One of the world’s largest construction workers’ cooperatives

From the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research about the floods in the Indian state of Kerala this summer:

The Chief Minister of Kerala – Pinarayi Vijayan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – said as the flood waters receded, ‘Our aim is not merely a restoration of the State to pre-flood times, but to the creation of a new Kerala’. Karat had mentioned the long tradition of community building and cooperative activity in the state. One of those institutions is the Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society (UCLLS), one of the world’s largest construction workers’ cooperatives (about which, please see this book from LeftWord Books written by Kerala’s Finance Minister T. M. Thomas Isaac and Professor Michelle Williams). UCLLS has already deployed its teams for rehabilitation work across the state. But more than that, the cooperative says that it will support the restoration needs of homes in Meloor and elsewhere – rebuilding homes and offering medical support. Two hundred volunteers, in twenty teams of ten, will begin to work immediately.

Movies about Successful Cooperatives

1) “FOOD COOP” takes us deep into the belly of the Park Slope Food Coop, one of America’s oldest cooperative food supermarkets, with a healthy dose of insight and wit.

Nestled deep in New York City, which, for many, exemplifies both the glory and the horrors of the capitalist spirit, you can find this highly prosperous institution, just as American and certainly more efficient than Wall Street, but whose objective is entirely non-profit. Working against everything that defines “The American Way of Life,” the basic principles of the Park Slope Food Coop are simple: each of its 16,000 members work 2.75 hours per month to earn the right to buy the best food in New York at incredibly low prices. This Brooklyn coop founded in 1973 is probably the best implemented socialist experience in the United States.

Through FOOD COOP, you will see this institution come to life and witness how the enthusiasm that animates the Park Slope Food Coop demonstrates a potential for change; how the coop’s mode of participation viscerally teaches democracy to those who take part in its activities.

2) “FOOD FOR CHANGE” looks at the current resurgence of food cooperatives in America and their unique historic place in the economic and political landscape. Born in the heartland, cooperatives are seen as the middle path between Wall Street and Socialism.

The film profiles several food co-ops that have revived neighborhoods and communities – right in the shadows of corporate agribusinesses and supermarket chains. It’s an inspiring example of community-centered economies thriving in an age of globalization.


Co-op Day on Saturday

Cooperation DC, a project of the ONE DC Black Workers and Wellness Center, is celebrating its new home in Anacostia. To bring awareness to our move, we are inviting you to a cookout this Saturday August 4th from 4pm-7pm. Stop by the ONE DC Black Workers and Wellness Center (2500 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, SE) to enjoy food, learn about the benefits of worker cooperatives in Ward 8 and throughout the District, and to brainstorm how Cooperation DC can uplift workers in Southeast. We would like to strategize with everyone that comes through about your vision for future dignified workplaces.

Click here to RSVP

Coop DC Day.png

What is a worker cooperative?

A worker cooperative is a business that is owned and governed by its employees. Instead of being run solely for profit, a worker cooperative operates with shared leadership at its core. It measures its success in the wellbeing of its members, its sustainability as a business, and its contribution to the communities and environments in which it operates.

Why worker cooperatives?

– Better wages, better benefits
– Higher quality jobs
– Worker control over jobs and work environment
– Increased job security
– Prioritization of human, community, and environmental needs over product/profit

Join DC Co-op Stakeholders’ Group

Dear worker-owners and allies –

A group of co-op advocates – the DC Co-op Stakeholders’ Group – has been meeting for over a year to discuss how best to help start new co-ops and strengthen existing co-ops in DC.

Many ideas are being discussed, but they all revolve around designing and developing programs, policies, legislation, and a new dedicated co-op development center that will support local co-ops and start-ups.

There’s just one problem: we haven’t had nearly enough participation from existing DC co-ops, to help guide this effort!

That why I’m writing to you now – I’m hoping that one or more members of every DC worker co-op (and former worker-owners, and any that you may know) can attend the next meeting of the DC Co-op Stakeholders’ Group – this Saturday, June 16th, 12 noon, at Bread for the City, 1525 7th St. NW

If so, please reply and let me know, so we can plan for attendance.

