Workers Economy Encuentro- Nov. 8-10 in Mexico City

The Workers Economy network is a global network of unions, labor studies centers, cooperatives, activists, and other organizations focused on building worker control.

They convene periodic international and regional gatherings. The next one is a regional conference November 8-10th in Mexico City. Here is more information and the registration info: http://www.encuentrolaeconomiadelostrabajadores.com/index.html

It’s a great place to build international solidarity and meet comrades from across Latin America. Is anyone here planning on going?

The Co-op Cafe worker collective is sending a delegation to the conference next month, we’d love to connect with other folks from this network who are planning on attending.

Advertisements

Union Cooperative Strategy

https://newsyndicalist.org/2017/09/30/union-cooperative-strategy-david-oconnell/

NEW SYNDICALIST. September 30, 2017.

“Union Cooperative Strategy” by David O’Connell

Of all of our customary expressions, the word “radical” has probably suffered the most diminishing returns. There’s something about it which implies a certain level of irrationality or perhaps even a sort of childish controversialism, someone who is a radical should certainly be taken with a large pinch of salt. It’s colloquially placed in opposition to a “moderate” perspective, which by its own virtue requires much less defense in public debate. In fact, the word “radical” is quite interesting. Like the word radish, it takes its meaning from the Latin word radix, meaning root. A ‘radical solution’ is therefore one which is supposed to get to the root of the problem, and is probably better placed not in opposition to a moderate solution so much as a superficial one. The problem we face is not only a poor grasp of Latin among trade union officials, but perhaps even more seriously, that the labour movement itself has since the 1940s been entirely focused on finding superficial solutions to radical problems – and is now beginning to pay the price.

The​ ​past​ ​we​ ​inherit​ ​…

In 2009 I participated in a factory occupation. Workers at the Visteon plant in Enfield had barricaded themselves in, demanding a humane redundancy package after being given five minutes notice to clear out their lockers. Living next door, myself with several others volunteered as guards during the graveyard shifts to make sure management thugs didn’t try to remove the machinery at some unfortunate hour like 4am. A lot could be said about this whole event, but the incident which comes to mind most prominently was a particular factory floor mass meeting which took place after about a week of occupation.

The workers were debating what to do next, and without influence from the smorgasbord of lefty groups attending, began to discuss a full takeover – to start operating the factory again, without bosses. They not only assumed automatically that everyone would be getting roughly the same wage, they also quickly realised they didn’t even want to make automobile components but something more environmentally friendly and useful to the local community, and began to sketch out ideas for what else might be different under worker control.

Now, this didn’t happen. This time. But the attitude is clearly latent in the working class. It was considered pretty obvious in the 1800s that “those who work the mills ought to own them” and seemed pretty obvious to the Visteon workers too. In fact, during my decade long experience as a trade union and workplace organiser, the ownership question comes up quite a lot more than one would expect. On top of bad pay and conditions there remains ultimately a fundamental indignity in renting yourself to an employer, and following orders in return for food and rent money. Tolerating this, or perhaps one should say trying to make it tolerable, is a sort of Sisyphean task for which there is no ultimate reward, as organisers like Jane McAlevey have noted in her commendable article ‘Resistance is not enough‘.

The trade union movement, now on the brink of total collapse, has actually got very little to say about this. The Vichy-style leadership of the trade unions, dedicated to class collaboration and compromise, are not supportive of worker control or even interested in the question when presented within entirely legal parameters. On this point they are seemingly dedicated to remaining opportunistically silent as to avoid any sort of inflammation which may result from challenging the established hegemony.

While unions shirk from their historic objectives and continue their decline, the vacuum they leave is, of course naturally, being filled by someone else. That someone else, if you have not guessed already, is the cooperative movement – and the reasons are not hard to imagine. According to Co-operatives UK, 68% of all workers, and 75% of part time workers say they want more control at work. Without arousing too much debate, I think it can be stated fairly confidently that the cooperative movement offers a far more tangible and immediately relevant method of achieving that, far beyond anything which can be established in a collective agreement. How, or perhaps even “if”, the unions bridge this gap may decide whether unions continue to exist in any meaningful way.

