Please sign new Downtown Crenshaw petition

DO IT AGAIN: take 2 min to go to sign the NEW petition and donate for Black LA.

They are trying to sell our 40 acres for the 4th time, your signature turns into another email to the sellers letting them know that we are not backing down. The work is long, but the repercussions will be also. Stand with us today for Black self-determination, for thriving and rooted communities in South LA, for safety, health, nourishment, and cooperativism.

Sign, donate, share, share, share, share…

Downtown Crenshaw and local residents are tired of all the gentrification that is displacing the community and refuses to sit back any longer. They have been attempting to buy the mall for a long time, but have been ignored. They have now stepped up to let those involved know that they will be very resourceful in ensuring that they will be included in these talks and be heard, even if this means that they have to go to the homes of all those who are dismissing and ignoring them.

#DowntownCrenshaw #40AcresAndAMall
#LIVWRK #AsherAbehsera
#FDT #Trump #JaredKushner #Kushner
#SageFuchs #KelseyHunter #CIM
#ProtectTheHood #CrenshawMall #OnlyTheHoodCanSaveTheHood
@mhdcd8 @hollyjmitchell @mrtempower @livwrk @ktla5news @nbcla @cbsla @abc7la @lasentinelnews @lafocusnews @laweekly @kcrw

In Solidarity,
Lisabeth Ryder


"Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has." –Margaret Mead"

LUCI and LA Fed Collaborate on Worker Ownership Workshops in 2021

This month, the Los Angeles Union Cooperative Initiative (LUCI) begins a local labor union outreach program in Los Angeles County in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor by giving a presentation to the monthly delegates meeting on January 25th, 2021 at 7 PM. LUCI is bringing experts from around the country to educate local labor unions in a series of monthly workshops on topics that include the basics as well as everything you need to know about ESOPS, writing First Right of Refusal Language in contracts to facilitate worker buyouts of  transitioning businesses, funding sources for buyouts and incubations of new businesses, democratic decision making in a workplace, among others.
Register for the workshops here:

Register here:

Please sign up and donate to founding our non-profit WORCS

Please sign up and donate to founding our non-profit WORCS

WORCS was founded 10 years ago to help create worker cooperatives and the driving force behind a lot of cooperative efforts in Southern California. Our organization is small but it is growing!

Please sign up on our micro-donation page

We have a scale between $5/mo and $20/mo

The consistency on the donations will help us establish a financial track record that will allow us to qualify for grant monies and bank loans to help create more worker cooperatives and educate the public.

Please like our facebook page:

We are in the middle of restructuring our organization as the interest and need for economic alternatives are reaching levels none of us collectively have ever seen in our own lifetimes. WORCS is organizing this effort out of pocket to increase the amount of democratically owned and operated enterprises existing in the American SouthWest.

Arizmendi Bakery:

We currently have a study group that is now in direct talks with the lead cooperative developer, Tim Huet, of the Arizmendi Cooperative which has 5 Bakeries, a construction cooperative, and a Cheese Board cooperative. We are making major headway with this effort to bring this awesome Bakery.

Seed Meetings:

We do seed meetings to different groups around Southern California to explain that worker cooperatives may be an option they never have considered. We most recently had a meeting with 20 workers and the owner of a Cabin Resort near Lake Arrowhead to convert the business into a worker cooperative and the workers are now forming an exploratory committee. This serves as a catalyst sometimes by just simply conveying ideas in a very simple and clear way.

Here are some examples of our work in the city of Santa Ana that is helping the worker cooperative movement. Santa Ana passed ordinanced to help worker cooperative development.

We also have similar work in Las Vegas we are currently retrieving from years past where we generated work that influenced city officials.


WORCS is forming a consortium with Social Tap Cooperative which is a worker cooperative based in the OC/Long Beach area. They have a season of episodes interviewing cooperatives around the United States. We are also in talks about getting a podcast going that talks about cooperatives and economic alternatives. There are also going to do some promotional videos.

We will have this website up in a limited capacity this month. This is an e-commerce website that will sell things sourced only from cooperatives, mainly worker cooperatives. We are waiting to see for things to get more logical(economically) but we have about ten worker cooperatives so far we are going to purchase ranging from board games, gardening equipment, coffee, tea, different nut butters, merchandise, and more. This will help exist cooperatives have a new outlet to sell their products

Please sign up on our micro-donation page

We have a scale between $5/mo and $20/mo

The consistency on the donations will help us establish a financial track record that will allow us to qualify for grant monies and bank loans to help create more worker cooperatives and educate the public.

