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.

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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”

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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

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

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.

Simon Taylor

In Memory of Frank Adams

US Federation of Worker Cooperatives Logo Farther.Faster.Together

IN MEMORY OF FRANK ADAMS

Posted on March 27, 2017 by Liz Anderson
Honoring of Frank Adams

1934-2017
The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Democracy at Work Institute deeply mourn the passing of Frank Adams. Frank was a tremendously influential worker cooperative advocate, developer and educator, and a founding board member of the USFWC.
In memory of Frank we share here an obituary from Rebecca Bauen, Senior Program Director at DAWI:

This week we mourn the passing of Frank Adams, a giant in the worker cooperative movement. Frank is known best for his seminal work, Putting Democracy to Work: A Practical Guide to Starting and Managing Worker Owned Businesses (with Gary B. Hansen). We also know Frank as a champion for building a movement of worker cooperatives, as a founding board member of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (2004-06).
Frank was an educator, historian, writer. He was also a colleague and mentor to  many of us.

Frank was the best teacher I have ever had. He embedded in me the belief that education is foundational for shared ownership to really take hold. And, he was committed to exploring this right to the end. When I visited Frank in Knoxville, a year ago this March, I was looking for ideas about how to form a school to teach participatory management and the culture of worker ownership. Frank shared with me his research on a little-known school called the Work People’s College organized by the IWW in the early 1900’s, in the upper Midwest, that taught immigrant workers to become managers and owners of their own businesses.

Frank Adams from U.S. Federation of Worker Co-ops on Vimeo.

This wasn’t the first time we’d talked about education for ownership. It began in the winter of 1996, when Frank shared his library with me, and we met weekly in his Boston home and talked about the books he had had me read on the English levelers, Kant, management theory, organized labor, worker self-management, and radical adult education. He helped me build a theoretical, historical, philosophical and practical foundation for starting worker cooperatives, teaching about them, and now, through my work at DAWI, building the leadership of the next generation of worker cooperative developers.

Frank offered the gift of his intellect, experience and insight to so many of us committed to changing the nature of work, the direction of capital, and expanding the power of ownership. His often times thorny provocations made us tougher for the battle.

The work continues, and Frank, your legacy lives on.

[Photo of Owen Brown, son of Rob Brown, CDI Coop and Conversions Developer, 2017]

Browse Frank’s voluminous work, which is a testament of his influence and dedication to the worker cooperative movement.

Cooperative Organizing
Adams and Hansen – Putting Democracy to Work (3rd edition) (book)
Adams – Starting a Worker Owned Cooperative
Hansen and Adams – ESOPS Unions and the Rank and File

Education
Adams – Making production, Making Democracy: a case study of teaching in the workplace
Caspary – Education for and by Worker-Owners The Vision of Frank Adams

Workers Owned Sewing Company
Adams and Shirey – Workers’ Owned Sewing Company Making the Eagle Fly Friday
Egerton – Workers Take Over the Store

Blue Ridge Paper Company
Loveland – Under the Workers’ Caps: From Champion Mill to Blue Ridge Paper (book)

Southern Appalachian Center for Cooperative Ownership (SACCO)
Bothwell – Taking Democracy to Work
Hansen and Adams – ESOPs and you
Adams – Remarks to the House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit

Highlander
Adams and Horton – Unearthing Seeds of Fire: the Idea of Highlander (book)

Gary Hansen
Meeting Frank Adams and Writing Putting Democracy to Work

Maine lobstermen’s union votes to buy Hancock County lobster business

Maine lobstermen’s union votes to buy Hancock County lobster business Portland Press Herald

Posted February 25
Updated February 25

Maine lobstermen’s union votes to buy Hancock County lobster business

Purchase of Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound’s wholesale operation means lobstermen will have more control over the prices they get for their catch, a spokesman says.
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BY PENELOPE OVERTONSTAFF WRITER

The Maine Lobstering Union voted Saturday to buy a wholesale lobster business near Mount Desert Island to help its fishermen net a bigger share of the profit in the booming, $1.5 billion-a-year industry.