… The​ ​future​ ​we​ ​build

It’s becoming popular on the left to notice the potential for Cooperatives to form the backbone of a sustained revival of worker power, core proponents of this position are people life Richard D Wolff and Gar Alperovitz, but one should also mention in the same breath that several prominent unions have also taken this position, from the USW in America, to the CUT in Brazil and SEWA in India. In fact, a new alliance between Community trade union and IndyCube, seeks to do something similar here in Britain.

People like Erik Olin-Wright refer to worker run enterprises as “strategic battering rams for achieving socialism” and it’s easy to understand the optimism. This line of argument is of course not new, Marx wrote in 1894; “The co-operative factories run by workers themselves are, within the old form, the first examples of the emergence of a new form” adding that he believed “opposition between capital and labour is abolished there”. Indeed, once owned and managed by the workers, the participants have a habit of providing themselves the best possible pay and conditions, and extensive research shows that cooperatives excel in both market and extra market terms.

Stopping short of actual workplace takeovers and buyouts, this strategy provides an immediate set of benefits to the day to day trade unionism you and I are more familiar with. For one thing, capital flight can be eliminated as an objection to trade union organising if any attempt to move the factory abroad results in the workers buying it out. On the one hand, the boss threatening to offshore production if costs get too high can become an opportunity rather than a challenge. Want to move production to Thailand? Ok, but we’re buying the factory and keeping our jobs here. The workers too will have, one can speculate, a newfound confidence in knowing that we are not simply being ham fisted in “recklessly” demanding pay increases. This is because as soon as this all gets too much for the senior management the place will be theirs.

Alternatively, cooperatives can actually be used by trade unions to set higher industry standards and trigger upward spirals. For example, if you have a construction firm run by the workers, within which they provide themselves the best possible pay and conditions, and assuming this construction cooperative operates relatively well, the bosses will have to compete with these terms and conditions in order to retain skilled workers. Which in turn gives added strength to construction unions in negotiations within those firms.

It’s​ ​in​ ​our​ ​hands

Now these strategies are tricky to deploy. There are many successful examples, but equally, many failures which one can enlist to support their side of the argument. An honourable mention must be given to the titanic cost of buying a factory, which requires not just money but also serious levels of organisation. Normally such proposals requires government support – and while helping workers buy out a factory is better for the economy than having unemployed workers sit idly outside a factory they know how to run, these bids are liable to be rejected on ideological grounds. Despite ILO Recommendation 193 encouraging states to prefer worker buyouts to alternative bids, they generally tend to ignore this, if you can believe it.

Following the defeat of the Miners in 1984 , the NUM Branch leader, Tyrone O’Sullivan organised the pit workers to pool their redundancy pay and put in a bid for the mine. Without a hint of irony they responded to the remarks of Hesseltine who scoffed, “if the workers want to run the mines they should buy them”. With some help, they bought the mine and ran it under NUM/Workers control at a profit until 2008, when the coal was exhausted. Allow yourself to imagine if this had been NUM national policy for a moment, and the union had ended up running (at least a fair part of) the British mining industry, and you’ll understand perhaps in part the benefits of being this adventurous.

If we believe in democracy, then allowing the economy to run by a patchwork of private command structures, with no internal democracy or accountability, should make our stomachs turn. Alexis de Tocqueville once asked; “can it be believed that the Democracy which has overthrown the Feudal system and vanquished Kings, will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists?”. The question he poses requires an address, and not all are shy to the challenge.

