Social Change

Building Worker Power Through Solidarity, Cooperation & Care 

Members of the Co-op Cultivators of Greater Brockton (CCGB) attended the Building Worker Power Through Solidarity, Cooperation & Care conference at UMass Amherst. The conference ran from March 24th through March 26th, 2023. As a member of CCGB, I was lucky enough to go and report here on eight workshops and two plenary sessions I attended. The conclusions and inspiration drawn from the conference are grouped in this post as: envisioning a collaborative future, looking beyond capitalism, making change happen, and interpersonal interaction for change.

Envisioning a Collaborative Future

A theme emphasized at this conference was envisioning a better future based on solidarity. Given the many dystopian stories today in entertainment and books, this view on the future is especially needed to alter our imaginations and innovate our business practices.

In the first plenary session Kali Akuno, a co-founder of Cooperation Jackson, brought into the discussion economic thought influenced by the work of WEB DuBois, Malcom X, and his own work developing schools in California. He emphasized building a system for the long term. More than just cooperative businesses, the overall plan for Cooperation Jackson includes community land trusts as the bedrock for development along with food sovereignty among other things. But what will work best, including unionizing, will require experimentation.

Beyond Capitalism

Moving beyond capitalism is a necessity for Emily Kawano of The US and MA Solidarity Economy Network. She is also part of the Wellspring Cooperative in Worcester, MA. As Emily made clear, defining capitalism is critical because we all view capitalism very differently. Is a worker-owned co-op a capitalist enterprise (for example)? This was part of the session “System Change and Solidarity Economy” with Emily Kawano and Aliana Pineiro.

“Capitalism Characteristics” were presented listing five aspects of capitalism that help us to know what to agree upon. They are:

  • Private ownership of the means of production
  • Wage labor
  • Profit maximization is top priority
  • Commodity production (producing for sale)
  • Market exchange

This session emphasized pluralism and the big tent that will be needed for a solidarity economy. Emily ended with a final thought on comparing the present state of solidarity growth to imaginal cells which are part of the process that transforms caterpillars into butterflies. A similar transformation for solidarity is difficult to recognize now, but is a powerful source of transformation that is in progress.

Further advancing alternative ideas to capitalism, was a session called, “Democratic Economic Planning: How to Use Technology to Overcome Capitalism.” Presenters Guillermo Murcia López and Leone Castar have a plan using technology to replace money and markets. Their plan includes labor vouchers in a project called CibCom. Learn more at

An International Perspective

In the session, “Building an Internationalist, Revolutionary Future through Worker and Community Organizing” presenters Celina Della Croce from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Anti-Imperialist Action Committee, and Sean Manion, from Co-op Cultivators of Greater Brockton both brought to light the lessons that Venezuela and Cuba provide for developing a solidarity economy. These might seem like surprising places to derive inspiration from, but the top-down governance combined with a synthesis of bottom-up solidarity in these countries are clear examples of total commitment to collaborative societies to be taken seriously for collaborative work elsewhere.

In Venezuela, the reach and impact of communes is staggering. Their expansion was a priority of the government that vastly increased communes from 50 to 350 in 2012. Celina pointed out one essential element of these economic structures is that they share surplus production with the community beyond any individual business. This benefit, among others, shown in these successful communes provides direction for other cooperative practices and economics in general.

As for Cuba, 11.5% of workers are employed in co-ops in Cuba. A planned effort was to create collective land after the revolution from land formerly owned by oligarchs. Like Venezuela, Cuban cooperatives have relied on top-down support with laws to support them. Sean reported that an effort is currently being made to consolidate disparate laws into a more simplified legal structure.

The communing together in these countries exemplifies how wealth can be successfully shared on a large scale. These countries are also seminal examples of wealth distribution not only within their countries but also to other countries such as oil supplied to Massachusetts from Venezuela and Cuba providing aid to Africa.

Making Change Happen

In the opening plenary, Nellie Marshall-Torres from the Wellspring Collaborative stated the billionaire class is being put on notice by Amazon unionization. Keynote speaker and star organizer behind this is Chris Smalls. After being a top performer at Amazon, he left to become a legendary union leader challenging the mighty enterprise. Chris rose against incredible odds and described his devotion to the picketers in New York, and was also a leader for Alabama, Kentucky, and England protesters. “No cavalry is coming,” he said, to describe the struggle to confront mistreatment by management. He’s made something from nothing. He’s camped out to support protesters, fed them, and let them know he’s with them in times of desperation. Chris has a firm mode of operation that he mentioned more than once: “meet workers where they’re at.” Chris is in good company with another famous labor advocate: George Orwell who also went to where the workers were for his writing, see a previous blog post.

