op movement in general and the worker co-op movement in particular set its sights?

There is an effort by the Democracy Collaborative to create 50 million worker-owners by 2050. However, this includes worker co-ops (ownership and control of the means of production) as one of several tools. ESOPs will likely be the major driver. As I mentioned in my initial post on this topic in 2010, I will be 76 years old in 2040 and likely not working (although I hope that I am still engaged and writing about co-ops).

I imagined, in 2010, a goal of tripling the number of worker co-ops each decade (I’m nothing if not an optimist). It is always hard to count the number of co-ops in existence, and I am hopeful to see better statistics in this area soon. Olympia definitely met that goal, but on the whole, I am guessing that worker co-ops increased by 50% over the last 10 years, which is still an achievement. I am hoping that the efforts to secure new generations of ownership through the co-op model increase the rate of worker co-op development, and maybe with some of the new plans for capitalization it will ramp up the pace.

I also suggested this crazy (but I think attainable goal):

  • Worker co-operatives will exist in each of the top 150 MSAs in the United States.
  • Worker Co-operatives will account for between 0.5% and 5% of the GDP for the each MSA
  • Worker Co-operatives will be part of the planning documents for the regional and municipal planning departments in at least 1/2 of the top 150 MSA and in all of the MSA’s in which co-ops already existed in 2010.

Although perhaps it would be smarter (and more attainable) to include the Combined Statistical Area that would include a lot more communities such as Olympia and Port Townsend that otherwise would not register high enough as their own MSA. As you might have guessed, I’m still really into “SMART” goals.

Capturing and reporting this data would be, in my opinion, much more valuable than the annual report trumpeting the top 100 co-ops in the country based on revenue. This data would point directly to local community impact. It would help us learn from successful communities and where to put resources more effectively.

I also argued about making cooperatives part of the electoral discussion and we did that in Madison in 2011. It paid off for co-ops and Madison joined the select cities that see worker co-ops as a pathway towards a resilient local economy.

I am glad to see it happening at the presidential level in 2020 and hope that more local and statewide elections start seeing co-op development as a real (and non-partisan) campaign topic. Building local economies through cooperatives is a efficient use of tax payer dollars compared to corporate tax breaks that create a race to the bottom in the attempt to lure “job creators” to the community. Policy makers should create the jobs that will never leave through a worker co-op.

We should all be working to help 50 by 50 meet its goal and to help as many of those organizations either be worker co-ops or democratically worker-controlled as well as worker-owned organizations.

I close with a quote from Don José María Arizmendiarrieta: “The future is never as uncertain as it is believed to be and is more conditioned than may seem to us, not as much for what we lose our interest in as for what we try to adopt and improve according to our taste.” We build the road as we travel and the first step of achieving our goals is to state them.

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The Quest for Capital

The final goal for the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade focused on capital (although in a lot of ways, the other goals also touched upon capital as well). The goal states, “Secure reliable co-operative capital while guaranteeing member control”.

Starting a business still tends to draw start-up capital from the the following: friends, family, and credit cards. Although there have been changes to the landscape over the last ten years, most notably investor co-ops, the means of getting start-up capital for co-op ventures remains difficult.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t options and plans for the future. Shared Capital does everything that it can to support the co-op movement and definitely assists in conversions and other co-op development projects. The National Co-op Bank continues its efforts at this as well. But, as with co-op development, the demand for capital far outpaces the supply of capital.

Some exciting projects in the works include Co-op Exchange in the UK that will allow anyone in the world to invest in cooperative projects. The exchange promises to allow microinvesting by people at any economic level and this, in turn, can create a huge fund for co-ops. If the 1.3 billion co-op members each contribute just 1 penny (US), that $130 million for co-op capitalization.

Start.coop has also created a business accelerator model. This takes a cohort of co-ops through a process and helps them message to and find social impact investors. It is still in its infancy with the first cohort, but offers an exciting opportunity.