And if you’re from a co-op that can’t send any members, please reply and let me know that too, so I can get your input and help carry your thoughts to the meeting.

More background: Originally convened by staff of the DC Government’s Dept of Small and Local Business Development, the DC Co-op Stakeholders’ Group is now becoming self-organizing, and will be posting volunteer openings for a formal steering committee soon – we’re hoping to get substantial representation from DC’s co-ops and worker co-ops on that steering committee, so please stay tuned!

The group drafted a mission statement (here: that summarizes its thoughts about how to help DC co-ops get started and get stronger. The group sees particular needs for access to fair employment and healthy food, and is thus prioritizing worker co-ops and food co-ops. We also staffed a table at last October’s National Co-op Festival on the Mall and got lots of good response and interest from local folks.

Hope to see you this Saturday at noon – and thanks for forwarding this on to any DC worker co-op members, and former worker-owners, that you may know!

PS – if you want to be joined to the DC Co-op Stakeholders’ Group Slack group, reply to me and ask, and I’ll see that you get an invite.



Jim Johnson
Co-founder and Certified Peer Advisor
Democracy At Work Network – 240-621-0921


Creating Food Co-ops

Tune in to WOL 1450 AM, June 14, at 10:30 am, for Everything Co-op, hosted by Vernon Oakes. This week Vernon interviews Stuart Reid, Executive Director of Food Co-op Initiative, (FCI). Vernon and Stuart will discuss how FCI works with communities to  establish food Cooperatives in diverse neighborhoods, and other programs and initiative spearheaded by FCI.

FCI aims to increase the number, success, and sustainability of new food cooperatives delivering access to healthy food in diverse communities across this country. It provides information, training, and technical assistance, as well as seed capital, and engages in research, to blaze, maintain and improve the development path for new food coops.

For more information on Stuart Reid, or the Food Co-op Initiative
Click Here!

To listen live online Click Here!
or Click Here! to Listen on your cell phone with Tune-in Radio

What are you doing on the International Day of Cooperatives?

On July 7, 2018, cooperators around the world will celebrate the International Day of Cooperatives. According to Wikipedia:

International Co-operative Day is an annual celebration of the co-operative movement observed on the first Saturday in July since 1923 by the International Co-operative Alliance.

On December 16, 1992, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed in resolution 47/90 “the first Saturday of July 1995 to be International Day of Cooperatives, marking the centenary of the establishment of the International Cooperative Alliance.”[1] Since 1995 the United NationsInternational Day of Co-operatives has been observed jointly alongside International Co-operative Day.

The aim of this celebration is to:

  • increase awareness of cooperatives,
  • highlight the complementary goals and objectives of the United Nations and the international cooperative movement,
  • underscore the contributions of the movement to the resolution of the major problems addressed by the United Nations,
  • and to strengthen and extend partnerships between the international cooperative movement and other actors.

Whether or not you agree with this approach, we can use this day to think about what our part might be in the international cooperative movement. Are you planning something to celebrate the International Day of Cooperatives on July 7th?


Cornelius “Cornbread” Givens

I finally created a Wikipedia entry for national advocate for cooperatives and civil rights leader Cornelius “Cornbread” Givens:  For those of you who knew Givens or who know about him, please feel free to edit the Wikipedia entry or email me with suggestions for edits, additions, etc.:

Here is the Wikipedia entry:

Cornelius “Cornbread” Givens (1931-2008), usually known as Cornbread Givens, was a civil rights leader and a national advocate for cooperatives. He was also known as the first African American to run for mayor of a major US city, Jersey City, New Jersey.