USU – Union Worker Coops Resolution

Union Worker Cooperatives Resolution

WHEREAS the historic ties between the Labor movement and the Worker Cooperative movement are great and varied; and

WHEREAS the modern labor movement has treated the Union Worker Cooperatives

movement as just another business model; and

WHEREAS the Union Worker Cooperatives movement and the Labor movement both strive for greater, participatory workplace democracy; and

WHEREAS the labor movement needs to diversify and become more inclusive in order to grow; and

WHEREAS the economic, social, and environmental challenges our county faces may require us to organize new types of hybridized businesses including Union Worker Cooperatives; and

WHEREAS The labor movement needs to help workers take back ownership of our economy and take back agency for job creation; and

WHEREAS models where Union Worker Cooperatives are members of unions are beneficial to both Union Worker Cooperatives and Labor unions; and

WHEREAS Union Worker Cooperative business model is one of potentially many that are consistent with the goals of the working class;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that we join forces with Union Worker Cooperatives in our perspective employment fields to replace those existing corporate business models that do not serve the best interests of our members; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we do not invest exclusively in corporate businesses, but instead give priority to investing in Union Worker Cooperatives businesses; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we build coalitions with Union Worker Cooperatives focusing on mutually beneficial political, social, and environmental causes.

Submitted by

Lisabeth Ryder

lisryder
liz

510-326-2644

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead”

>«(((º>¸.·´¯`·.¸>«(((º>¸.·´¯`·.¸>«(((º>¸.·´¯`·.¸>«(((º>¸.·´¯`·.¸>«(((º>¸¸.·´¯¸>«(((º>¸¸.·´¯¸>«(((º>

United Staff Union Resolution (1) 2.pdf

Resolution for United Staff Union for Website

Union Worker Cooperative Resolution

WHEREAS the historic ties between the Labor movement and the Worker Cooperative movement are great and varied; and

WHEREAS the modern labor movement has treated the Union Worker Cooperatives

movement as just another business model; and

WHEREAS the Union Worker Cooperatives movement and the Labor movement both strive for greater, participatory workplace democracy; and

WHEREAS the labor movement needs to diversify and become more inclusive in order to grow; and

WHEREAS the economic, social, and environmental challenges our county faces may require us to organize new types of hybridized businesses including Union Worker Cooperatives; and

WHEREAS The labor movement needs to help workers take back ownership of our economy and take back agency for job creation; and

WHEREAS models where Union Worker Cooperatives are members of unions are beneficial to both Union Worker Cooperatives and Labor unions; and

WHEREAS Union Worker Cooperative business model is one of potentially many that are consistent with the goals of the working class;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that we join forces with Union Worker Cooperatives in our perspective employment fields to replace those existing corporate business models that do not serve the best interests of our members; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we do not invest exclusively in corporate businesses, but instead give priority to investing in Union Worker Cooperatives businesses; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we build coalitions with Union Worker Cooperatives focusing on mutually beneficial political, social, and environmental causes.

Submitted by

Lisabeth Ryder

lisryder
liz

510-326-2644

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead”

>«(((º>¸.·´¯`·.¸>«(((º>¸.·´¯`·.¸>«(((º>¸.·´¯`·.¸>«(((º>¸.·´¯`·.¸>«(((º>¸¸.·´¯¸>«(((º>¸¸.·´¯¸>«(((º>

United Staff Union Resolution.docx

Why food co-op workers in Minneapolis have flocked to unions

https://www.minnpost.com/community-sketchbook/2017/08/why-food-co-op-workers-minneapolis-have-flocked-unions

Why food co-op workers in Minneapolis have flocked to unions
By Kristoffer Tigue | 08/16/17    MINNPOST

LindenHillsWorkers640.jpg

Linden Hills Co-op workers    Courtesy of UFCW 653

Workers began negotiating their first contract last May, making Linden Hills the third Minneapolis food cooperative to unionize this year.

When Adam Hulst learned that his employer, the Linden Hills Co-op, would be merging with The Wedge Community Co-op last October, he quickly voted yes on forming a union.

“There was a sense that we should have a union for a long time,” he said. “I think that the presidential election and the announcement of the merger were two factors that functioned as a catalyst for us to really get our stuff in gear.”

Hulst wasn’t the only employee who felt that way. About 85 percent of the roughly 80 employees at Linden Hills voted to unionize back in February. Those workers began negotiating their first contract last May, making Linden Hills the third Minneapolis food cooperative to unionize this year. Eastside Co-op started its first bargaining session earlier in July and Seward Co-op — Minneapolis’ largest food co-op — voted to unionize back in June.

