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February 20, 2006

Just Garments: A Partial Worker-Owned Factory

Just Garments is a fully unionized and over 50% worker-owned factory in El Salvador. They are in urgent need of monetary support in order to maintain their business. You can find out more about their struggle on their website. Joaquin Solero was on a US tour with Students Against Sweatshops. Below are video clips from his talk in Albany, NY on February 18, 2006.

Spanish Language

English Voiceover

Worker-owned Co-operatives

Worker owned cooperatives are different than consumer coops (for example many food coops hire employees who work for the member-owners and have less of a say in what happens). In worker owned cooperatives, the work force collectively owns the company and decisions regarding the enterprise including wages and other benefits are decided through a democratic process not through the arbitrary decisions of a boss. Workers at Employee-owned businesses like United Airlines receive more of the share of profit than in traditional business structures but they still have bosses:(

The Sweat Shop Watch website likes to support worker cooperatives because, "we want the goods we buy to be made by people working under democratic and sustainable conditions, and we want to work in enterprises that themselves are democratic and sustainable...we see that such co-ops turn the workforce into owners eliminating "the boss;" they democratize control of the workplace so no one feels like a cog in a wheel. Because the property of the company is owned collectively by the workers and no one else, no absentee owner makes a buck off our labor."

Here are some resources on the Web to know more about worker- owned cooperatives. In the worker-owned links entry, you can find worker-owned coops to support.

Essays on Worker Cooperatives

The Mondragon Cooperative System is a large scale cooperative system in Spain that is often looked to as a model.

Article about worker ownership

A Links Website about Worker Owned and Operated organizations

Article on Design Collectives

Article on Worker Co-ops in The Twin Cities

Forum for Worker Cooperatives

February 19, 2006

Video with Bill Gessner: Food Co-ops!

Here is a video of part of Bill Gessner's talk in Troy, NY on February 17, 2006. He was consulting with a group of people in Troy who want to start a food co-op. Bill is working on a campaign called "500 Food Coops in 10 Years" with his organization Cooperative Development Services. Here is a listing of retail food co-ops in the US.

Co-operatives: Resource Links

History of Co-operatives

A history of co-operatives from Cooperative Life

Another history of cooperatives

The Mondragon Cooperative System is a large scale cooperative system in Spain that is often looked to as a model.

History of Worker Cooperatives

History of Student Housing Cooperatives

General Co-operative Resources

National Cooperative Business Association

The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives

International Co-operative Alliance

Frequently asked questions about coops

Finding Cooperatives Near You! (You can add your cooperative ventures also.)

Co-operatives: Some Basics

Cooperation has certainly been an economic force throughout history, but formal Cooperatives (or Coops) have been around since the 1700's. There are many types of cooperatives. Some are consumer based and some are worker based. The consumer cooperative is traced back to the 1800's in Rochdale, England where a group of 28 weavers working in a cotton mill didn't have enough money to eat. They thought pooling their resources would give them a better chance. The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society (you can even visit the museum museum.coop.ac.uk/) was the first cooperative store. Even though Ben Franklin started a cooperative earlier, Rochdale is considered the birthplace of modern cooperatives because the principles and practices of the Pioneers have proven to be a successful model.

The cooperative model has been applied to many different enterprises and activities including agriculture, fisheries, consumer and financial services, housing, transportation, childcare, and production (workers' cooperatives). Many people in the US are familiar with natural food coops and housing coops.

At the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) website (www.ica.coop/coop) you can find out alot about the current cooperative movement. They claim that over 800 million people are members of cooperatives today and that coops provide 100 million jobs world wide which is 20% more than corporate enterprises. Also the ICA website outlines the basic Coop principals and values which I've quoted below:

"Coop Principles and Values

Definition A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointlyowned and democraticallycontrolled enterprise.

Values Cooperatives are based on the values of selfhelp, selfresponsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Persons serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.

3. Member Economic Participation Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. They usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence Cooperatives are autonomous, selfhelp organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

5. Education, Training and Information Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public ” particularly young people and opinion leaders ” about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

6. Cooperation among Cooperatives Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members."