Ownership Matters|Issue 13
Law and Land Craft; Schneider on Cooperative Identity; Union and Co‑op
- Editorial: The Times Are Right
- Janelle Orsi on Law and Land Craft
- Reflecting with Nathan Schneider — Part Two
- “EO Equals” Campaign
- Co-op Cincy’s Union Co-op Symposium, Nov 12–13
- Savvy’s You Need to Ask Patients
- A Conversation about Religious Socialism with Fran Quigley
- Start.coop Recruiting Its 2022 Cohort
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share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkThe Times Are Right: Labor and Co-ops
The upcoming Union Coop Symposium, sponsored by Co-op Cincy, reminded me of a photo on a back wall of the wonderful Studebaker automobile museum here in my town of South Bend.
The caption on the photo indicates it is from “circa 1950,” a time when the post-World War II consumer boom was getting underway for the big auto companies. Studebaker management’s relations with UAW Local #5 were fairly good, worker satisfaction was high. Several things are striking about the photo.
First, the biracial nature of the crowd in this scene of a company-wide meeting held during Jim Crow times.
Second, the posters on the wall from Local #5’s educational committee include one boosting labor and co-ops as “spearheads of progress.” Another reads “My dad says co-ops are building a better future for me.” Another is a bullet-point list of the virtues of co-ops — “open membership,” “one member, one vote,” “are neutral in race, religion, and politics,” etc.
In fact, at the time Studebaker had a credit union and its own company store, organized as a worker co-op.
On the subject of labor / co-op partnership, I recently interviewed a veteran labor observer who was living in Youngstown, Ohio in 1977 when the series of rolling layoffs began in that city of 140,000 people.
Over the next four years, a stunning total of 50,000 workers became unemployed. In near desperation, a coalition of local organizations came together — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish — and put together a rescue plan aimed at buying one of the steel mills in town and converting it to a combined worker- and city-owned enterprise.
The Youngstown coalition then asked the Carter administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development for $350 million in financing in order to stop their city’s economic freefall. Unfortunately, the administration decided to bail out the Chrysler Corporation instead, to the tune of $1.5 billion — an unheard-of amount of Federal investment in a private company at the time.
Whether labor and the co-op community might ever come together again in such solidarity is hard to say. But our labor history offers us some inspiring examples. And surely the times are right.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkLaw and Land Craft
I’m Janelle Orsi, a cartoonist, an activist, and a lawyer focused on transitioning land back to the commons.
At the Law Center, we have a lot of programs related to land and worker co-ops and finance. We are part of something much bigger and have links to several land projects we are working with. Beautiful organizations that are getting title to land. Not just owning land but transforming the relationship to it and to each other. What we’re doing today is simply offering our best nuggets of wisdom and pointing toward sources that will help you craft your own land relationships.
As lawyers, we have people who ask us how to form structures. “Should we be a limited equity housing organization?” People want to put things in legal boxes and it’s very tempting to say sure, here are your options and your next steps.
But if we really want to transform things, what we are creating should not fit into any of the existing boxes. There is no formula. And we should be trying to disrupt the usual boxes.
I love this phrase land craft. The truth is: what we need to do is just harness our natural intuition, come together, and be creative together. That is the way we are going to transform our relationships to land.
This is legal advice. It does not sound like legal advice. But the things that feel right are the things that work best. You will hear us use words such as love or relationship. That is in fact the best way to legally protect land and our relationships to it.
For over fourteen years, I have been doing this work as a lawyer for land projects and radical real estate projects. Something is happening that feels like a paradigm shift. Groups are coming to us, so many groups, in such a different way than I have seen before. They are setting aside the idea that land is a thing they can simply own and profit from. They are groups of people really nested in the broader movements for transformation. They see land as a permanent community asset, not something they will trade in later to cash in. That is evidence of a paradigm shift.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkNathan Schneider Reflects on Everything for Everyone (Part Two)
Nathan Schneider is a professor of media studies and director of the MEDLab at University of Colorado at Boulder, a co-founder of Start.coop, and a board member with Zebras Unite. He serves as an advisor to this publication. Part one of this interview with him can be read here.
This year the theme of co-op identity has really emerged among several of the big co-op organizations — the NCBA / CLUSA, the International Cooperative Alliance in particular. What are your thoughts on why this theme had to re-emerge and from what?
Right — there are a few dynamics at work here. One is the legacy of the Cold War — for years, there was a cultural suppression of cooperatives, when there was often pressure to act like respectable capitalists. This was the case with my own grandfather. He was the CEO of a national purchasing co-op, but in those Cold War times, that wasn’t something he would come home and talk about. Even my mother never knew that her father worked for a cooperative. This was cultural suppression, and it produced a kind of self-censorship.
But that seems to be changing. Remember the kerfuffle a year or so ago or so when Land O’Lakes removed the fake Native American lady from their butter packaging? But what nobody much noticed was the way they replaced her with the words “farmer owned.” A number of large legacy co-ops are similarly putting their identity front and center again after hiding it actively for a couple generations. REI is doing it, too, and a number of credit unions.
