Ownership Matters|Issue 17
Labor and Co‑op Together; Letting Go of Power; Funding the Packers
- Editor’s Note: Good News to Share
- Brian Corbin on Forgotten Labor and Cooperative History
- Commentary: Teach a Man to Fish . . . in Cooperation
- Commentary: Funding the Packers
- Books: Wrobel and Massey’s Letting Go
- Next Egg’s Warnings
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share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkWe Have Good News to Share
We’re at the six-month mark with Ownership Matters, time to offer our wonderful subscribers an update we think will be of interest.
First, a few stats. Given that we are a bit specialized in our subject matter, we have a first goal of 1,000 subscribers and we are well underway toward getting there. Our readers are a great mix of social entrepreneurs, co-op folks, business advisors, financial folks, and movement people.
We are also eager to expand the number of editorial voices here and we’ve done that. As you’ll see from our new masthead, we have added three people to our staff with this issue:
- Júlia Martins Rodrigues as a new Contributing Editor;
- Daniel Fireside, also as a new Contributing Editor; and
- Zoe Crim, our new Editorial Assistant
For the New Year, watch for an announcement about a new series of monthly events for you, our readers. These online conversations will be a chance to engage with our editors as they interview someone doing great work around employee ownership and talking about how they do it.
We also want to use them to interact with you — to get your feedback on the newsletter and your ideas for future articles and coverage.
Happy holidays . . . and more to come!
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkSome Forgotten U.S. Labor and Cooperative History
A Conversation with Catholic Charities USA’s Brian Corbin
Brian Corbin is Executive Vice President, Member Services, with Catholic Charities USA, and served as the Director of Catholic Charities, Social Action and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio from 1987 to 2014. He is also an adjunct professor with the DeVille School of Business at Walsh University, has done graduate work on political economy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and serves as a board director of the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program (EFSP).
In your career, while working full time for Catholic Charities USA, you have also been involved in the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, which touches the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, and Co‑op Cincy — to name just a few projects.
But you were based in Youngstown, Ohio for much of your earlier career. So maybe we should start there.
Sure. Let’s go back a ways to 1977, when the steel mills started to close. In Youngstown, [ Ed. note: with a total population of around 115,000 at this time ], 50,000 people over the course of four years lost their jobs in the steel industry. That was just core steel workers, not counting the jobs peripheral to those jobs. Watching this happen, Bishop James W. Malone, the Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown at the time, asked his social action director and his Catholic Charities director, to put together a coalition to buy out the steel mills and convert them to community-owned cooperatives.
Wow. A bishop organizing a buyout / conversion of a steel mill. Incredible.
They put together a group called the Ecumenical Coalition. John Carr, now at Georgetown University and at the time a young staffer at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was asked to write a document about this. It was called the Pastoral Letter of the Ecumenical Coalition and published on September 19th 1977.
Malone and the others had brought together Rabbi Sidney Horowitz, John Burt, the Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, and a Presbyterian leader. And that was called the Ecumenical Coalition. They also hired a lawyer named Staughton Lynd.
The famous peace activist from the Vietnam era —
Yep, exactly. He was a legal services lawyer at the time. An expert on eminent domain, which played a big part in a lawsuit relating to cooperative law, which was not very developed at the time and which they lost. So they hired Staughton and they hired Gar Alperovitz.
Co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, among other things —
Yes. At the time Gar was working for Lazard Freres, the investment bank —
Gar was working for an investment bank?!
Yep, and he was asked to be part of the team with Staughton Lynd. The head of Catholic Charities for Youngstown and my predecessor in that job was Father Ed Stanton who was also the bishop’s lead person with the coalition.
They pulled together a bid of $300 million to submit to either the U.S. Department of Commerce or HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in the Carter administration in order to buy out one steel mill. It was one of the smaller companies, which would have made it more manageable, and it was to become a worker / community-owned steel mill.
They created an initiative called Save Our Valley, for which they raised $14 million by asking people to match funds. And they created a cooperative structure made up of the steelworkers and the community. And they went to Washington for funding for this proposal.
Wow. So what happened?
The Carter administration decided to give $300 million and a lot more to Lee Iacocca, in order to bail out the Chrysler Corporation where he was the highly visible CEO.
And they threw Youngstown a $25 million planning grant. So that was the end of that proposal.
However, Staughton, Gar, Bishop Malone, Rabbi Horowitz, and Bishop Burt continued to look for ways to mitigate more shutdown disasters as more mills continued to close. They went up to U.S. Steel. And that’s where the issue of eminent domain became an important thing. Staughton started a process of invoking the public good in hopes of persuading the courts to allow the U.S. Steel mill in Youngstown to be taken over by eminent domain.