It’s interesting to think of what a powerful manager Chris could have been at Amazon if they had let him become one. He interviewed many times, but was denied promotion. Instead he is addressing Amazon’s practices with care for workers and making Amazon listen to the labor that the business must have to succeed. He uses Amazon’s own mantra: “Every day is day one.”

Flexibility is important. Both Chris and Kali said that empire strikes back. What worked once to bring liberation will not work again. Chris described multiple anti-union tactics used against him from Amazon.

The second plenary, hosted by Rebecca Lurie, from the Urban Studies Department at the City University of NY for Labor and Urban Studies, tied together co-ops and unions. Worker-owned cooperatives and unions are both tools for reaching better conditions for workers. Lively discussion brought together union members and cooperative business members to shed light on the realities of worker representation and the procedures of union arbitration within a co-op. Panelists in this plenary were co-op members one of which had experience forming a union. Co-ops can succeed where unions force an owner to close a business and unions can succeed where co-ops need to protect its workers.

Massachusetts Action

Massachusetts progressive activity was showcased in the session “Rising to Own It: Insights from Worker Owners & Aspiring Worker Owners.” Presenter Sarah Assefa from the Coalition for Worker Ownership and Power (COWOP) along with other COWOP members brought together a diverse and sophisticated panel of collaborative Massachusetts business people. The input from these practitioners provided insight into an industrial collaborative business, coaching, building a translation business, political action for co-ops, and training experience. 

All provided input on the importance of uniting within their businesses and across Massachusetts.

Interpersonal Relationships for Change

The Stoke Collective gave a session on the importance of meeting analysis. Meeting theory tells us that meetings are composed of makers (people making something), practices of circulation (rituals, customs), and architecture (structure of your group). Remember too, we were instructed, that your meeting must recognize relationships in every meeting, have vision sharing, and get work done. See the Stoke Collective for more.

A session called “Staying Grounded in Difficult Situations” lead by Adrián Roman from the Boston Center for Community Ownership, and member of CCGB, first instructed attendees to be grounded in difficult conversations. He had an important distinction for what being grounded is which is understanding the context you are in as much as possible. Part of understanding context of a particular situation is understanding yourself.

Preparation for an interaction can involve writing your thoughts. When unraveling how you feel about how you’ve been treated in the past, Adrián advises always looking for the feelings you have behind any accusation you have of others. With mediation and exercises, Adrián led the group through thought-provoking work addressing the fact that coalitions are built with many different types of people and that we have to prepare ourselves for interaction.

This conference for workers brought diversity of people and a diversity of approaches for collaborative economic development. Progressive change is happening, not potentially happening like past conferences.

Developing Cooperative Enterprises in Brockton, MA

The Brockton Interfaith Community (BIC) has been building cooperative economic expertise for the greater Brockton area of Massachusetts since 2018. To further advance the initiative, BIC has organized a group called the Co-op Cultivators of Greater Brockton (CCGB). The CCGB aims to build not only cooperative businesses in Brockton but a cooperative ecosystem.

Brockton Interfaith Community (BIC)

Brockton is not the only city building cooperative ecosytems, and the CCGB has followed the work of successful cooperative movements in cities around the country. One successful movement is in another Massachusetts city, Springfield, where the Wellspring Cooperative movement includes an impressive five cooperative businesses. In San Francisco The Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives has developed multiple co-ops including six bakery co-ops as well as a landscaping and construction co-op. The CCGB has also been in touch with the Cooperation Jackson movement in Mississippi which is championing democratically self-managed enterprises.

This month BIC and the CCGB have taken a significant step toward cooperative ecosystem development. United with other stakeholders in Brockton, BIC applied for, and received, a Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant awarded by Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The grant provides $318,000 to contribute to the startup of two cooperative enterprises; an affordable housing cooperative is being developed as well as a worker-owned construction cooperative. In addition, funds will support the development of a training course about cooperatives.

BIC is partnering with the Boston Center for Community Ownership for cooperative business training and technical assistance with co-op development. Also involved is People Affecting Community Change (PACC) – a training and service organization led by and serving those affected by incarceration. A curriculum will be created for PACC to introduce cooperative business principles.