In Solidarity,
Lisabeth Ryder


"Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has." –Margaret Mead"


LUCI: Los Angeles Union Cooperative Initiative


The Los Angeles Union Cooperative Initiative recognizes and acknowledges the pain, anger, frustration, and horror provoked by historic racism and on-going attacks by the police on Black communities in the U.S. 

We stand in solidarity against the violence endured by Black people, particularly at the hands of law enforcement. We uphold the values of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility, and find strength in the union belief that “an injury to one is an injury to all.”  We uphold the the AFL-CIO’s constitution which states that no affiliate activities can be tolerated that “are consistently directed toward the achievement of the program or purposes of authoritarianism, totalitarianism, terrorism and other forces that suppress individual liberties and freedom of association and oppose the basic principles of free and democratic trade unionism.”

We will lead with our actions by seeking in all of our work to actively dismantle white supremacy and prioritize Black people and communities through this Council.  

We will take public stances against physical, psychological, and other forms of abuse, promote policies that address issues of racism, ally ourselves with labor organizations that take anti-racist positions on these issues, and confront labor organizations that do not.

We stand in solidarity with this statement of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC), and the Union Co-op Council of the USFWC,  and recognize our role and the role of labor in job and wealth creation for Black people through the worker co-op model.



Today, there must be action for justice.

To all Black people: we see you, we love you, and we stand in solidarity with you.

We stand with the massive protests across the country fighting against anti-Black racism and pushing to defund the police. We are proud of how many members raised their voices by joining in those protests. Ninety-nine years to the day after Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma was burned to the ground, our outrage persists. We continue to be enraged by cycles of institutionalized racism in public health, in a system of food apartheid, in hostile public schools, and in militarized police all leading to the loss of Black lives. We continue to show up for one another in these and related struggles. Our communities are strengthened through cooperation when we fight systemic injustices as a multi-racial, multi-gendered movement.

The failure of our government to deliver justice is no surprise while those systems rest on violence, aggression, xenophobia, and anti-blackness. It is enraging that the President yet again calls for attacks on U.S. residents. These cycles cannot continue. We recognize the deep need for a just transition toward a people-centered, inclusive, cooperative economy that uplifts our Black communities instead of extracting wealth from them and tearing them apart. 

Cooperatives stabilize their communities – increasing economic impact, creating dignified jobs, increasing benefits and wages, and encouraging civic participation (Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, Collective Courage). We have the potential for broad-based impact because co-ops are everywhere. We recently heard from USFWC board member Hilary Johnson, who is based in Minneapolis, just a few blocks away from the uprisings this past week. Hilary shared how the local cooperative community has resourced efforts on the ground, like the Hub Bicycle Co-op, itself just half a block away from the 3rd Precinct and the center of actions there.

The USFWC joins movements demanding accountability, oversight, and democratic governance of law enforcement policies. We continue to uplift the Movement for Black Lives policy platform, amplified by the call from Color of Change to end the war on Black people by:

  1. Changing police ‘use of force’ policies.
  2. End ‘broken windows’ policing and stop unnecessary prosecution of low-level offenses.
  3. Establish effective civilian oversight boards with investigative and subpoena powers.
  4. Respond to mental health crises with healthcare, not policing responses.
  5. Require independent investigations in all cases where police kill or seriously injure people.
  6. End the profit motive in policing.
  7. Invest in healthy communities not policing
  8. Do away with unfair protections for officers in police union contracts and Law Enforcement Officers’ ‘Bills of Rights.’
  9. Increase transparency and accountability for officers with records of misconduct.

We know our community is diverse, and we call on non-Black members of our network to truly listen to the clear and persistent directives from Black people. Engage with the demands and calls to actions from Black-led organizations. Amplify their messages. Below are suggestions from among our wider network. They identify suggested bail fund donations, rebuilding through co-op advocacy, offers for virtual spaces to process and heal, and places for sharpening our political education and movement strategies:

Take Action & Learn More

We are witnessing the fall of a system that was built on the exploitation of Black bodies, indigenous land and indigenous bodies, and the continuous denial of basic human rights. The collapse of this system is touching us in a personal and collective way and is now coalescing in a global call to action. As we pass through this moment of grief and rage, we must unify efforts across movements because unleashing democracy– especially when powered by cooperative economics– leads us toward a future that is sustainable, inclusive, and based on principles of racial and economic justice.