In order that it could be taken over by the new community-owned cooperative?
That was the legal concept they were testing. It went nowhere. It got creamed in the courts. But it had a huge ripple effect, which then led to the creation of the TriState Conference on Steel, which then led to the demonstrations in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, which failed, and then led to ISG Weirton Steel in West Virginia, which is still today a national employee-owned mill.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkTeach a Man to Fish . . . in Cooperation
Júlia Martins Rodrigues
Zurich, Switzerland: It is eight minutes to eleven o’clock, as I stand in front of a square where the morning sun still shines on the striped tents of the large marketplace behind Oerlikon Railway Station, the bright orange logo of COOP Group right next to it.
This weekly market, a long-standing tradition in Zurich, has top-quality goods for sale directly from producers, mostly regional organic farmers, which draw a crowd of health-minded consumers. A stand belonging to a family of fishermen stood out to me there. Wild Alaskan salmon is sold in Switzerland through the efforts of a small group who travel yearly to North America to source their harvest. A devoted crowd of customers was waiting in front of their tent to add their names to the waiting list. The desire for immaculate food — or something of the sort — without plastic or GMO fish feed, combined with a sense of closeness to the people providing their food, probably contribute to the impressive size of that list.
Neighboring the farmer’s market, over 150 years of Swiss cooperative enterprise is on display at one of the thousands of retail outlets of the COOP Group, which began as a small consumer cooperative and became an international retail and wholesale cooperative business with the largest selection of organic-grade fish and seafood. The strong presence of cooperative markets extends across the country, from large cities such as Zurich to small centers such as Frutigen, with an abundance of locally produced goods.
Unique structures built around a common core. Both markets share the same economic environment, identifying and evaluating potential alternatives in order to confront modern society's social, technical, and environmental challenges. Both sum up — in a small local initiative and in an international enterprise — the perspective of different models of entrepreneurship focused on creating a sustainable economy. They embody new perspectives on doing business when that can no longer mean solely making a profit.
The scene I saw in Zurich is a small but significant sample of a more robust movement that has been quietly growing around the world over centuries. Cooperation has left its traces throughout history and was a sine qua non for the advancement of humanity, rooted in ancient social experiences. The building blocks of cooperativism are the continuous collection of cross-cultural and cross-generation cases of collaboration. This timeless social standard of survival quietly evolved throughout the ages and gave witness to the unravelling and reinventing of various political, cultural, and social forces. Cultures of cooperation strengthened and expanded through a non-linear but steady path up to the present day, with plenty of examples among existing cooperatives of solid socio-economic performance.
Since the advent of modern cooperatives in the late 1700s, recurring economic crises, including the current COVID-19 meltdown, have called forth an upsurge of cooperation and solidarity as vigorous tools to fight back against capitalism’s precarity, subvert the excessive focus on individual progress, and recover community wellness and economic sustainability. Even though a revolutionary break in our times has been largely dismissed, the winds of change are whispering of an organic shift towards a values-driven system worldwide. One of the most dramatic examples of the latter is the “great resignation” in the U.S., with a historic number of workers quitting their jobs amongst multiple uncoordinated post-pandemic strikes, calling for better work conditions and benefits.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkAre the Green Bay Packers Some Kind of Co‑op?
Thoughts on the Company’s Latest Issue of Shares
“Have you seen this?”, my friend Greg Brodsky over at Start.coop asked me in a recent email. He was referring to the online stock sale the Green Bay Packers hosted on Nov. 16.
Greg was shaking his head at the teams’ campaign to raise $90 million — for new video boards and “concourse improvements” at Lambeau Field. (The NFL rules require that any funds raised from stock sales — and only one NFL team can offer those must be used for stadium projects which are “beneficial to fans.”)
“They’re making people think they’re buying into some kind of a co‑op!” he added in amused disbelief. After looking at the prospectus, I had to agree. (If you check out the traditional seven cooperative principles, it’s pretty clear the Packer organization does not qualify.)
This is the sixth, ahem, stock sale in the Packers’ 102-year history. The first three sales — 1923, 1935, 1950 — were about “survival of the organization,” according to Packers prez Mark Murphy. Given the economics of the times, you could also call them legit crowdfunding campaigns — even appealing to literal crowds in the stands to help the team stay in business.
The latter three sales, Murphy acknowledges, “were really about Lambeau Field.” I would argue the latter three are also about the rise of sports marketing and extractive retail real estate. Which means Lambeau Field is not only a sacred shrine (like Wrigley Field in Chicago) but will soon become another Disney-like cash register for the operators and owners of the concessions there — but not for the holders of microscopic equity stakes.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkLetting Go of the Top-Down Approach to Philanthropy
Participation: it’s a word that captures much of the dynamic around both economic democracy and shared ownership.
