2nd Annual DC Co-op Clinic

There are a couple weeks left until the 2014 DC Co-op Clinic! The Clinic is sponsored by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Community Development and member organizations who work year round to support DC housing cooperatives. They have been planning a one day clinic for months  that provides resources specifically geared toward cooperatives. The details are below. If you haven’t already please RSVP to http://www.cnhed.org/coop2014/training@micasa-inc.org; or (202) 722-7423 ext. 108.
Event: DC Co-op Clinic
Date: Saturday, October 4, 2014
Location: 3047 15th St NW
Time: 8:30 am – 3:30 pm
Who: YOU and your fellow Co-op members

New Book on Worker Co-operatives and Regional Economic Development

Amherst, MA – September – 2014 – Levellers Press, a worker co-operative, announced the publication of Building Co-operative Power! Stories and Strategies from Worker Co-Operatives in the Connecticut River Valley.

Building Co-operative Power (BCP) introduces the history and concept of worker co-operation and relates past and present stories of worker co-operatives in the Connecticut River Valley. It is grounded in 50 field interviews with former and current worker co-operators and the regional development model of theValley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives (VAWC). This book is a guide and inspiration for building worker co-operatives as well as co-operative economic development through inter-cooperation in any region in this country.

Janelle Cornwell (Worcester State University), Michael Johnson (Grassroots Economic Organizing Newsletter) and Adam Trott (Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives and Collective Copies) co-authored the book. Julie Graham had led the team before her untimely death two and a half years ago. (See their bios at the end of the article.)

You can see the Table of Contents and read the Introduction on the book’s web page. At this time you can purchase BCP from the Levellers Press here. Soon it will be on Amazon, and later will go into large scale distribution.

Building Co-operative Power does two specific things. First, it gives a sense, a feel, even a taste of what it is like to be part of worker co-operative.

Second, after describing and exploring the consequences of the cultural invisibility for cooperatives and alternative political economic projects generally, it lays out the coherent strategy the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives (VAWC) is using to address this major obstacle. In short, VAWC’s strategy involves worker co-op led development and regional co-operative economic development through inter-cooperation of all cooperatives in the area.

Life in a worker co-op

Green Mountain Spinnery. photo by Marti Stone

Parts I and II focus on the realities of worker co-ops. Part I has three chapters that draw the voices of 50 former and current worker-owners into a narrative showing the everyday and long term realities of being in a worker co-operative and running a business with no employer/employee dynamic. The opportunities for fulfilling productivity and the challenges of relating cooperatively are explored, such as co-op governance, management, communication, conflict resolution, the painful process of firing, and more. Tales of personal transformation run throughout all of the narrative.

Part II continues this focus on showing what life in worker co-ops is like. It presents the profiles of 11 worker co-ops, both former and current ones, from Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont. These stories include both inspirational and cautionary tales for start-ups and conversions. Each story gives a strong sense of the unique history and character of each one of these worker co-ops.

This section also shows how worker co-operatives occupy a business place in a very wide range of industries: printing, solar installation, bicycle transportation services, website hosting, weaving, perfumes, local and organic food distribution, education for change services, holistic health, and cotton diaper services.

Promoting the “co-operative difference”

Building Co-operative Power addresses the obstacles and opportunities for building a co-operative economy throughout a region, and making worker co-operatives an increasingly important part of the U.S. economy.

Like any other business co-operatives produce and sell commodities, borrow money, employ workers, and own private property. However, they differ fundamentally from mainstream businesses in their organizational structure, principles and values and even their very purpose for existing. This is what is known as the “cooperative difference.” Here’s one way the authors describe this crucial factor:

…co-operatives, across all sectors and industries, subordinate capital to the interests of the users (consumers) and members of the enterprise rather than risking capital to make greater wealth for a few…It means co-operatives eliminate the antagonistic relationship between users and owners that is institutionalized in capitalist models. (p 159)

In the first chapter of the Part II Building Co-operative Power explores the significance of “co-operative difference” and how it manifests in practice. The following chapter explores the “cultural invisibility” of all co-operatives and virtually all alternative political economic projects in this country. It shows how such a powerful political and economic business model can be virtually unseen or very misunderstood by the public in general, policy makers, economists, business schools, and even the millions of members of co-operatives.

