Presentation excerpted from David Morgan:
“Inspired by the Mondragon cooperative network, the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives (VAWC) came together in Western Massachusetts in 2005. The group first met at the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy, and they are a direct result of national networks crystallizing at the regional level.
What sets VAWC apart is a strategy of coop-led development. The organization helps startup or transitioning coops get their footing; they provide technical assistance to their membership in the form of skillsharing and professional guidance. “We received help on things like bylaws, articles of incorporation and other things that are difficult for people running small businesses to get done while trying to keep everything going,” says Rebekah Hanlon, worker-owner of Valley Green Feast, one of VAWC’s member organizations.
VAWC recently launched an intercooperative loan fund. Through the fund, members tithe 5% of profits to help one another and to invest in new coop ventures. “We’ve gotten to a point where not only do we have knowledgeable cooperators from all walks of life meeting monthly, but we also have capital,” adds Rebekah.
“I look forward to the day when our loan fund is mature enough the help a business start up. It’ll be a real accomplishment when a new coop can be supported with finances, technical assistance and intercooperative opportunities.”
The organization is structured as a worker coop, and operates by consensus with a membership comprised of representatives from other worker coops. They jointly share in promotional opportunities, both for their individual coops and for teaching the public about the model. VAWC’s work has a multiplier effect; each new coop they help launch can join the Alliance, which positions the group to help even more coops get off the ground.
“Being a part of cooperators directing and funding their own support and development has been a powerful experience,” says VAWC’s sole staff member, Adam Trott. “It has also been effective. Since 2009, VAWC has supported 4 worker coop conversions, co-created curriculum at UMass, Amherst as members of the Cooperative Enterprise Collaborative, co-founded the cross sector Valley Cooperative Business Association, launched the VAWC Intercooperative Development Fund and more.”
VAWC enjoys an exceptionally cooperative cultural context in the Pioneer Valley, where there is a strong desire for economic democracy, and a history of collective management. In fact, by the time VAWC was formed, half of its its member organizations were independently operating, and had many cooperative allies.
A similarly rich cooperative culture exists across the country, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives, or NoBAWC (pronounced “no boss”), is a hub for the region, literally centralized within 30 minutes of each member organization.”