As the authors of Letting Go make clear, it requires that those with the power (in this case, the focus is on professionals in philanthropy and impact investing) think a new, often unthinkable thought: to do the most good, you’ll have to give up control.
Partly inspired by the example of the Boston Ujima Project, Ben Wrobel (Village Capital) and Meg Massey explain that the key term here is participatory funding (or PF) — the idea that the best way for donors and funders to impact the lives of a community or a neighborhood is to turn over financial decision-making power to the people who live there.
The authors believe we need to do two things at the same time: reform philanthropy and rebuild democracy. One of the tools which is somewhat interchangeable between these two goals is that of participatory budgeting, a civic mechanism invented in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in the 1980s and utilized today in more than 7,000 municipalities today (including New York City and Chicago).
Some key points:
- Philanthropy plays such a large role in public affairs because public institutions around the world today are failing to meet basic needs.
- The style of philanthropy most commonly found today is “market-based,” whereby foundations are run on principles of commercial business. (A popular variation: “moneyball philanthropy” (borrowing from the book about winning baseball teams) that claims donations should go to the organizations with the best-looking empirical data.
- The vast majority of impact funds (in an impact investing market soon approaching $1 trillion) have operating models that closely mimic those of traditional investment firms, which are notoriously insular, secretive, and unaccountable to anyone besides shareholders.
- The slogan of the disability rights movement — ”nothing about us without us” — has become a rallying cry for greater participation everywhere.
- PF shifts decision-making power to people with lived experience of the problem at hand . . . . The funder gives a voice to people who don’t usually get a say in the decision, voluntarily letting go of power in the process.
- The inside argument for PF: shifting decision-making power will result in better decisions, tapping into lived experience and perspectives beyond the ivory tower. (In other words, an argument for efficacy.)
- The outside argument for PF: the moral and ethical obligations that come with a commitment to justice dictate this kind of approach. (In other words, an argument for equity.)
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkRadically Rethinking Retirement
What if the following 5 assumptions about savings, retirement, and investment are not only misleading but “unsafe”?
- People should have 401(k)s and IRAs.
- Our money should be invested to grow.
- Everyone can save for retirement.
- Individual accumulation will keep us safe.
- Retirement is normal.
That’s what the Next Egg, a network of people taking over their retirement assets in order to self-direct and redirect them in socially transformative ways, is asking — and in a pretty dramatic and fundamental way.
Here are a few of their comments taken from their “New Directions for the Next Egg”:
- 401(k)s and IRAs: “They basically trap our savings on a path of supporting deepening inequality and ecological destruction.”
- On investing to grow: “The Next Egg believes that repair should be the guiding logic of what happens with any accumulated wealth. . . . The Next Egg will begin shifting our attention away from investment models that turn money into more money. Instead, we will lift up, experiment with, and learn about collective wealth building models, where the most important ‘return’ is growing trust that we can meet our collective needs for food, water, shelter, clean air, and more.
- On saving for retirement: “Only 31% to 49% of people in the U.S. have enough savings to support themselves for 3 months. . . . The Next Egg will no longer treat retirement savings as ‘normal.’ We want to center and normalize the majority of people who have little to no retirement savings, while supporting others to grapple with the quandaries of having accumulated retirement savings.”
- Safety via individual accumulation: “We do not believe any amount of accumulation will make individuals safe from the physical and emotional suffering that drought, fires, floods, food shortages, and other climate emergencies may bring. We need another approach to our collective safety.”
- Retirement as normal: “If we build a new economy around a fundamental right to have our needs met, then we disconnect our ability to survive from our ability to do paid work. The ways that all of us find belonging and contribute to our communities can become infinitely diverse and evolve naturally throughout our lifetimes, such that there may no longer be a certain age at which we want or need to stop contributing.”
Coming in Issue 18, January 11
- A conversation with Erik Forman of Driver’s Co-op
- Books: Morgan Simon’s Real Impact
Article ideas? Submissions? Helpful suggestions?
Contact the editor: email@example.com.
- Elias Crim, Editor
founder, Solidarity Hall; former business journalist and publishing consultant
- Júlia Martins Rodrigues, Contributing Editor
attorney (Brazil); visiting scholar, law, University of Colorado Boulder; PhD candidate, civil and constitutional law, University of Camerino
- Daniel Fireside, Contributing Editor
founder, Uncommon Capital Solutions; board member, Namaste Solar; capital coordinator, Downtown Crenshaw Rising
- Zoe Crim, Editorial Assistant
B.A., linguistics, Indiana University Bloomington; co-founder Fair Trade group
- Paul Bowman, Design / Content Mgr.
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