Together, about 450 employees between the three co-ops are now organized under United Food and Commercial Workers Local 653, according to union officials. “As expansions were happening, as consolidations were happening, this sense of being a worker on the floor was shifting … to more of a corporate model,” Hulst said. “We felt like anonymous, interchangeable workers.”

Less about wages and benefits
Unlike typical union contracts, Minneapolis co-op workers say their efforts weren’t primarily about wages. “For most people … it’s less about wages and employee benefits and more so on what the co-op’s going to be doing in the next 40 years,” said Max Storey, a worker at Seward Co-op’s Friendship store.

Traditionally, Storey said, co-ops operated on a model where members and workers have some say in how the business runs. But as Seward expanded over the years into three different locations, he said, many workers began feeling less included in those decisions and began expressing concern over diminishing communication with management. “It no longer felt like the co-op they had been working at and that is what kind of motivated them to change,” he said.

However, Hulst said that wages aren’t entirely off the table — at least at Linden Hills, where workers make less on average than those at other Twin Cities Co-ops. According to union data, about half of Linden Hills employees make between $9 and $13 an hour. And Hulst said they’re hoping to raise those wages even before the Minneapolis $15 minimum wage begins to phase in over the next five years.

Alex Slichter, board president for Linden Hills, declined to comment on contract specifics but said negotiations are going well. “We definitely support our employees,” he said. “They’re critical to our success and we look forward to coming together to make a decision that works for everyone.”

 

SewardWorkers640.jpg

Seward workers    Courtesy of UFCW 653
Seward workers celebrating back in June after 94 percent of their nearly 300 workers voted to join the union.

John Lacaria, the general manager over at Eastside Co-op, echoed similar statements, and said they’ve already held two bargaining sessions with their workers since they began negotiations last month. “Those have been really productive,” he said. “We’re just continuing to work through the process.”

Seward workers have yet to begin negotiations, but Storey said they’re hoping to establish a list of demands by the end of the month, and so far, everyone seems happy. “Everything the co-op stands for, are union values at the end of the day,” he said. “The equity, the accountability, all of that.”

Part of broader efforts
Minneapolis’ co-ops unionizing isn’t entirely new, said Jennifer Christensen, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189. In fact, she said, it comes amid efforts to organize more co-ops across the state.

Three years ago, Christensen said, UFCW 1189 negotiated the first contract for The Wedge Community Co-op. Around the same time, the union also negotiated the contract for local workers who supply co-ops with warehouse labor, she said. They’re currently negotiating the first contract for the Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth.

To Christensen, co-op workers see unions as the best way to preserve their workplace values as co-ops continue to grow in popularity.

“We’ve been talking to workers for several years and it seemed like the timing was right,” Christensen said. “The co-op ideal and the union ideal of workers being able to make real contributions to their workplace are really consistent.”

The Wedge, which opened in 1974 and is Minnesota’s first certified organic grocery store, will renegotiate its three-year contract next year.

Union co-operatives: what they are and why we need them

Union co-operatives: what they are and why we need them

NEW INTERNATIONALIST

Jan 13, 2017 United Kingdom

By Simon Taylor

https://newint.org/blog/2017/01/13/union-co-operatives-what-they-are-and-why-we-need-them/

13-01-2017-usw-590.jpg

The United Steelworkers headquarters in Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Flickr user Joseph under a Creative Commons Licence

Neoliberal policies contribute to alienation, disempowerment and non-unionised jobs, but a new model for unions could break the vicious circle, argues Simon Taylor.

Trade unionist Jimmy Reid described alienation as ‘the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the process of decision-making’. This frustration is endemic in contemporary neoliberalised economies, and according to commentators, including George Monbiot, it contributes to the rise of populist backlashes and disempowerment.

Unions play a vital role in counter-balancing alienation and frustration, responding to organizations imposing alienating practices on their workers. However, neoliberal policies have contributed to a long-term decline of union membership and influence in the Anglosphere and elsewhere.

