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.