The BIC cooperative initiative was able to bring together nonprofit, government, lending, training, and policy stakeholders. The project is driven by local Brockton community leaders following years of organizing to build relationships and networks. “I am very excited to be working with Brockton Interfaith Community on a truly transformational project that will bring a whole new level of ownership to our City and our community,” said Rob May, Brockton’s Director of Planning and Economic Development.

BIC sees co-ops as an economic solution to address pressing economic issues in Brockton including housing insecurity, a lack of jobs with dignity, and numerous buildings in need of replacement or repair. BIC looks to demonstrate the potential of cooperative enterprises to empower marginalized people and democratize Brockton’s economy.

Update: The CCGB group was formally known as GBCC but changed its name out of respect for the Greater Boston Chamber of Cooperatives (GBCC).

Socialism: Not for Radicals

File:George Orwell press photo.jpg

George Orwell [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Haven’t you always wanted to read a George Orwell book besides Animal Farm and 1984? Me too! So I found a copy of The Road to Wigan Pier and read it. It turned out to be a masterful look at the working class and then at socialism. Orwell stresses the commonality of socialism being a form of justice and common decency — and not just for comrades and radicals. Orwell is also a realist and doesn’t pretend that there aren’t divisions amongst groups. As in Orwell’s time, socialism’s appeal needs to overcome its stigma. It might not be the only solution, but it can be an effective one. Examples are alive and well today, like public education and free software.

Orwell immersed himself within the struggles of the working class. But more important, he wanted any struggling people regardless of class to understand their common challenges. The book follows Orwell’s political evolution resulting in the later chapters educating readers on socialism during a desperate time of fascism in the 1930s. He saw status and vocation dividing classes like a wall of stone — more accurately like a wall of glass that people pretend isn’t there, he says. The solution is to find common ground.

Orwell expresses frustration with the basic tenants for socialism not being understood, and instead having a movement driven by the extremes. His urgent message to normalize socialism applies today. The tragedy of the commons is occurring in our oceans. See this month’s National Geographic story about plastic pollution. As Elinor Ostrom states, solving problems of the commons requires a collective solution. Applications of socialism can benefit our oceans, make US state colleges free, or ideally make a Facebook-like platform that’s publicly owned.

Bernie Sanders introduced socialism into the last US presidential race, and Orwell’s message is starting to become more mainstream. And let’s not forget other places where we already have socialism: the US Postal Service and fire departments.

And a favorite free software example of mine is the 3D modeling software, Blender. In the vein of George Orwell, this software is a shared resource, free, available to anyone, and maintained by a community. Because of the community constantly improving the software it has become robust application, as says: “It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline.” It’s also impressive how Blender has become an economic powerhouse in a shared-commons kind of way. This is good for business, not just freedom and fairness.

Co-ops and socialism spread ownership. Maybe George Orwell would agree both are realistic approaches to justice and common decency.

Know Your Food, Know Your Food Producer

Small Farmers, Equal Exchange, and you: The Action Forum

What I learned at the People’s Food System Summit, June 2017, hosted by the Equal Exchange Action Forum.

  • Meeting a food producer improves your life.
  • Countries producing your food are REALLY suffering from global warming.
  • Tea production is brutal for people that pick leaves by hand.
  • Bananas require incredible logistics to reach you.
  • Cheap bananas serve the powerful.
  • Democracy is work.
  • Voting is work.
  • You should join the Action Forum:

Building the Commons and Freedom with Software

Logo for the 2017 LibrePlanet, a conference addressing the challenges facing the free software movement

Free software can be difficult to appreciate. (It’s free stuff, what’s the significance?) But there’s a fight for  freedom with software. Free software is a movement and a philosophy, but most importantly it’s a legal structure that provides freedom. Users of software have rights, and free software licenses, ideally as copyleft licenses, maintain user control over software we all rely on. Further, free software licenses promote sharing of source code contributing to a vital digital commons.

It also creates an ecosystem of distributed software ownership. Like co-ops and platform co-ops, ownership is carefully considered by free software licensing. This far-reaching collaboration of software is part of a counter-economy described by Michael Bauwens in an article on about a commons-based economy.

