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Movement of the Day: the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
11th June 2013


Presentation excerpted from David Morgan:

“Smaller, regional efforts like VAWC and NoBAWC now feed into a national network of worker cooperatives.

As the first and primary national hub, the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) brings together the full array of players within this movement. After many years of organizing, they were incorporated in 2004 to provide support to their membership, as well as educational outreach to the public. A small organization with a two­-person staff, USFWC’s extensive work to promote cooperation puts them in the center of a dynamic movement.

The Federation connects its members to each other and to support organizations through referrals and their regular conferences and events. The support they provide to their members is both extensive and flexible. They provide essential information and resources according to the membership’s needs, such as meeting facilitation, or research into health plans. It is no small task to coordinate such a diverse patchwork of co­ops, and the USFWC capably handles a membership representing over 1,300 workers, from many different industries and geographies.

In addition, in the last few years, the USFWC launched the Democracy At Work Network (DAWN), a peer adviser system within worker co­ops that provides support, from sales to structure, to existing and start­up worker co­ops.

“Resources are starting to be directed at worker cooperative development in a way we haven’t seen since the 1970s,” reports Melissa Hoover, Executive Director of the USFWC. “People are not just organizing individual cooperatives, they’re organizing cooperative networks for mutual aid and support. In the last five years, we’ve seen networks or proto­-networks of existing cooperatives start in New York City, Madison, and Austin.”

There is emergent interest in more national groups, as well, especially around core issues like financial access. These types of working groups aim to fill out the middle of the co­op movement, acting as a working group somewhere between regional and national in scope.

The co­op movement is gaining steam, drawing from new energies and a renewed interest in the model. All movements have these periods of acceleration, times when opportunity comes knocking at every turn. Typically, such are the times when reflection is most needed, because new dynamics can dramatically change the situation.

“Worker cooperatives are growing in visibility and scope, and while we shouldn’t be afraid of this, my own understanding of cooperative history and the system in which we’re embedded leads me to believe that we need to be cautious and strategic, and insist on the integrity of the form,” cautions Melissa Hoover. Thanks to savvy organizing, and much behind­-the-scenes work, cooperatives have the structures in place and will continue to fight for nothing short of a new economy.”

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