Worker Co-ops a Campaign Topic? Let’s Hope!

In Madison, odd years mark the municipal and county elections or non-partisan seats. These seats are called “non-partisan” because the candidates do not have ballot status based on party affiliation (every race, in my opinion, should be conducted this way). This allows the electorate to choose the person that they want rather than get stuck on party definitions.

This year in Madison, the spring elections will include the entire 20-member City Council, the Mayor and the County Executive. It offers a great opportunity for worker co-ops to put their issues forward. Normally, the chances of any candidate discussing our movement would be remote, but this year a hot Mayoral race created a neat opportunity.

The current Mayor of Madison, David Cieslewicz is running for re-election against a former Mayor of Madison, Paul Soglin. They ran against each other in 2003 when Cieslewicz bested Soglin (who has the record of the longest serving Mayor of Madison) by about 2-3% points. This time, the race will likely be even closer as many former allies of the incumbent Mayor have already openly supported Soglin and some of Soglin’s former supporters now support Cieslewicz.

I wasn’t planning to write much about this until I saw today’s entries in the blog war for the election. To be fair, The Mayor’s blog is paid for by tax dollars (one of the benefits of incumbency is that the tax payers pay for part of the campaign).

Yesterday, Soglin reported his answers to former Alder Brenda Konkel request for “three things that would change” if he were Mayor. Today, Cieslewicz wrote an essay about his ideas on the environment and building a sustainable economy.

Soglin talked about his Park St. plan to revitalize an area of the city that has been neglected for as long as I have lived in Madison (and not so coincidentally the home to the oldest African-American neighborhood as well as a sizable number of Madison’s 6% of non-European descended residents). Cieslewicz raised the idea of importing the Evergreen Model to Madison.

This all could make for a great opportunity for worker co-ops.

There are a lot of questions. The Park T plan is heavy on government agencies, non-profits and light on co-ops (although it does mention the C-TEAM concept of a worker co-op temp agency). The Cleveland Model has a lot of gas due to the previous industrial history of Cleveland and its former stature as one of the top-five largest cites in the United States. There is old money in Cleveland sitting idle–it is to economic development what black earth is to farmers. Madison simply doesn’t have something like the Cleveland Institute, but it does have the University of Wisconsin and the City of Madison as well as a new Governor who wants to create 250,000 jobs before 2012 election.

I still don’t have a lot of hope. From reading Cieslewicz blog, I didn’t get the sense that he really understood the power of worker co-ops in the Cleveland Model (it is essential and it was the Magnus Opus of the recently departed John Logue who devoted his life to worker ownership and democratic workplaces). Soglin’s Park T plan seems very Social Worker heavy and not necessarily worker friendly .

However, the synergy of these ideas is exciting and hopefully this tiny ember of an idea can blossom into a bonafide campaign discussion. We can only hope. Madison has a growing movement of worker co-ops. There are about 9-12 democratic workplaces that I can name off the top of my head and it seems that each year another one pops up. We have a long way to go to match San Francisco or Winnipeg for the title of most worker co-ops per capita (Winnipeg apparently owns it). but our movement should be seen as a means for the next Mayor of Madison to build a sustainable economy and they need to talk about it in the campaign.

For those readers living in Madison, attend the debates, send them emails, and ask them about how worker co-ops fit into their plan.

I’m excited, but will be officially uncommitted until I see how their development plans incorporate worker co-operatives.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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5 Responses to Worker Co-ops a Campaign Topic? Let’s Hope!

  1. Rebecca Kemble says:

    The reality of Evergreen is that it actually IS a social work model in worker-coop disguise. It’s no wonder that Mayor Dave got that idea.

  2. I did notice the language. It was almost as if the “controlling” umbrella group was to re-assure people that this wouldn’t be some collective or communist enterprise (i.e. that the adults would stay in control).

  3. Anne Reynolds says:

    It’s interesting to see the C-TEAM concept mentioned again. I worked a bit with Charles Uphoff on the concept, probably 7-8 years ago. Very ambitious.

  4. Steve Herrick says:

    A worker-co-op temp agency? Really? Really?! That’s revolting.

  5. It was the 90’s . It never went anywhere for the obvious reasons that there simply weren’t enough temp workers interested in making it happen. However, the bigger point is that Soglin mentioned the overall model of worker coops as a means of addressing poverty.

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