But workers and unions can counter alienation and other negative effects of neoliberal policies – such as outsourcing, precarity and union decline – in new and imaginative ways.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union in the US is one of many good examples, responding to decades of deindustrialisation and declining union membership. They are developing worker co-operatives that place unions at the heart of enterprises, a model known as union co-ops. They have modified the resilient Mondragon worker co-op model by replacing its social council in co-operatives with more than 50 workers with a Union Bargaining Committee. The committee represents the worker co-operators interests as workers, while other structures represent their interests as owners. Worker representation structures are important according to Mondragon and the USW because there is an inherent risk in worker co-ops that when enterprises achieve scale, workforce engagement in decision making is diluted.

The benefits of worker co-ops have been discussed widely elsewhere. They include empowering workers by involving them in the crucial decision-making processes affecting their working lives, overcoming the alienating factor of lack of control. Indeed, the USW believes that worker co-operators are unlikely to offshore or outsource their own jobs, to design precarity into their employment, or to make themselves redundant in response to business downturns – all tools that neoliberalism makes attractive options regardless of the consequences to workers and communities.

The USW also believes that the active involvement of unions in worker-coops will result in higher union membership within the enterprise, thereby contributing to trade union renewal efforts in some measure. After all, placing unions at the heart of the enterprise allows them to find potential members in a way that is impossible in other contexts.
In a recent study, I examined union co-ops in the US, and Britain’s experience of union involvement with worker co-ops. It sought to determine whether UK unions should be noting the example of their US counterparts, and considered whether lessons can be drawn that should be applied to Britain’s context (and elsewhere).

In the study, I found that the USW’s and other organizations’ efforts to establish union co-ops in the US are ongoing. They have considered the role unions can play in establishing and supporting enterprises to become sustainable, while forging an effective bargaining and representational role.

In Britain, I found that unions often struggle to carve out a role for themselves in worker co-ops, choosing not to engage with them and favouring their traditional role in conventional employment models. Despite sharing common historical roots addressing the iniquities of industrialisation, union and co-operative movements have often nonetheless been wary bedfellows.

The closest parallel to the union co-op model found in Britain was the relationship between Suma Wholefoods (a worker co-op wholefood wholesaler) and the Bakers Union (BFAWU). Suma is a long-established business, and operates a flat pay structure – meaning all its worker/owners are paid the same. They sought to recognise a union, and came to an agreement with the BWAFU, working collaboratively wherever they can, only moving to opposite sides of the table when a dispute or issue arises. I found that the arrangement is working well, suggesting that the BFAWU have successfully defined a beneficial role for themselves in worker co-ops. The BFAWU cite Suma as a good employment model to others, and would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with other worker co-ops.

A sector that may be ripe for the union co-op model in Britain is adult social care, although it is noteworthy that the USW and others are developing union co-ops in the industrial sectors they organise in. Skills for Care, an organization working with employers to increase skill levels in the social care industry, report that the number of adult social care jobs in Britain in 2014 was estimated at 1.55 million, and since 2009 local authority jobs in the sector had shrunk by 50,000, while the private sector had grown by 225,000.

However, in my study I found that some unions seemed to be failing to target this growth area of employment in public services. Instead, they were choosing to adopt an ideological mantra that public services should be delivered by the public sector, or were oblivious to the opportunities presented by alternative models of work organisation.
Arguably their ideology or lack of interest flies in the face of the trajectory of the neoliberal assault on public services, and it abandons workers to largely non-unionised employers operating alienating work practises, and denying unions the oxygen of membership growth and innovative thought and action.

There are already examples in Italy, the US, Britain and elsewhere of how social care coops are successfully meeting rising social care demand in the private sector, often encouraging union membership and participation in the process.

Perhaps, it is time that the union movement in Britain and elsewhere took note of what the USW and others in the US are doing in respect of unionised worker co-ops. It’s worth considering how the union co-op model could be applied to their own context, how it may counter alienation amongst their members, and how it may contribute towards their renewal efforts.

Simon Taylor recently completed the MA International Labour and Trade Union Studies at Ruskin College.  You can find him on Twitter: @SimonTaylor920.