I was lucky to attend the LibrePlanet conference this month in Cambridge, MA, put on by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). The conference made clear that our liberties are affected by software. Movement leader Eben Moglen made clear in his presentation that the battlefront for freedom is software. You may like what you can do with your apps and devices, but invasive interests also like what they can do with your apps and devices. Author Cory Doctorow made this point clear in his keynote speech explaining that digital restrictions management (DRM) creates gates, and law, that benefit business interests. If business preferences become law, then our very way of life can become restricted. Free software licenses stop this from happening.

There are many free software licenses out there. Presenter Robinson Tryon emphasized using the right one for your project. His words are also repeated on, and they can help you find a license: “The proliferation of different free software licenses is a significant problem in the free software community today, both for users and developers. We will do our best to help you find an existing free software license that meets your needs.”

A presentation demonstrated, a platform developed for communication. It uses the free software license, Apache 2.0 license.

Copyleft licenses like the GNU General Public License 3.0 (GPL), you may have heard about, and thought that yes, it’s for do-gooders giving things away. But is making money, ie, being pragmatic with your software possible with free software? The father of free software, Richard Stallman, describes in an essay that idealism and pragmatism can be combined. And by the way, a lot of the world depends on Linux “one of the most prominent examples of free and open-source software collaboration,” according to Wikipedia.

Free software is fighting for us, and creating a software ecosystem that may be the central ecosystem to our liberty.

Cooperative Imagination

A graphic showing the top 300 international co-ops from "Exploring the Co-operative Economy" by ICA and Euricse.

A graphic showing the top 300 international co-ops from “Exploring the Co-operative Economy” by ICA and Euricse.

I’m writing about imagination because I need to. The co-op movement needs it. To consider the ideal instead of the worst. Imagining the worst possible scenarios breeds propaganda, invoking fear and threats to safety, that keep us from working together cooperatively.

We need to envision a better world. It can be difficult to do with propaganda and the distraction of what Chris Hedges defines as spectacle. We’re lucky to have important intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges analyze our present reality, but they paint a bleak picture. Therefore, we need to first be informed on realities then consider growth, prosperity, progressive economics, and cooperative solutions. Cooperative solutions are in the past and present. Collective action is part of American history and can capture the imagination – imagination that is being fought for. It was modern propaganda, created on a mass scale for World War One, led by George Creel, that changed progressive politics and how Americans think. See Chris Hedge’s book Death of the Liberal Class.

We owe a lot to those that have maintained imagination for co-ops. Nathan Schneider and Trebor Scholz are editors of Ours to Hack and Own, and creators of platform cooperativism. They’re tenaciously imagining new forms of ownership. A review of the book and the movement is nicely summarized by With a vision, we start to think of how.

Thanks to Nathan Schneider, we’re considering specifics on how to build a better web. Twitter could be owned like the Green Bay Packers; maybe too ambitious, but it’s visionary. And it has evolved into more thinking on the topic. The latest news on #BuyTwitter is described on covering innovative thinking from Nathan Schneider, Trebor Scholz, Douglas Rushkoff, Chris Cook, David Hammer, and Rachael Lamkin.

So, first, don’t be lazy about your news sources. This will affect your ability to imagine what is needed for our cooperative future. Ironically, I think you need to read the worst case scenarios on news sites such as (which wrote about co-ops this month), but then picture a good future. is another alternative news source. Then, second, don’t forget to read, and

Co-ops are a bigger part of society than people realize. The 2016 report “Exploring the Cooperative Economy” by the ICA and Euricse reports $2.5 trillion in annual revenue earned by the world’s top 300 co-ops. Co-ops can solve social, economic, and sustainability issues. We need the power of the collective action in the coming years. Standing Rock is showing how it’s done. And we need a lot of imagination. Let’s create good news with co-ops.

Marketing the movement

Howard Brodsky presents at the International Summit of Cooperatives

Howard Brodsky presents at the International Summit of Cooperatives

The movement is massive. And it can save the world. It’s the co-op movement worldwide. Co-ops as a solution to the world’s problems was a predominant theme at this year’s International Summit of Cooperatives hosted by ICA and DesJardins October 11-13 in Quebec City. At the event economists Joseph Stiglitz, Jeremy Rifkin and Robert Reich all touted the critical role for co-ops.