I believe that there is also an investment co-op program being formed in California, but I cannot remember its name and my attempts at searching on-line have not yielded any information.

Ultimately, though, the existing co-ops need to find a way to divert some of their member equity to funding new co-ops and helping existing co-ops expand. This is difficult, but the infrastructure already exists through the NCB, Shared Capital, and CDFIs. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the economic power of the existing co-ops could fundamentally change the local economies where they are concentrated and this, in turn, would change the policy maker discussion about sustainable economic development. It is a fundamental part of the value of solidarity and the 6th principle of cooperatives.

I am hopeful that as we turn the page on the Blueprint for a Co-op Decade, the formulating strategies will come to fruition, but we also need to the leadership of existing co-ops to commit to investing in the co-op economy through development and solidarity funds. As has been pointed out a couple of times this week, the aggregate economic power of co-ops and their members could really “move the needle” on co-op development in the US and world-wide.

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The Legal Framework

The 4th goal of the Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade has also showed significant advancement since 2010. This goal states, “ensure supportive legal framework for cooperative growth”.

At the state level, the spread of Limited Cooperative Association (LCA) acts have gained speed. Washington and Illinois just passed versions of it. In Illinois, the law is called “Limited Worker Cooperative Association” (LWCA) and specifically authorizes workers as “patron members”.I haven’t studied the LWCA enough to understand how it compares with LCAs, but it does seem to allow an investor class of membership although much more limited than most LCAs.

In Washington, however, the LCA introduces investor owners into the mix. In Washington, the voting can be weighted based on equity. This seems, to me, a violation of the principle of “one-member, one-vote” and effectively scuttles the basic difference between cooperatives and other corporations. I have been trying to keep an open mind on this model since it might offer some means of raising capital, but any plan that changes governance to appeal to investors should remember the adage, “he who pays the piper, picks the tune.” I am not telling people not to use it, but it seems to me that a social purpose corporation or using preferred stock could achieve the same goals. There is a potential that the LCA can be used for co-ops to access the patient capital of Economic Opportunity Zones and this could be beneficial since selling owners can defer capital gains on the sale of the business and the Zones cancel the tax after 10 years. It will be interesting to see how this develops and if it really helps co-ops.

The major piece of legislation that has moved this goal forward, in the United States at least, is the Main Street Employee Ownership Act. Main Street, for those of you not familiar with it, is the first piece of legislation with regard to employee ownership passed by congress in over 30 years. It provides new mandates to the Small Business Administration to open of guaranteed loans to worker co-ops and support the conversion of existing businesses to employee ownership through either ESOPs or worker co-ops. Further, the law also mandates that Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) around the country support employee ownership and conversions to worker co-ops. This has potential to be a major catalyst as it comes at a times when business owners are retiring at record rates. The current estimate by Project Equity is that only about 20% of existing businesses will transfer ownership to a new generation.

The hard part, now, is about changing the culture at SBA and helping them engage with this new law. The mandate came without funding as well, despite being part of a 700 billion dollar defense bill. One particular area of difficulty is the requirement for personal guarantees for loans associated through the SBA. This doesn’t have to be the case, especially when their is collateral at hand. Signature loans can create power imbalances within the organization and effect hiring.

This brings up an important area that the ICA is working on and that is in regards to how co-ops in are treated in terms of accounting. Many co-op statutes treat co-ops the same as “for profit” organizations when they are really social purpose organizations. Laws need to change with that regard, but also accounting standards need to reflect that ratios and measurements that show strength in cooperative institutions are not always the same as for-profits (and by for-profit, I mean where the purpose of the organization is to maximize rate-of-return for investors).