Then there’s also just kind of the natural drift, where management gets a nice gig and doesn’t want anybody in their way — which can be a tendency in any kind of business, not just co-ops. In some parts of the country these attitudes became intertwined with racism — a means of trying to ensure that a white minority continues to control cooperatives in largely Black communities.
I think there’s an opportunity again in the co-op community to stir people up about this renewed sense of identity, just like we need civil society organizations that stir up our political activity. Like any kind of politics, the cooperative movement needs to rediscover its purpose in every generation.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy link“EO Equals” Campaign to Widen Understanding of Employee Ownership
Most readers here can probably recite some of the benefits of employee ownership: Increased profits! Secure owner retirement! Motivated employees! Access to capital for growth!
Unfortunately we are mostly the choir, not the 32.5 million small businesses in the U.S., very few of which are employee-owned or have even contemplated the idea.
Happily, the Kendeda Fund, an Atlanta-based foundation which includes community wealth-building in its mission, has recruited four grantee partners — the Evergreen Coops, the ICA Group, Nexus Community Partners, and Project Equity — to try to broadcast this message to the world of small business more effectively.
Their initiative is called EO Equals, and it maps to Kendeda’s goals of helping the retention of more local businesses, improving job quality, addressing the racial wealth gap, and influencing the philanthropic and impact investing communities to embrace employee ownership more fully.
The EO Equals website includes case studies of business conversions as well as a free downloadable EO workbook.
Upcoming : Nov. 12–13
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkFifth Biennial Union Co-op Symposium from Co-op Cincy
Anyone interested in practical tools for starting and running a union worker cooperative (or just wanting to know exactly what one is) can register for this event co-sponsored by Co-op Cincy and 1worker1vote.
The two-day event will be both virtual (Nov. 12) and in-person in Cincinnati (Nov. 13). This distinctive gathering will include social entrepreneurs, labor organizers, co-op workers, community development practitioners, and others with a vested interest in equitable economic development.
Registration for the virtual only day (Friday, Nov. 12) is $50, the in-person day only (Saturday, Nov. 13) is $100, and the price for both is $125. Need-based financial assistance is available.
The organizers have reserved a block of rooms at Comfort Suites Cincinnati University – Downtown. All rooms must be booked before Tuesday, Nov. 9 to obtain the group rate.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkRead Savvy’s New Book You Need to Ask Patients
If you’re in healthcare and want to take a multi-stakeholder approach, then you should be thinking about diversity and inclusion, Jen Horonjeff argues in Savvy Cooperative’s new e-book. Especially if you work in any of these areas:
- Digital health
- Product design
- Investment / new business
This “step-by-step guide to creating a mindset of inclusion” starts from Horonjeff’s own journey as a patient with a life-long chronic condition. Her book is partly a constructive critique of the industry’s “patient-centricity” mantra, about which she concluded “caring about patients isn’t enough.”
She comments, “it is not uncommon that we patients are prescribed the Hummer of treatment plans, regardless of whether we have a place to park it at home.” If the healthcare providers had bothered to ask a diverse group of patients, she adds, they might have learned that patient needs might be better served with a Corolla, a bicycle, or a subway card.
And thus the idea for Savvy came about, a patient-owned public benefit co-op and a patient insights platform. The new e-book suggests that patient advocacy is on a similar trajectory with Black Lives Matters: a growing number of big brands are issuing supportive statements and the world seems to be waking up to the issues.
Online Event : Friday, Oct. 29
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkA Conversation about Religious Socialism with Fran Quigley
Join co-sponsors Solidarity Hall and Zebras Unite as they host attorney and author Fran Quigley for a discussion of his new book, Religious Socialism.
Responding to Fran will be Umar Nasser, with the UK-based Rational Religion project, speaking from an Ahmadi Muslim perspective, and Charles (Chaz) Howard of the University of Pennsylvania, speaking from an African-American Protestant perspective.
This free event will be on Friday, October 29, noon –1 PM ET. Registration and attendance are through Crowdcast.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkStart.coop Is Recruiting Its 2022 Accelerator Cohort
Are you a recovering Silicon Valley type who left that madness behind because you believe there’s got to be a better way? There is!
Come explore cooperative entrepreneurship: the foundation of a new and more equitable economy.
Applications are now open at Start.coop, the co-op accelerator. As co-founder Greg Brodsky says, “if you’re a tech founder who cares about wealth inequality and the racial wealth gap, co-op ownership should be your default choice!”
Startups who are chosen for the cohort receive $10K in seed funding with an opportunity for additional funds.
Apply via Start.coop’s 2022 program info page — deadline November 7.
Coming in Issue 14, November 2
- Interview: Daniel Fireside on funding the revolution
- Who was Louis Kelso?
- Review: Mariana Mazzucato’s The Value of Everything
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