But it’s time to make a broader audience see the light. Cooperatives have a strange identity crisis right now and can be viewed in the mainstream as not viable and/or not modern — an issue also agreed on at the conference. As Robert Reich said at a presentation on October 12, we have to raise the co-op voice. Vic Van Vuuren, from the International Labor Organization, said in an October 13 session, we must externalize the value proposition of co-ops consisting of the triple bottom line: economic, social, and environment. Nicole Alix, President of La Coop des Communs in France said let’s reach out to activists. And Charles Gould, Director-General, in charge of the e, International Co-operative Alliance in Belgium, mentioned the irony of large and influential co-ops — in many cases, co-ops with thousands of members — being unknown to the general public as cooperative organizations.

The need for promoting co-ops you’ve likely heard before. But at this summit about increasing our capacity to act, Howard Brodsky, CEO, Chairman and Co-Founder of CCA Global Partners showed how he is doing it. He’s created a promotional campaign at What Brodsky described in a session titled “Making Cooperatives the Way of the Future” was the need to tell stories. Stories are how people remember things. If we want people to understand and remember the co-ops that exist around them and what they have to offer, then we must tell their stories.

His approach is to answer the why of co-ops, and he’s created multiple videos that answer this question. He showed two well-produced videos at the summit that shed light on what co-ops have to offer in brief but effective messaging. Telling why co-ops are a solution will be slightly different depending on the co-op sector. But he says that each sector needs to tell their stories.

This marketing effort is a bridge for educating the general public on the value and benefits of co-ops. is a resource with videos, sector descriptions, and blogs. Under the link “explore,” there is a video that describes a co-op. Another link divides co-ops into nine sectors.

Let’s brand co-ops as a mainstream business solution. Howard Brodsky is showing the way.

Some videos promoting co-ops I produced can be viewed at Kingbird Content. One video explains co-ops in 60 seconds.

A Reformer’s Legacy

Portrait of Robert Owen

Robert Owen by William Henry Brooke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bernie Sanders officially dismantled a social reform movement last week at the Democratic National Convention. But there’s another guy who made history with social reform by changing the very system that made him successful. A predecessor to socialism, his name has come up in the news lately: Robert Owen from Wales who lived from 1771 to 1858. He was a capitalist yet espoused reformist ideas that later empowered cooperatives in Britain and beyond. The Co-operative News recently reported that a collection of his letters are being archived. Owen was a pioneer who inspired cooperative development, and advanced progressive industrial practices.

He left school at age 10, then went on to succeed in manufacturing including owning a mill in Scotland. As an industrial leader Owen may not be akin to the consolidated 1% of wealth today but certainly held significant influence and power. And he had a moral agenda. He called for social reform even leading to the evolution of unionizing workers. His ideals for the well-being of workers and children were put into effect at his mill, New Lanark. He also aspired to act even more broadly to educate the young and made an effort to create a utopian society. These ideas eventually provided a foundation for the cooperative movement.

A collection of Owen letters is being archived at the  UK Memory of the World Register.
Also archived there is the Magna Carta written about in a previous blog post: The Magna Carta and Co-ops.  The archive is part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Here in the US in 2016, I’m thankful for Robert Owen’s progressive agenda still felt today. During this election year I see the same social problems festering that Owen fought: a lack of viable education and workers rights for the disenfranchised, especially with Bernie stepping down. I wish I could say Bernie is a reformist. Robert Owen clearly was. His top-down approach doesn’t seem likely to happen, but we can have faith that there is at least some historical precedence for it.

Platforms for a New Economy

I was lucky to attend the Platform Cooperativism conference on November 13 and 14 at The New School in New York City. It was convened by Trebor Scholz from The New School and Nathan Schneider from the University of Colorado. The event focused on existing cooperative platforms, such as co-ops, web apps, peer to peer engagement, and considered what can be built in the future. In this blog post I wanted to mention some general themes that struck me at the conference.

Civil Rights, A River, and Co-ops

I’m not one to write about spirituality, and wouldn’t deem it appropriate for this blog, but a series of events happened a few days ago related to co-ops that I can’t help but describe as Carl Jung’s concept of sychronicity — a “meaningful coincidence.” Lately I’ve been reading Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s Collective Courage on the history of African American co-ops, in which the great sociologist and proponent of co-ops W.E.B. Du Bois is featured. His research is essential documentation of the Black struggle and cooperative development in the late 1800s to the 1950s. With this information in my head, my wife and I were choosing a place in New England to hike and stay overnight.


The Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy

A rousing start

At this year’s ECWD in Worchester Massachusetts, I was lucky to attend the opening plenary, Saturday morning July 11. Author Jessica Gordon-Nembhard got the plenary started as moderator by reminding us that co-ops build society. Jessica wrote Collective Courage, is a political economist, and Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development at John Jay College, at the City University of New York (CUNY). Co-ops solve current issues, she said. They provide dignified work, give back to society, create livable wages, deliver products, and stabilize communities.


The Magna Carta and Co-ops

The 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta was this month.

Democracy Now! reported on the event and interviewed Peter Linebaugh on June 15th, the day of the anniversary. He is the author of The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberty and Subsistence for All.

As Linebaugh describes, what is so significant about this “Great Charter” is the recognition of certain civil rights when it was sealed in 1215. Because I advocate co-ops as a means of creating equity, this document is an intriguing part of history that not only established habeas corpus, but as pertains to cooperatives and a sharing economy, the document is a pivotal point in history to recognize and value the commons. At the time it was written, the commons were the forests of Britain and a source of valuable natural resources such as wood.  According to Linebaugh, laws allowed for hunting without capital punishment and established rights for women to use the resources of the commons.

Recognizing and protecting the commons is a very pertinent topic today whether we’re discussing the world wide web or the earth’s oceans. My belief is that co-ops offer a small way to address sharing that can impact commons such as these and many more.


Are you looking for cheap acupuncture? If you didn’t know that cheap acupuncture existed, the co-op called People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA) has made it possible. According to their mission and vision: “POCA, as a multi-stakeholder co-op, is designed to build a long-term, stable economic relationship based on fair treatment for everybody.” Community acupuncture makes acupuncture more accessible by treating people in group sessions. (more…)

A Co-op Meetup in Cambridge, MA

On February 8th, The Agaric co-operative held a Meetup event in Cambridge, MA, at their workspace Industry Lab. Despite snowfall that was part of an unprecedented series of storms, people attended to discuss the status and value of co-ops. I brought along a video camera and captured some testimonies from attendees. Micky Metts and Ben Melançon represented Agaric. They see the co-operative movement as a vital source of autonomy as do others that were interviewed. See the linked 3:34 minute video for some thoughts on the co-op movement and some solutions it offers. (more…)

John Abrams and Business Cooperation

In 2008, Chelsea Green Press published Companies We Keep by John Abrams. It is the second addition of The Company We Keep first published in 2005. Companies We Keep isn’t a new book, but I found it well worth reading in 2014 not only for its insight into the development and philosophy of the author’s worker-owned business, but for a systemic rethinking of business in general. (more…)

The Corporatization of Fair Trade

Small Farmers. Big Change.

Many thanks to Chuck Bordman for this creative 48-second video about the corporatization of Fair Trade and the work of committed brands to support small farmers and Authentic Fair Trade in this context.

To read the full comic book, “The History of Authentic Fair Trade, click here.

To learn more about Fair Trade vs. Free Trade, click here.

To learn more about Chuck Bordman and his work, click here.

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Together is the title of a video, currently on the ICA website. The 40-minute video was produced by CECOP – CICOPA Europe,  m30m S. Coop [sic], and producer Leire Luengo. It covers co-operatives in four countries: France, Poland, Italy, and Spain. As ICA states, the video shows the resiliency these co-operatives offer their members. They’ve done it with innovative ways to adapt to years of economic changes.

In Aisne France, a troubled manufacturing company converted to a co-op as a solution to the 2008 financial crisis. Called Fonderie de l’Aisne, an auto parts manufacturer, they diversified as a co-op into other areas. The resulting success has contributed to the Aisne region, and heritage, by sustaining the business and keeping it locally owned.

In Poland, the mineral water co-op, Muszynianka, founded in 1951, has adapted and thrived. In the nineties, the Polish economy changed from a planned economy to a market economy. The adjustment was difficult for Polish co-ops, but an interviewee points out that it was also liberating as the workers came to realize the impact their contribution had on business results. Muszynianka was previously a co-operative, but a state-owned one. By the time of the 2008 crisis, the company saw no slow down in business.