At a closed-door meeting in Rockport, members voted 63-1 to buy the wholesale side of the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, which includes a tank that can hold up to 180,000 pounds of lobster, for $4 million, said Local 207 President Rocky Alley.

“We can’t wait to start buying and selling our own lobsters,” Alley said. “Right now, fishermen sell at the dock, and we get what we get, with no control. But there is lots of money made off lobsters after they leave the dock, and some ought to stay with us fishermen.”

The vote enables the Maine union to borrow money from a Kansas City bank and to borrow $1.1 million from fellow locals in the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers as far south as Maryland to purchase the Lamoine-based wholesale business.
Rocky Alley of Jonesport listens to Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher during a 2014 meeting about the state of the lobster industry. Staff photo by Gabe Souza

The Trenton Bridge manager, Warren Pettegrow, will stay on as the chief executive officer of wholesale operations, as will the employees. The operation will continue to ship live lobsters nationally and abroad, including to the European Union and Asia.
Pettegrow said he wasn’t looking to sell Trenton Bridge, a pound that’s been in his family for four generations. When he started talking to the union about two years ago, Pettegrow said it was “all about how to help better the lobstermen’s position in the industry.”

“This really is all about putting lobstermen in the best position to secure their future and their way of life for future generations,” said Pettegrow, who operates a boat that transports lobsters and has been buying MDI lobsters for years.

Eventually, the lobstering union expects to buy Pettegrow out, officials say, but he will still be owner of the family’s well-known retail operation on Route 3 in Trenton, located just over the bridge on the drive to Mount Desert Island.
When the purchase is finalized, union lobstermen from Jonesport, Mount Desert Island and Vinalhaven can sell their lobsters directly to the union cooperative, which was established in 2013, for storage at the Lamoine facility and eventual sale.
Union fishermen who sell to the co-op will get market price for their lobster, but they will also receive a share of cooperative profits, or a dividend, at the end of the year once operational costs, like trucking and employees, are covered.

In time, the union hopes to expand its buying territory to the whole Maine coast.
Reached after the vote, Alley said he wanted to thank IAM president Robert Martinez and the executive board for believing in the lobster fishermen of the state of Maine.

“This has been a dream of ours for two years, and we couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.

The Maine Lobstering Union formed in 2013 in the wake of an infamous 2012 spring glut that drove boat prices to a season average $2.69 per pound, down from about $4 per pound during recent years and the lowest yearly average in 20 years.
The union has lobbied the Maine Legislature on behalf of its members, and has raised some objections to local projects that would affect their members – such as dredging in Searsport and in Casco Bay – but it has long wanted to launch a statewide cooperative.

Lobstermen often complain about the large gap between the boat price for lobster and what a consumer pays to eat a lobster, even in a Maine restaurant. They don’t understand why rising consumer prices don’t always translate into higher boat prices.
“Now we’ll be able to track how the price system works, and we’ll be able to get a piece of the back end,” Alley said. “It will be huge. This is going to change the lobster industry in Maine. It was our goal from the first day we unionized.”

The union has about 500 members who have been active at some time since its launch, but not everyone pays the $62.70-a-month union dues on time. That is why the vote tally on Saturday was so low, union organizers said.

There had not been a fishing union in Maine in more than 75 years, when efforts to revive an earlier union ran afoul of federal price-fixing laws. But IAM lawyers found a loophole in a 1934 fishing law that allows a union to negotiate prices on behalf of fishermen.

Canadian fishermen have been organized for decades, but most don’t negotiate catch prices. Deep-sea fishermen that work on halibut, sablefish and crab boats off Washington and Alaska have union representation, too.
David Sullivan, the head of IAM’s eastern territory, applauded the results of Saturday’s vote.
“The members of the Machinists Union are proud to stand beside the lobstermen of the state of Maine as they fight to preserve their communities and their way of life,” Sullivan said.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:
povertona@pressherald.com
Twitter: PLOvertonPPH