Early life

In 1931, Givens was born in Jersey City. From 15 to 18 years old, he was stationed in the South Pacific.[1] In 1952, he and Alma Montgomery married. They had two children, Kevin and Pamela.[1] During the early 1960s, Givens owned his own home remodeling business.[2]


In 1961, Givens began his political career in the New Frontier Political Democratic Club, which began running African American political candidates.[3] By 1963, Givens was president of the club and promised to run an African American for mayor of Jersey City in two years.[4] In 1965, Givens ran for mayor of Jersey City. His campaign platform included federally-financed factories run by African Americans, history books reflecting a more accurate understanding of African American contributions, funds to rehabilitate neighborhoods and build middle-class cooperatives, and rent control.[5] He came in sixth out of seven contenders.[6]

Givens committed his life to building anti-poverty organizations run by poor people like himself. He said, “One day when I was 13, I grew so sick of poverty that I cried. I vowed then the next generation would not endure what I had to suffer.”[7] From 1964, he worked for CAN DO, an anti-poverty organization that trained teenage boys to do construction.[8] Then, he formed Poverty Organization of Rehabilitation (POOR)[9] and Grass Rooters Interested in Poverty Elimination (GRIPE).[10]

Givens became a leader in the Poor People’s Campaign. Mayor John Lindsey appointed Givens New York coordinator of the campaign.[2] During Resurrection City, a multiracial group, including Givens, decided that America’s poor needed its own “embassy,” a Poor People’s Embassy in Washington, DC.[11] From this embassy, Givens launched the Poor People’s Development Foundation (PPDF), which sought to help poor communities develop cooperatives. From 1969, Givens was the president and the board included Chicano activist Reies Tijerina, Tillie Walker, and Black Panther Mark Comfort.[12] By 1971, PPDF worked on establishing farm cooperatives in the South and linking them to northern consumers, as well as supporting community control of urban renewal efforts in Chicago.[12] The farm cooperatives formed in response to the backlash against the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Southern tenant farmers who decided to register to vote were, in retaliation, evicted from their tenant farms. Givens and PPDF worked to connect Southern farmers’ cooperatives with consumer food cooperatives, farmers’ markets, health food stores, and collective warehouses, which he set up around Newark, NJ and New York City. Members of the PPDF trucked food up to Newark and New York City to be sold in farmers’ markets and health food stores.[13]

When Mayor Marion Barry was elected as mayor of Washington, DC, Givens moved to Washington, DC. By May 1980, Barry made Givens chairperson of his new Commission on Cooperative Economic Development,which aimed to make Washington, DC, a demonstration city for cooperative development.[13] Givens envisioned cooperatives as a way to forge economic and political power among low- and moderate-income residents.[13]

In 1985, Givens told FBI agents about phony contracts that DC government employee Ivanoe Donaldson had run through Givens’ organization. Donaldson eventually was sentenced to seven years for his embezzlement and fined. Givens was never charged with any wrongdoing.[14]

DC Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon helped Givens establish the University of the District of Columbia‘s Center for Cooperatives.[14]


 1. “‘Poverty Makes You Think’ Says Givens”. Jersey Journal. March 30, 1965.
2. “Cornelius Givens One of U.S. Big Five in New Poverty Coalition”. Jersey Journal. July 2, 1968.
3. Berg, Nat (February 20, 1962). “Dem Club Plans to Run Full Ticket”. Jersey Journal.
4. Berg, Nat (September 14, 1963). “Weehawken Mayor May Be In Trouble”. Jersey Journal.\
5. “Negro Candidate Wants Negro-Run Factories”. Jersey Journal. March 19, 1965.
6. “Whelan in One”. Jersey Journal. May 12, 1965.
7. “Givens Gets Petitions for Mayor Race”. Jersey Journal. February 19, 1965.
8. Weitzman, Jerrold (February 4, 1965). “CAN DO Youths Complete 1st Chore: Project Painting”. Jersey Journal.
9. “Officials Invited to School Dance”. Jersey Journal. August 4, 1966.
11. Mantler, Gordon (2013). Power to the Poor: Black-brown coalition and the fight for economic justice, 1960-1974. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 176–177.
12. Mantler, Gordon (2013). Power to the Poor: Black-brown coalition and the fight for economic justice, 1960-1974. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 192.
13. Bockman, Johanna (2016). “Home Rule from Below: The Cooperative Movement in Washington, DC”. Capital Dilemma Growth and Inequality in Washington, D.C.: 66–85.
14. Cherkis, Jason (November 5, 1999). “Dreams and Cornbread”. Washington City Paper.