The third chapter in this section focuses on the crippling consequences of this invisibility to the democratic and economic potential of co-operatives. The authors zero in on four specific ones. Invisibility translates into

  • potential patrons and co-opreneurs not being able to make informed choices about where they could be buying and the kinds of businesses they could start
  • a lack of co-operative and collective management skills
  • a lack of investment and understanding of co-operative development, and
  • widespread public policy ignorance and neglect.

Pioneer Valley PhotoVoltaics (PV Squared)

The final two chapters of the book focus on how VAWC’s history and its strategies for overcoming the problem of invisibility and its crippling consequences. Theirs is a slow march, but that march is underpinned by a well thought-out strategy for advancing cooperative ideals and values through both the worker co-op sector and regional inter-cooperation among all co-operatives.

Their tactics and strategies include joint marketing, public education, developing expertise in governance and management, providing technical support and solidarity for start-ups and conversions as well as using a development fund fed by a small percentage of member co-operatives’ annual surplus.

The authors describe VAWC’s “everyday vision:” how someday people in their region will be able to go through a whole day taking care of all their needs and desires through a network of co-operative businesses. In 2011 they took a major step in this direction by forming the Valley Cooperative Business Association with the Neighboring Food Co-operative Association (a network of more than 20 food co-ops), the UMass Five College Credit Union, and Cabot Creamery.

Addressing the need for special training programs VAWC, in 2009, began working with faculty in the Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts to develop a co-operative curriculum and certificate program. Together they co-founded the University of Massachusetts Co-operative Enterprise Collaborative (UMCEC). UMCEC developed curriculum and internships in the economics of co-operative enterprise as part of a Certificate in Applied Research in Co-operative Enterprise.

Adam Trott, one of the co-authors of Building Co-operative Power and the VAWC staff person summarized the overall project in this way:

The sky is the limit, really. Systems are in place that bring co-operatives together among and across sectors. They approach issues that individual co-ops won’t or can’t deal with alone. They’re expanding a major strength of the co-operative model: the ability to marshal scarce resources for the benefit of members and their communities.

Readers can access the book’s Introduction on the web site as well as praises for it from John Curl, Gar Alperovitz, J.K. Gibson-Graham, Nancy Folbre, and E. G. Nadeau.

To purchase the book: click here, or contact Levellers Press (phone: 413-992-7408; email:levellerspress1@gmail.com )

WEB SITE: geo.coop/building-co-operative-power

Adam Trott is the Staff for the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives, where he supports, develops and educates about and for worker co-operatives.  Adam has been a worker/member of Collective Copies since 2004 – a collectively-managed worker co-op and union shop. He serves on the board of the Co-operative Capital Fund, the Valley Co-operative Business Association, the Co-operative Enterprise Collaborative and the United Electrical Workers for Co-operation.

Join the DC Time Bank!

The DC Time Bank builds circles of reciprocity and mutual aid, building community ties, community self-sufficiency, and resilience. 

On September 22, 6-8pm, Time Banks USA Founder, Edgar Cahn, will present on time backing at Busboys and Poets, 5th & K Sts NW.

Join the DC Time Bank today: http://dc.timebanks.org/ 

Time Bank

Worker co-op works for shop

UB Law clinic helps smooth out the bumps

By: Lauren Kirkwood Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer September 2, 2014

Like any business, before Baltimore Bicycle Works could open its doors in 2008, the bike shop needed to establish its legal structure. 

But rather than envisioning the shop as a typical corporation or an LLC, its owners pictured a much less traditional organization: They wanted to form a worker cooperative, a democratic enterprise in which each worker is also a part-owner of the business, and all workers have a vote in decisions.

“The worker-owner model allows for everybody to have a say in the work they do,” said Meredith Mitchell, one of the shop’s six worker-owners. “It expects that people will take on leadership roles and provide vision and direction for the organization.”