In cooperation,

The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives team


Pandemic Crash Shows Worker Co-ops Are More Resilient Than Traditional Business

A white lower-case t on a black backgroundTRUTHOUT


Pandemic Crash Shows Worker Co-ops Are More Resilient Than Traditional Business

A person walks past a closed business in Brooklyn on April 23, 2020, in New York City.A person walks past a closed business in Brooklyn on April 23, 2020, in New York City.SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES
BYBrian Van Slyke, TruthoutPUBLISHEDMay 8, 2020
While we have no way to know yet the full extent of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, by all accounts it could be as bad — if not far worse — than the 2008 crash. In fact, in terms of unemployment alone, the numbers are already staggering: more than 33 million jobs have been lost so far in the U.S. during the coronavirus shutdowns, compared to the roughly 8.6 million lost in the Great Recession.

Following that crisis, many working people turned to the worker cooperative model as a way to build economic resiliency and stability for themselves. In the decade after 2008, the number of worker-owned cooperatives in the United States nearly doubled, increasing from 350 to 600. I know, because I am a member of one of those cooperatives that formed: The TESA Collective, which creates tools and games for social change.

A worker cooperative like ours is a business that is democratically owned and governed by the employees themselves, called worker-owners. Each worker owns one equal share in the business and has one vote in its governance structure. Essentially, it is democracy at work.

“It does the opposite of what a traditional firm does,” says Esteban Kelly, executive director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, an organization supporting the worker cooperative movement, and of which the TESA Collective is a member. “Traditional firms, when times are good, they take that surplus, they distribute it to the investors or maybe pay off debt, but they don’t necessarily do a lot of bonus pay for rank-and-file or increase wages,” Kelly told Truthout. “When times are bad, they panic. And then maybe they get bailed out, maybe they declare bankruptcy … but it’s basically a model of austerity. They’re slashing jobs and benefits.”

Kelly explains that on the other hand, when worker-owned businesses are doing well, they share the benefits among worker-owners. This is most commonly achieved by increasing wages, expanding benefits, distributing dividends to the employees (instead of absentee stockowners) and reinvesting in their communities. But when business is tough, a worker cooperative equitably shares the burden. Instead of mass layoffs, the workers, who are the equal owners, strive to find collective solutions. Worker-owners might vote to take voluntary pay cuts so no one person loses their job, and worker committees might try to find new markets the cooperative can expand into.

Kelly says that because worker co-ops share the benefits in the good times and the burdens in the hard times, they are a more sustainable form of business. And the data agrees with him:

One 2019 study found that worker cooperatives in the United States survive through their first six to 10 years at a rate 7 percent higher than traditional small businesses. And in 2012, research revealed that in France and Spain, worker cooperatives “have been more resilient than conventional enterprises during the economic crisis” that followed the 2008 crash. Another study of businesses in Uruguay from 1997 – 2009 demonstrated that “the hazard of dissolution is 29% lower” for worker-managed firms. In fact, as documented by the Sustainable Economies Law Center, there is a growing body of evidence that shows across the world, cooperatives in general are a more resilient business model.

Cooperating Their Way Through Crisis

Resiliency does not equal immunity to a global pandemic and economic crisis, however, and worker co-ops have certainly felt the impact from the coronavirus outbreak.

“Whole segments of work have disappeared overnight,” says Ross Newport, a longtime worker-owner at Community Printers. Community Printers, a cooperative with 33 members, is an industrial-scale print and packaging shop, having been in business since 1977.

Still, how a worker co-op business responds to and absorbs its losses is decided through cooperative decision making, not passed down from owners and managers.

“We have not laid anyone off,” Newport reports. Community Printers, which has been deemed an essential business in California and remains open, has had to significantly restructure the shop to maintain social distancing. Half of the workers are voluntarily furloughed and receiving unemployment, all while the co-op continues to pay for their benefits.

Yet, in a worker cooperative, protecting the voices of members and their democratic structure is also key. Here too, cooperatives have found creative solutions during this unprecedented crisis.

“It is very difficult to make group decisions with everyone physically separated,” says Newport. So the decision-making processes of the co-op have evolved to match the needs of the current emergency, with members forming small groups that are entrusted to make decisions that the whole cooperative would normally make together.

“We have made it clear that as we come back together all the decisions that have been made by smaller groups can be reviewed. So far, it seems that people appreciate that the crisis requires new solutions.”

Allie Wilson Plasek, a worker-owner at the Mariposa Gardening and Design Cooperative, also said that their business quickly dried up when the pandemic came into full swing. But she believes the cooperative’s democratic ownership structure has been critical for its survival.

“Co-ownership has made this pandemic much easier to swallow as a small business,” Wilson Plasek says. “Based on skill-set, interest and experience, we have all sort of divided up what we can and should be working on. It makes it so employees have a stronger sense of well-being. If we were a sole proprietorship, I think someone would have burned out already with all the expectations of keeping the business afloat.”

This crisis has made clear that one of the strengths of a worker cooperative is not just the democratic ownership structure, but also the ability for workers to pool their collective knowledge and passion.

“Because there are so many of us, and we all deeply care about our studio’s mission and survival, we were all willing to make certain concessions,” says Catherine Murcek of Samamkāya, a yoga studio cooperative with 19 worker-owners. “We adjusted our pay scale so that it is similar but allows the studio to make a little bit more money…. Furthermore, many of us volunteered a lot of time to researching different options for moving forward through the crisis.”

Samamkāya had to quickly adapt to the new social distancing reality: the co-op moved its yoga sessions to online classes only and began working together to access emergency funds through cooperative support organizations, such as the $5,000 they received via the Disaster Recovery Fund grant offered by the Cooperative Development Foundation.

“I just have to say I am so appreciative of the fact that I have a vote in how the business is run,” Murcek says. “We were all able together to come up with a solution that was the best possible for both the worker owners and the survival of the business.”

Transforming Cooperatives to Meet New, Urgent Needs

The democratic ownership structure of cooperatives also allows them to collectively adapt to a changing world.

The worker-owners of Mariposa Gardening and Design Cooperative realized that while they couldn’t offer their normal landscaping services, several of their members were already skilled in growing food gardens. So they launched a new service to build and maintain food beds throughout the Bay Area, in anticipation of growing food uncertainty due to the stress COVID-19 has put on the food system. The purpose of these food gardens is to allow community members to have direct access to food. The co-op will offer to build food beds for customers outside of their homes or apartments, which Mariposa can maintain and harvest — or community members can do themselves.

Meanwhile, the workers at Community Printers have chosen to shift to a model where they are prioritizing work for essential services, manufacturing products that aid in the struggle against the pandemic. They have begun designing and printing large health education posters for freeway overpasses and the sides of busses. And they have also started to expand the type of materials they are producing, manufacturing hospital gowns as well as building partition walls for emergency facilities and homeless shelters.

Some cooperatives have even teamed up to shift their production models to meet aid and relief needs of other cooperatives. Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), the largest worker cooperative in the United States with over 1,000 members, offers home care visits throughout New York City. But shortly after the pandemic struck, CHCA began running out of masks for its staff. Meanwhile, there was a national shortage of surgical masks, and price gouging was making purchasing them in bulk almost impossible.

That’s when CHCA came up with a creative solution: members reached out to another worker-owned cooperative they knew that was skilled in the textile industry. Opportunity Threads, which employs over 50 people and primarily immigrants, typically makes products like special order t-shirts. But by working with CHCA to refine their production line, the worker-owners of Opportunity Threads were able to begin manufacturing the surgical masks for CHCA’s home care workers — offering a desperately needed resource to protect the co-op’s staff and their clients.

Worker Cooperatives as a Path Forward

During a recent online teach-in, author and activist Naomi Klein brought attention to the potential of worker cooperatives as a pathway out of the looming economic crisis.

“As small businesses go into crisis, we need to be pushing for worker ownership. Rather than being shut down, every workplace should have the option for workers to turn it into a cooperative before it goes into bankruptcy,” Klein said.

Many in the worker cooperative movement are already moving quickly to lay the groundwork for such transitions. Matt Cropp, co-executive director of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center, says that many small business owners will likely just decide to close down rather than struggle to become a “re-start-up.”

“Staring down the prospect of 70+ hour weeks and going into debt to recapitalize, many will be giving serious consideration to simply liquidating and walking away,” Cropp told Truthout. “Worker co-op developers are working on how we might reach business owners with the worker co-op conversion idea.”

Converting traditional businesses to worker-ownership has been a growing trend for the worker co-op movement over the past few years, and it appears the coronavirus crisis will speed up the necessity of these efforts. Typically, this transition is achieved when owners sell their business to the employees, which gives owners a safe way to exit the company while allowing workers to keep (and democratize) their jobs.

On the national scale, the worker co-op federation is mobilizing and advocating for existing worker co-ops. Together with a coalition of other cooperative organizations, they successfully lobbied to have cooperatives included in the stimulus funding for small businesses. As a result, Samamkāya was able to be included in the first round of stimulus relief offered by the Small Business Administration, while Community Printers and Mariposa were approved in the second round of funding.

Perhaps most impressive, however, is how the worker co-op federation has been helping to repurpose cooperatives that are temporarily closed to aid in relief efforts.

“We’re trying to organize our members into rapid response co-ops,” says Kelly of the federation. “So taking workforces that are not viable during social distancing and repurposing them into some of the value chains that are needed, like more meal delivery co-ops.”

One of the best examples of the formation of rapid response cooperatives is the above story of CHCA and Opportunity Threads. But beyond that, others have emerged as well, such as Sustainergy, a green home improvement cooperative based in Cincinnati, which has pivoted some of their operations to grocery delivery services for the time being. This is in response to the fact that many people will not be looking to do home improvements while belts tighten, but an increasing number of community members need food brought to their doorsteps.

Worker cooperatives, business models based on mutual aid and solidarity, will likely once again see an explosion of interest and energy as this crisis wears on, just like they did after the 2008 crash. We are heading toward a period of great economic upheaval, and worker-ownership may be one of our most powerful tools in the immediate and long-term aftermath to build economic resiliency for everyday people.

Jessica Gordon Nembhard June 30, 2019 5:00 p.m.

Please help!
Please broadcast this event on all of your channels.
Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, author of Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. Los Angeles June 30.

More digital fliers and postcards on

Sunday • June 30, 2019
5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Mount Saint Mary’s University
Rose Hills Auditorium
10 Chester Place • Los Angeles, CA 90007
Join Us to Build
Cooperative Businesses with People
Returning HOME from Prison or Jail!
An Evening of knowledge sharing,
entertainment & networking
Jessica Gordon-Nembhard
Jessica Gordon-Nembhard is a political economist and professor of community justice and social economic development in the Africana Studies Department at John Jay College, City University of NY; and author of
Collective Courage: A History of African American
Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice.
The evening will include a dynamic program with Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, Cooperative Partners, Collective REMAKE, and entertainment followed by a reception with delicious treats and fun.
Mount Saint Mary’s University • Rose Hills Auditorium
10 Chester Place • Los Angeles, CA 90007
Doors Open: 4:30 p.m.
Network, buy RAFFLE TICKETS, Make ART,
and check out SILENT AUCTION Items.
Program Starts: 5:00 p.m.
Featured Speaker: Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, author of
Collective Courage: A History of African American
Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice*
Panel discussions with Collective REMAKE members
and Community Partners.
Entertainment: TBA
*Collective Courage: A History of African American
Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice
books will be available for purchase at the event
Reception: 7 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Silent Auction, Raffle, and ART Making
Refreshments to include lemonade, ice tea, beer, wine and treats.
Proceeds from this event will go to support
Collective REMAKE and participating partners.

Niki Okuk Represents LUCI at the Bioneers Conference

Worker Cooperatives were discussed by Gar Alperovitz as the Next System at the Bioneers Conference 20 OCT 2018

Why We Need A Next System

As ecological and economic justice movements hit the same hard limits of possibility, being realistic in our time in history means getting serious about what might have formerly been seen as impossible: actually replacing our broken corporate capitalist system. Gar Alperovitz, co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative and co-chair of its Next System Project, will show how we can begin to build together for the systemic change we need to save both democracy and the planet. As a political economist, author, former legislative director in the House and Senate, nonprofit innovator and scholar, Gar will share breakthrough models for community-based political-economic development and new institutions of community wealth ownership. He’ll highlight local, state and national policy approaches to community stability in the era of globalization that really work and can spread widely.

Gar Alperovitz

Co-Founder The Democracy Collaborative

Gar Alperovitz, Ph.D., President of the National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative and co-chair of the Next System Project, has had a distinguished career as a historian, political economist, professor, scholar, activist, policy expert, and government official. The author of many critically acclaimed books, including on atomic diplomacy, his articles are widely published in leading news outlets, and he has frequently testified before Congress.

avatar for Niki Okuk

Niki Okuk

Niki Okuk, MBA, is the founder of Rco Tires, which has recycled more than 300 million pounds of rubber, diverting 70 million gallons of oil from landfills, making it one of California’s largest sustainability plants (it’s also one of its most progressive firms in its hiring and management practices). Okuk previously worked in Joseph Stiglitz’s office and in finance in Korea and Singapore.

avatar for Kali Akuno

Kali Akuno

Kali Akuno, co-founder and Co-Director of Cooperation Jackson, served as the Director of Special Projects in the administration of the late, renowned progressive Jackson, Mississippi Mayor, Chokwe Lumumba, focusing on the development of eco-friendly and human rights-enhancing policies in the city. Kali also previously served as the Co-Director of the U.S. Human Rights Network and as Executive Director of the Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF).

avatar for Aaron Tanaka

Aaron Tanaka

Aaron Tanaka, founder and Director of the Boston-based Center for Economic Democracy, is a community organizer, grant-maker, impact investor, and a founding organizer of the Boston Ujima Project, which brings together neighbors, workers, business owners and investors to create a new community-controlled regional economy. He is an Echoing Green and BALLE Fellow, and co-chair of the national New Economy Coalition and the Asian American Resource Workshop.
avatar for Ellen Brown

Ellen Brown

Ellen Brown, an attorney and leading public banking advocate, founder of the Public Banking Institute and Senior Fellow of the Democracy Collaborative, is the author of hundreds of articles and 12+ books, including the best-selling Web of Debt, The Public Bank Solution and the upcoming Banking on the People. She also co-hosts the "It’s Our Money" radio program on PRN.FM.

Workers Economy Encuentro- Nov. 8-10 in Mexico City

The Workers Economy network is a global network of unions, labor studies centers, cooperatives, activists, and other organizations focused on building worker control.

They convene periodic international and regional gatherings. The next one is a regional conference November 8-10th in Mexico City. Here is more information and the registration info:

It’s a great place to build international solidarity and meet comrades from across Latin America. Is anyone here planning on going?

The Co-op Cafe worker collective is sending a delegation to the conference next month, we’d love to connect with other folks from this network who are planning on attending.

Sick of Being Poor: The Deadly Impacts of Poverty


On Sept. 5, 2018, small-business owner Niki Okuk, who founded Compton, California-based RCO Tires in 2012, explored the way systemic class oppression operates to make and keep people poor, and how this can take its toll on bodies and minds. She recounted the daily challenges and obstacles her employees face in securing affordable housing, reliable transportation, fair treatment by law enforcement and more. Okuk also examined worker-owned cooperative businesses as one way to create greater justice and equity for working people.

Additional resources:

Commonwealth of Toil

union co-op network.pngAddress to Union Co-op Council event at the conference of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives in Los Angeles

Welcome, my name is Lisabeth Ryder and I co-chair the Union Co-op Council of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives with Mary Hoyer. We have done this for over 10 years now; the Union Co-op Council is the oldest council in the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. I am also one of the founders of LUCI: Los Angeles Union Cooperative Initiative.

LUCI is structured as a worker cooperative, democratic and horizontal, to walk the walk as well as talking the talk, so first I would like to ask some of the other founders and members of LUCI to stand up and introduce themselves. Paul Ahrens, Gary Holloway, Niki Okuk, and Molly Talcott.

I would also like to acknowledge, remember, and honor one in our number who is no longer with us, Leslie Gersikoff, Western Regional Director of the Jewish Labor Committee, tireless worker advocate and good friend to many, who passed away recently.

Worker cooperatives achieve 100% workplace democracy, so we founded LUCI to help develop union worker cooperatives and to build bridges between the labor and worker cooperative communities in Los Angeles. We will be asking you to become involved in LUCI but first let me tell you about our journey.

I come from a multi-generational union family here in Los Angeles and have been a member of multiple unions myself such as CFA at the CAL State University, UPTE at UCLA, USU United Staff Union – my staff union at AFSCME and the IWW. I have also worked for both SEIU in the 90’s and AFSCME since 2000.

I look around and I see in the audience other people involved in the labor movement and you are my heros. You get up everyday to wage war, because do not ever doubt the fact that we are engaged in an economic war, which seems to be a war without end. I often ask myself do we have a strategy to win.

Winning is important because the stakes are high. The fight for Economic Justice underlies other struggles for justice.

The assassination of Martin Luther King personally launched me into a lifetime of activism. Fifty years later, I am personally doing a assessment, and I’m sure many in this room are as well. Martin Luther King understood that racial justice and economic justice were inextricably tied and neither could be solved without the radical redistribution of political and economic power. He understood that our communities, especially black communities, are still colonized.

He goes on to say: “We must further recognize that the ghetto is a domestic colony. Black people must develop programs that will aid in the transfer of power and wealth into the hands of residence of the ghetto so that they may in reality control their own destinies.” MLK 1967

Historically, our entire capitalist economy was built on stolen land and stolen labor. Our strategy to win has to take back control of our economy from predatory Capitalists whose rapacious greed has impoverished nations, plundered our resources and polluted the planet. One simple formula comes to mind: we must return the means of production to the workers.

This is the cure for Capitalism. Returning the means of production, returning ownership of our economy to all workers.

My favorite labor song is the Commonwealth of Toil and I want to share:

In the gloom of mighty cities, midst the roar of whirling wheels
we toil on like chattel slaves of old,
as our masters hope to keep us ever thus beneath their heel
and coin our very lifeblood into gold
But we have a glowing dream of how fair the world would seem
if each one could live his life secure and free
If the earth was OWNED by labor and there was joy and peace for all
in the Commonwealth of Toil there is to be!

I spent a long time trying figure out what the Commonwealth of Toil – returning the means of production to the workers – would look like and why unions never seemed to get there. Unions increase workplace democracy and thereby economic democracy. Through unions we have won a greater share of the benefit of the economy for the workers. And with that greater share we built the middle class, bought homes and sent our kids to college.

But are we getting to anything that looks like winning? Are we any closer to the workers owning the economy?

We are in an economic war – and a war without end is a Nightmare

For too long we have been locked into an adversarial relationship, where the Capitalists create the jobs and we fight against the bad jobs they create. The battlefield is defined for us and military strategists like Sun Tzu’s in Art of War, repeatedly emphasize that allowing your adversary to define the battlefield leads to defeat. We need to open up new strategies and redefine the battlefield. The labor movement needs to take back agency for job creation.

Unions may not be able to own a business in a sector where they are also organizing against the competition. But workers forming worker cooperatives has been a strategy used by the labor movement throughout our history from the Knights of Labor to the Bagel Bakery strike here in Los Angeles that led to the formation of the LA Cooperative Bakery here in 1934.

Historically we have engaged in experiments in other forms of employee ownership, such as The Steelworkers formation of the Workplace Democracy Institute to convert steel mills into ESOP’s. However, there is an important difference between partial employee ownership and worker cooperatives. Worker cooperatives have a very specific definition: one worker, one vote, one share. Any other form of employee ownership lets the predators back in by the back door. If one person can get a controlling share, then the other workers lose ownership and authentic democratic control.

One Worker, One Vote, One Share. We want jobs with dignity and democracy, where the workers own the business, including the means of production, share the profits, and make decisions democratically. We want to take back ownership of our economy, and share in the wealth created by our labor.

YES – This has been tried before

Businesses come and go, although worker cooperatives are more stable and last longer than sole proprietorships. Sole proprietorships always have a crisis of leadership at some point in its existence – when the owner wants to retire or move on, and sells out or often just closes down and everyone loses their job. Worker cooperatives have system for changing personnel and leadership built into structure and therefore on average last longer and are more stable.

We have seen this in some of the places where worker cooperatives have gained traction such as in Mondragon Spain, a 60 year experiment in growing a cooperative economy owned by the workers. Mondragon was started cooperatively by an underdeveloped community pooling their resources to purchase and relocate a factory to their town. It has since grown into a group of over 250 companies that manufacture a variety of products like appliances and bicycles. They have their own universities and financial institutions, and they employ over 80,000 people.

Part of their structure is a social council that is tasked with representing the interests of the workers, essentially a union. This is why when they thought about expanding their model to the US, they reached out to the US Labor Movement, the institution in the US dedicated to growing workplace democracy.

Mondragon found that the upper limit in terms of size is 500 workers, which means this is a small business strategy. But they built a mutually supporting network which I believe is the key to stabilizing a regional economy based on worker ownership. 1worker1vote has begun discussions on a national network of union worker cooperatives in the US to help coordinate mutual support nationally.

Worker cooperatives are not a quick fix or panacea for the woes of today’s labor unions. We are in a phase, post Janus, that leads us to getting back to basics and reassessing our strategies. Building an economy owned by the productive members of society, the workers, is a slow, patient strategy but a lasting solution. Think about buying a house, it takes 30 years, but then you own it. You can control your housing costs and your destiny.

Worker Cooperatives should become part of our tool box, and a new organizing tool to grow union membership. Every union family has someone who is unemployed, looking for work, and possibly someone with the entrepreneurial spirit. Supporting the creation of worker cooperatives by bringing the discussion and education around worker cooperatives into the union hall and union strategy provides a vision for the future: ownership of our economy.

There is a Silver Tsunami about to happen where millions of baby boomers will retire and sell their businesses.

Labor has an opening now to address not just income inequality but also wealth inequality. This massive generational turnover presents an opportunity for the labor movement to shift significant ownership and control to working people. All while attaining or keeping union membership for the workforce involved.

What’s in this for the union?

The constant cycle of contract campaigns is expensive for unions. Converting already existing bargaining units within our unions to worker cooperatives as baby boomers retire and changes in ownership occur, can shrink cost for unions, allowing us to direct more resources to organizing new units.

Therefore today, in our break out groups among other things, we will discuss including contract language on the Right of First Refusal for the workers to buy if the sale of a business is considered. the British Labor Party, in preparation for their next national elections, has a platform plank in their economic plan that would mandate that all businesses above a certain size in the UK would be required to offer first consideration to the employees when any transition in ownership was about to occur.

For public sector unions this is a bit more complicated but rights guaranteed for prioritized bidding in case of privatization is feasible. For Public Sector unions, privatization is a constant threat. Units like laundries, food service workers, custodial workers, and parking meters are carved out and sold off to private contractors that slash wages, eliminate healthcare and retirement benefits, and flaunt labor law.

We fight the good fight to keep these jobs in the public sector because there they have access to good healthcare, retirement, and the bargaining power of our largest unions, but we do not always win. We fight to organize the private contractors, but in the private sector, we win less often.

The Living Wage Campaign utilized our lobbying power to create ordinances that required that private contractors pay a living wage, and this took the wind out of the sails of many privatization efforts. Organizing these units into worker cooperatives when we cannot stop their privatization could have a similar effect. I personally witnessed this in Tulsa Oklahoma where the parking meter unit was going to be privatized until we put together a business plan for a parking meter worker cooperative, and the privatization effort disappeared. Either outcome ended up with the workers remaining members in the union: remaining as public sector workers or becoming a unionized worker cooperative.

Transforming the unit into a worker cooperative that bids against the corporate contractor, we could use our lobbying power to influence the point system to give a greater advantage to locally, worker owned bidders that paid a living wage. The members of these worker cooperatives would become members of our unions again to maintain this solidarity and power to insure a level playing field for future bids. The worker cooperative community is small now but will be growing and is a natural ally in lobbying for workers’ rights.

We also want to look forward to bringing education about worker cooperatives into union halls. We need a worker cooperative curriculum that can be placed in and alongside Apprenticeship programs to include training for democratic management. In the union hall, we need to train our leadership in the strategic understanding of worker cooperatives.

A number of Unions are already working on creating worker cooperatives:

USW – has signed an Memorandum of Understanding with Mondragon in Spain and the Steelworkers have gone on to represent several worker cooperatives including, WorX Printing, Democracy Brewing, and the Vermont Gage Car Wash here in Los Angeles.

UFCW working with CUCI: the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative, Mondragon USA and 1Worker1Vote, their non-profit wing, has developed Our Harvest and Apple Street Market in Cincinnati.

SEIU represents one of the oldest and definitely the largest worker cooperative in the US: CHCA Cooperative Homecare Associates, with over 2000 members in the Bronx NY, plus an LVN Worker Cooperative in California called Nurses CAN, part of United Healthcare West.

UE – was the union assisting the high profile conversion of New Era Windows and Doors in Chicago and also represents Collective Copies in MA.

UAW, CWA, IBEW and the Teamsters also have worker cooperative units, including Red Sun Press in MA, Design Action Collective in Berkeley, Sustainergy and Community Printing (formerly Inkworks) branches in Santa Cruz and Berkeley. And you will be able to meet with many of the people involved in the break out groups today.

There have been three union cooperative efforts in Los Angeles: Pacific Co-op Electric, a unit of IBEW, the Vermont Gage Carwash, which was the first car wash organized by the Clean Carwash Campaign and a unit of Steelworkers Local 675, and a conversion attempt of a unit of the Steelworkers, RCO Tires.

In full disclosure, all of these efforts have had challenges and we have learned many lessons from these efforts. One of these consistent challenges comes from how the workers’ comp exemption is applied to worker cooperatives in California. We need to put our collective heads together to come up with the best strategy for advocacy on this issue. What we do not want to do is undo the accomplishments of the labor movement as we create worker cooperatives, so we need to work together.

The three union worker cooperative efforts in Los Angeles faced many of the challenges faced by all small business: development of management and leadership skills, access to capital, and being undercut by unfair competition.

In our breakout groups we can discuss where the labor movement can help with:

Leadership Development – Strategic Investment – Political Power

Leadership: The true definition of labor organizing is identifying and developing leaders. We train and develop our members to become leaders of our unions. Now we need to also identify, train and develop workplace leaders to be able to take over and run democratic workplaces. And yes they wIll need Cooperative Management and Business skills training made available to those members.

Investment: The Building Trades Trust invests in construction developments that are built with union labor and then house union jobs, think Las Vegas Casinos. The labor community should have investment strategies to build greater worker ownership in our economy. The labor movement can build institutions and adapt or repurpose already existing institutions to fill these gaps. Unions can help to move the worker cooperative movement to scale in our economy in a way that includes the workers most often excluded.

Politics: Through lobbying and the political power of unions, we can build and support private-public partnership to encourage growth of worker ownership, especially for women and minority owned enterprises.

The poor have long been tasked with bootstrapping themselves out of poverty and we all know that does not work. Bootstrapping is insufficient, and left without the support of the labor movement, worker ownership will remain out of reach of the workers most in need.

The way to win this war is to return the means of production to the worker so it doesn’t matter how many setbacks we experience, ownership of our economy remains the goal. This is the way to win the radical redistribution of political and economic power that Martin Luther King envisioned. Please join us in building a cooperative commonwealth: The Commonwealth of Toil.

Union Co-op Network Organizations.pdf