In Italy the video introduces social co-operatives, first formed in the 1970s. Law 381 from 1991 is noted, which has allowed social co-operatives to thrive throughout the country. Gruppo Cooperativo (CGM) is the largest network of social enterprises in Italy. As I mentioned in my last post, Richard Wolff emphasizes the importance of government backing for co-op development; Italy is an example he points out. Social co-ops in Italy provide social services and work integration for disadvantaged people. The co-ops interviewed have been able to retain staff  during economic uncertainty. Benefitting Italy as a whole, the co-ops running these social services save the government money.

Finally, the video visits Mondragon, a co-operative group in Spain. Mondragon was reviewed in the movie Shift Change. However, Together covers different co-ops, including an electric car project involving many co-ops. Like Shift Change, Together features Fagor Electrodomésticos — the co-op that has been a lighting rod for bad press due to going into bankruptcy. But the Fagor news has overshadowed how large and diverse Mondragon is, as is evident in this video. Again, resiliency is the key for Mondragan and the Basque region — without it, they can’t rely on agriculture or natural resources, like petroleum. The end of the video quotes a Mondragon leader who says they are a model for future business and society.

These four European co-ops have economic and social benefits. They also have a contender in the U.S.: the Evergreen co-operatives in Cleveland. I look forward to hearing a lot more about them.

Co-ops and Political Change

Co-ops could and should affect political policy. This is the thinking that I’ve read from several perspectives recently. And in a recent Co-operative News article linked here, the word manifesto is used to promote change.

Anthony Murray, a co-op focused journalist who also works with the International Co-operative Association (ICA), wrote the Co-operative News article which focuses on a recent meeting (in Britain of course) to address co-operatives being part of a social movement.

What happened at the meeting suggests that co-ops are part of a large social movement. The meeting was led by the the Social Economy Alliance. Six papers are outlined in the article that aim to modify government policy. Each paper offers co-ops as part of a solution. Central to what the government must do is address social concerns — a strong theme throughout, rooted in socially-based business models. Here’s a quote from proposal 4 called The Bare Necessities: Making Markets Work: “Social, co-operative, mutual and community owned enterprises are the key to the solution, sidestepping the struggle between statist intervention and private profiteering through real people power. This is good old-fashioned entrepreneurship grounded in a genuine connection and commitment to the community.”

In the US, others are discussing a larger change, too. Two notable experts come to mind: Gar Alperovitz and Marjorie Kelly. Alperovitz is author of America Beyond Capitalism. He suggests some kind of systemic  alternative is needed to the system of capitalism. Kelly is author of Owning Our Future who has a great term for a new kind of economy called a generative economy, as opposed to standard capitalist markets that are extractive.

The group in the UK is trying to tackle these issues, and its efforts pose something very significant by appealing to government. Richard Wolff, an American economist, says there is an inevitable political presence co-ops will have as they start to scale up. More about him in my next post.

Co-ops linked with policy and government present a real solution for society. Time will tell what kind of broader acceptance, and challenge to them, will take place.

Co-ops and Saving the World


I’m Chuck and I wanted to give some background for the development of this blog. Ten years ago, I began to wonder about growth — the accumulation of resources — and whether this can be a solution for everyone. Or does it unnecessarily create winners and losers? This idea led me to the book Beyond Growth by Herman Daly. He explained that measuring economic growth needs to be connected to the actual natural resources available, and not on metrics that exclude them, like GDP. My Amazon review of the book “Growth Isn’t Everything” praises Daly’s ideas on resource analysis. Growth, and the challenges of it, ties into the social challenges of equality, and ultimately environmental problems.

As social and environmental problems have increased, I’ve continued to read other authors that have thought about solutions including E. F. Schumacher, Thomas Frank, Noam Chomsky, Gar Alperovitz, Jean Jaques Rousseau, William Greider, and others. To me, social and environmental problems can be traced to a source: control of wealth. This is the conclusion the Occupy movement put in the public conscience with an emphasis on the 1% that has consolidated wealth.

The basic assessment that there are finite resources on the planet that Daly emphasizes, and a consolidation of resources resulting in social and environmental strife, shows me that some kind of sharing needs to take place.

This is where co-ops come in. There are many resources on the web that explain what a co-op is better than I can. See the International Co-operative Association (ICA) website for a great definition of what a co-op is linked here.

Co-ops are a solution. They are practical and implemented worldwide to the tune of generating $2.5 trillion in income. What is done with that income, and whether even measuring income is the best metric, are questions to be considered.

I started this blog to track ideas related to co-ops. The next post will discuss how the ICA measures the biggest co-ops in the world.

Thanks for reading,