The Co-op Decade did bring significant changes to the worker cooperative legal landscape and more needs to be done. The Creating Jobs Through Cooperatives Act of 2013 failed to draw bipartisan support and would have provided support for cooperative development in urban communities (over 50,000 people). I won’t speculate on its demise, but hopefully in the next congress a new attempt can be made after the success of Main Street. At the local level, more city governments have started understanding the co-op model and its ability to build sustainable local economies and this could be an important avenue both as a means of finding immediate support and building future support at the state and local level (as local leaders become State and National leaders).

We have the momentum and need to keep it going!

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Centering the Co-op Identity

The third goal of The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade engages the Co-op Identity. Specifically, the goal states, “Build the co-operative message and secure the co-operative identity.”

The authors comment, “Co-operatives need a more sharply articulated message so that people are more aware of what they are choosing when faced with the option between a co-operative or an investor or privately-owned business.

Studies routinely show that when consumers understand the values and principles behind cooperation, they would prefer to do business with a cooperative. How well are co-ops doing?

I think that worker co-ops tend to be in the lead in this area. Worker ownership is a key part of any worker co-ops messaging. It immediately lets the consumer know that the store or service operates around human dignity. By creating humane and safe workplaces for its membership, worker co-ops also create humane and safe places for the consumers.

Of course, Grocery Co-ops have focused on the messaging very well and being a co-op is a core part of the store’s identity and has been long before the Year of the Co-op. The bigger hurdle for these co-ops is connecting with values and community instead of organics, now that Amazon is in the whole foods business.

Credit Unions have definitely stepped up their game and out in the west BECU has some excellent message with the slogan “BECU You Own It”. The subtlety that allows the readers to change BECU to “Because” is genius.

REI has also started adding “coop” to its name and even has a “Coop” branded bicycle and has talked about values in its decision to close on “black friday”

The marketing co-ops (Ace Hardware, Best Western, Sunskist, Dairy Queen, and Thriftway to name a few) need to do more. They have a message and a co-op story to tell. People need to see co-ops to understand how much they impact the economy and to also understand that there is almost always a co-operative alternative.

Another part of the suggestions to this goal involve getting co-ops into education. This is a slight overlap with sustainability, but very important. Creating a class curriculum on co-op economics at the high school and college levels is vital. Some groups are working on this. 1Worker:1Vote is developing a Community College curriculum. DAWI has a management training program at Rutgers. The Wisconsin Farmers Union Camp Kenwood has a worker co-op store staffed by campers who are junior high and high school age. I have always thought that it would be great for NCBA/CLUSA to develop a co-op alternative to Junior Achievement in the high schools.

Co-ops Need to Support Co-op Development

The other part of the identity goal that I want to focus on may seem a bit self-serving, but it isn’t. I have thought about this since I visited Móndragon in 2007 and learned how they controlled their capital and created development and solidarity funds. Co-ops need to commit to the development of co-operatives either through supporting financial institutions in the co-op world (National Co-op Bank, Shared Capital Cooperative, and ROC Capital) and development centers. Today, most of the co-op development work is funded through the USDA Rural Development program and provided through a community of co-op development centers. USDA funding is under constant attack regardless of the administration. Ag secretaries rarely come from the co-op community and as a result, the programs continue to be on the chopping block. Further, this funding only allows work in rural areas which is currently defined as under 50,000 and not adjacent to a community of greater than 50,000. There is little to no funding mechanism for urban development of cooperatives.

If every co-op, credit union, and insurance mutual contributed just 1% of sales to co-op development, that would amount to about $6.5 billion dollars a year to help new co-ops and existing co-ops develop. That dwarfs the current $5.8 million dollars of the Rural Cooperative Development Grant. It is a true expression of the co-op value of solidarity and the 6th principle of cooperation. We already have the infrastructure through national organizations to handle processing and distributing development funds.

The Co-op Identity is definitely stronger today than at anytime that I can remember. More people know (or at least kinda know) what a co-op is. Unfortunately, many of them don’t necessarily know that they do business with a co-op. As better as things are, there is a lot of work to be done to make this a success for the co-op decade.

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