Social Change

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: equalexchange.coop/action-forum
Advertisements

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 Shareable.com 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 GNU.org, 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 pump.io, 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 Makery.info. 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 Shareable.net 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 CounterPunch.org (which wrote about co-ops this month), but then picture a good future. Truthdig.com is another alternative news source. Then, second, don’t forget to read YesMagazine.org, and Shareable.net.

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 cooperativesforabetterworld.coop. 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. Coopertivesforabetterworld.coop 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.
(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

POCA

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.

View original post

Together

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

Hello:

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,

Chuck