While estimates put the number of worker co-ops in the U.S. at about 300 to 400, a buzz has been slowly building around the idea — especially with would-be business owners who want social purpose to be an ingrained part of their enterprise, said Parag Khandhar, a clinical teaching fellow in the Community Development Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Click here to read further.

BAKERS: Wanna make a LIVING WAGE for a change? (Arlington)

Arlington CoopIf you’re passionate about baking and interested in making an actual living wage, too, let’s talk.

I’m looking for co-founders for a worker-owned co-op bakery in Arlington.

What is a worker-owned co-op? In a nutshell, everyone who works there is also an owner. Shared responsibilities and shared profits. We work together, are treated equally, produce some awesome products that people want to buy, and pay ourselves a living wage.

Most baking jobs in this area pay around $10 an hour. How are you supposed to live on that? In one co-op bakery in California, the average hourly rate is $24 an hour plus benefits like health insurance and paid vacation.* We can do that here.

The co-op doesn’t exist yet–we’re going to create it.

What it looks like will depend on the group’s decisions. If you’re interested in finding out more about this, check out the website:


There you’ll find more information about co-ops, about my initial vision, and a quick form to fill out to share your level of interest and experience. Once we have enough people on board to have a meaningful conversation, we’ll plan to meet and talk about next steps.

*Read about Arizmendi co-op bakeries here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/magazine/who-needs-a-boss.html

Linda Leaks on WOL Thursday

Tune in to WOL 1450 AM on Thursday, August 28, at 10:30 a.m. for Everything Coop, hosted by Vernon Oakes. This week Vernon interviews Linda Leaks, Cooperative Advocate and founder of the Justice Advocacy Alliance.
Ms. Leaks has over 27 years of experience in community organizing, cooperative development, community based economic development and is a Registered Cooperative Manager. She also is the founder of the Justice Advocacy Alliance (JAA). 

Prior to establishing the Alliance she worked in several capacities:

  • As an Outreach Coordinator for the National Low Income Housing Coalition, to coordinate the congressional advocacy of low income housing activists 
  • As a Community Organizer, to Establish tenant associations
  • As a Housing Cooperative Education and Training Coordinator, developing, training, planning and implementing curriculum for housing cooperative members

Ms. Leaks is also the Co-founder of the District of Columbia Grassroots Empowerment Project (Empower DC), However she credits herself as a life-long Cooperative Advocate, who has focused on creating affordable housing for all.

Vernon Oakes is President of Oakes Management Inc. As President, he has renovated and managed his own properties, and those owned by other entities since 1985. This former coordinator of the MBA program at Howard University, and MBA graduate of Stanford University, has used his business acumen to benefit the community by providing quality housing for all populations and being a consummate advocate for cooperatives.          

Don’t miss this opportunity join what promises to be a lively informative conversation. If you missed last week’s interview with John Zippert Click Here!

To listen Thursday’s show live online Click Here! 

Federation of Southern Cooperatives today at 10:30am

Tune in to WOL 1450 AM on Thursday, August 21, at 10:30 a.m. for Everything Coop, hosted by Vernon Oakes. This week Vernon interviews John Zippert, Director of Program Operations for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund. Click here to listen.

John Zippert has over 45 years experience in community organizing, cooperative and credit union development, community based economic development and rural development in distressed communities. Prior to working for the Federation, he was a fieldworker for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Louisiana. He has a BA degree in history from the City College of New York; and has received extensive training in rural development.

Zippert has worked with the Federation on the development of affordable housing for low income people in Alabama, including development, loan packaging and construction of over 250 units of single family housing, self-help housing and four rural multi-family projects with 126 units. He also serves on the boards of many regional and national organizations to support rural development activities.

Zippert and his wife Carol are co-publishers of the Greene County Democrat, the weekly newspaper in their home rural community. They have published the newspaper since it was acquired in December 1984 by a community group in the county. The Zippert’s have three children and 11 grandchildren.

Vernon Oakes is President of Oakes Management Inc. As President, he has renovated and managed his own properties, and those owned by other entities since 1985. This former coordinator of the MBA program at Howard University, and MBA graduate of Stanford University, has used his business acumen to benefit the community by providing quality housing for all populations and being a consummate advocate for cooperatives.