The idea of labor unions and co-operative businesses working together toward common goals is not a new one in the United States. There is a long history of unions forming and/or existing symbiotically with worker co-ops. However, knowledge of that history has now largely been lost. It is time to reclaim this history—and to act on it.
While the U.S. labor movement is in crisis, the U.S. co-op movement is growing. From the stand point of unions, there is something to learn from that. And conversely, unions bring a wealth of knowledge and resources to the table which, if deployed effectively, could be of great benefit to those building a cooperative economy. Working together offers an opportunity to develop creative strategies that build on our shared values of building an economy that works for everyone, and bringing democracy to our workplaces.
This proposal is aimed at taking the first step along this road in one community—Portland, Oregon. It is not a blueprint for union/co-op collaboration, but rather a call for an initial meeting of locally based folks in both movements, as well as other allies, to begin articulating a common vision and crafting a concrete plan for working together.
Proposal to Start a Dialogue
Because so much of the history of collaboration between Labor and worker co-operatives has been lost, basic ground work must be laid to build support for embracing this “new” strategy. This proposal seeks to accomplish that goal by addressing these key points:
- Support for this strategic approach is sufficiently novel that it will not be easily embraced by the decision makers within unions (i.e. the rank and file membership and elected officers) unless it is seen as emerging from the “ground up.” Existing members of unions must feel a sense of investment in this program by gaining useful information about, and having meaningful input in, the development of a Union/Co-op strategy.
- The co-op movement must act as an equal partner in the development of this Labor/Co-op effort.
- Strategies and work plans must be developed that take advantage of on the unique strengths and the knowledge bases of both the labor and co-op movements.
- Other outside partners with aligning interests must be must be brought into this discussion as much as possible and as early as possible.
Unions pursuing Union Co-op Initiatives
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
[[http://www.sustainergy.coop/|Sustainergy Cooperative – Sustainergy Cooperative — Cincinnati, Ohio]]
Coop Initiatives – Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative