Sunday, November 19, 2006

Worker-Owners and Unions: Why Can't We Just Get Along

by Dan Bell; Dollars & Sense; October 06, 2006

You have probably heard the story of the scorpion that convinces a frog to carry it across a river. Halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog, which means both will drown. The frog does not understand; the scorpion explains, "I couldn't help myself. It's my nature."

In the abstract, worker-owned enterprises and labor unions would appear to have much in common. Both share the goal of improving pay and working conditions. Both aim to give workers a say in the workplace. And both belong on any progressive's short list of strategies for building a more just economic system.

But when unions and worker-owned businesses actually interact, they sometimes act more like the fabled arachnid.

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Unionized Worker-Coops in the United States

List in progress (please send additions):

Collective Copies (MA)
Colors Restaurant (NY)
Community Printers (CA)
Cooperative Home Care Associates (NY)
Design Action Collective (CA)
French Broad Food Coop (NC)
Inkworks Press (CA)
The Lusty Lady (CA)
MANOS Janitorial Cooperative (CA)
Red Sun Press (MA)
Rene Pujol Restaurant (NY)
Salsedo Press (IL)
Union Cab (MA)

Why Union?

Excerpt from Design Action Collective's personnel manual:

We are often be asked why Design Action is a union shop if it is worker-owned. Here are a few reasons:

1. Unions set standards: As working people in our trade, we benefit from the collective bargaining efforts of our union and the standards they set for the industry. Our union contract ensures that we are accountable to these standards even in our more petit bourgeois moments.

2. Unions offer benefits: As members of CWA, we can take advantage of union retirement plans, joint benefits packages, dispute arbitration services, and fill-in job opportunities at other CWA shops, amongst other things.

3. Union standards are important to our customers: Just like many people request Fair Trade certified coffee and sweat-free t-shirts, many of our clients request union labor. Granted, unionized design studios are so rare that few even bother to ask. But we’re out to change that.

4. Unions are essential to cooperatives: Even worker coops find themselves facing labor disputes—especially as they grow larger and implement representative forms of management. Examples of worker-coop sectors from around the world show that unions can play an important role in preserving power in the hands of workers—even those who ostensibly share ownership.

5. We want to have a voice in the labor movement: Unions are an essential force in any movement to challenge corporate capitalism. Trying to out-compete those with capital at their own game using worker-owned companies will unlikely be enough. Yet organized labor as a democratic movement is only as progressive as it’s membership. As working people, we earn our voice in this movement through our participation in the struggles of others.

Wikipedia on Unions and Worker Cooperatives

Trade Unions
Unions are often unnecessary in worker cooperatives because the workers have direct control over the management and ownership of the business - they are negotiating with themselves. Some worker cooperatives still choose to become members of local unions to demonstrate their support for the labor movement and to working conditions that have resulted from years of struggle. While an unusual situation, there is no contradiction in doing so. Worker cooperatives that join unions often benefit from the trade that comes their way from the community of union members and those who support unions for political reasons. The labor contract negoitiated becomes the baseline of benefits due to the membership and guarantees to the community that the working conditions are not those of a "sweatshop". Union membership also guarantees that the worker cooperative will not operate on the basis of typical small business sacrifice, where the owner (s) sometimes work day and night to keep their business afloat and expect similar sacrifices of their workers. Union membership for worker cooperatives gives the enterpise a legitimate standard of operations.

Go to Wikipedia

Major agreement in Italy between the Cooperative Confederations and the Trade Union Confederations on the SCE Directive and other topics

4/10/2006 News from CICOPA

On 28 September, the three Italian cooperative confederations (AGCI, Confcooperative and Legacoop) and the three trade union confederations (CGIL, CISL, UIL) signed a common opinion for the implementation of the European directive n. 72/2003, on the involvement of workers in the European cooperative society (which completes the European regulation on the statutes of this type of society) through a legislative decree, which is expected soon.

The agreement was signed at the Ministry of Labour, with the presence of Mr Barrafarano, head of the secretariat of Minister Damiano, and of Mr. Onelli, head of the legal department of the ministry.

Furthermore, at the same meeting, the three cooperative confederations and the three trade union confederations committed themselves to resume their negotiations on Law 142 of 2001 on the worker-member, and to enlarge their discussions also on the following topics: cooperative governance, the contribution of cooperatives to the economic development of the country, the supervision of the cooperative system, the correctness of the public procurement system to face social dumping, etc.

Cooperatives and trade unions from the North and the South join to promote decent work

ILO (International Labor Organization) Bulletin

They range from small-scale to multi-million dollar businesses across the globe, employ some 100 million women and men and have more than 800 million individual members. Cooperatives play an important role in integrating unprotected workers in the informal economy into mainstream economic life. On this International Day of Cooperatives, cooperative enterprises worldwide make fair globalization a reality. Here are some examples of recent ILO activities aimed at creating decent jobs and reducing poverty around the globe.

GENEVA (ILO Online) – When Maate Sulait isn't shining shoes, he has his sights set on realizing the UN's Millenium Development Goal to fight poverty, gain the respect of local authorities and obtain better rights and entitlements.

Maate is one of a host of workers in so-called "cooperatives" who do everything from shining shoes to cutting hair and selling goods. And along the way, they are now benefiting from a collaborative international effort that reaches out to cooperative members by changing the mindsets of trade unions and cooperative leaders.

The initiative, known as SYNDICOOP, was developed by the ILO's Bureau for Workers' Activities (ACTRAV) and its Cooperative Branch in Geneva as a joint effort of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the ILO. Begun in 2002, the effort focused first on workers in the informal economy in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, with Kenya joining more recently.

"We have been a partner of the ILO-SYNDICOOP project since its inception and our members have benefited from the project's revolving loan fund to expand the business with new products and increased their income", says Mr. Sulait, who is a member of the Uganda Shoe Shiners' Cooperative. "Our voice is now heard and respected by the local municipal authorities to get better treatment in terms of rights and entitlements."

An invisible economy
The informal economy is often referred to as the "invisible" or "underground" economy. Yet in East Africa, as elsewhere in the region, informal activities are far from being invisible. Informal workers sell newspapers, fruit, watches or whatever else they think will generate income. They offer to shine the shoes or cut the hair of office workers, store clerks and tourists.

Their informality consists not of invisibility but the lack of connection to the formal structures of society, those of both government and civil society. Says Hassan Raha of the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania, "The ILO-SYNDICOOP Project is a wake-up call to our respective governments to support the majority of the poor who are daily struggling in the informal economy to make ends meet".

SYNDICOOP brings together representations from associations of trade unions and cooperatives, governments and the leaders of small groups of informal economy workers. In Tanzania, the national steering committee includes the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania, Tanzania Federation of Cooperatives, Savings and Credit Cooperative Union, the government and individual informal economy groups.

An important first step has involved assisting cooperative and trade union leaders to think about strategies to adapt their operations to organize informal economy workers. In each country, ten cooperative, trade union and informal economy group leaders has been in trained in these issues. In addition, each national steering committee has selected a number of informal economy groups to work with directly. By May 2004, there were 12 such groups in Uganda, seven in Tanzania and five in Rwanda.

A key aspect of the project is to ensure that groups gain assistance in improving working conditions and generating income. To this end, each national committee has established a revolving loan fund for member groups. In Rwanda, the project has supported a group of women waste collectors and recyclers. These women have relied on this activity to generate income after their husbands were killed in the genocide.

"The project has strengthened the organization of the poor women who are working in the informal economy in Rwanda. Collecting the garbage and recycling it for environment-friendly use is the struggle of our members. The ILO-SYNDICOOP project contributes to the improvement of our working conditions through training and access to micro credit under the Revolving Loan Fund", explains Florida Mukarubuga from the AMIZERO Women's Association, Rwanda.

Her organisation, AMIZERO, has received advice on working conditions – which can be hazardous given the nature of their activity – and will use credit to purchase supplies and tools. The main recycling activity involves collecting household waste, either from public bins or scattered heaps. This waste, including potato and banana peels, are dried and made into briquettes for cooking. The briquettes, which are sold to households, are cheaper than charcoal and help to reduce the cutting of trees around the city.

Dealing with waste is hazardous, so the project is working on effective training and the use of protective gear to protect the working conditions of these women and the removal of their children from these activities.

Twinning cooperatives from the North and the South
Another example for concrete action is a cooperative development project in Orissa, India, financed by the Federation of MIGROS Cooperatives of Switzerland and technically supervised by the INDISCO Programme of the ILO's Cooperative Branch. The project follows the signing of a partnership agreement between the ILO and the ICA (International Cooperative Alliance) to promote decent work and reduce poverty through cooperatives in February 2004.

It is also a response to ILO Director-General Juan Somavia's call at the ICA General Assembly held in September 2003 in Oslo to promote twinning arrangements between cooperatives of the North and the South: "Would it be a dream to think that in the future every cooperative of developed countries would have a partnership with a developing world cooperative? That would create the most impressive global network of enterprise-to-enterprise cooperation."

The MIGROS-funded project will assist 3,000 tribal families in 30 villages in Orissa, India in creating decent jobs and strengthening their community organizations. In this twinning exercise, the ILO plays the role of a facilitator, giving full responsibility to the tribal communities to manage their development with technical advice from the ILO.

ILO and ICA have been working together since the 1920s to promote cooperatives, and collaborated in the adoption of ILO Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives adopted by the International Labour Conference in June 2002. The ILO-ICA partnership will focus on the implementation of Recommendation 193 at the national level.

The new partnership will also seek to address the UN Millennium Development Goals, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, improving maternal health a nd reducing child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases, environmental sustainability and the development of global partnerships for development.

Another goal of the initiative is to have wider impact on the policy process by providing a direct channel between informal economy groups and poverty reduction strategies (PRSP process).

Under the terms of the partnership, ILO and ICA will jointly organize a funding campaign among major multi-bilateral donors and other development partners to finance the activities foreseen under their "Common Cooperative Agenda".

For more information, please contact the ILO's Cooperative Branch,; the ILO's Bureau for Workers' Activities,, the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), or the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU),

The Take

In suburban Buenos Aires, thirty unemployed auto-parts workers walk into their idle factory, roll out sleeping mats, and refuse to leave.

All they want is to re-start the silent machines. But this simple act - The Take - has the power to turn the globalization debate on its head.

Rustbelt Buyouts: Why Ohio Leads in Worker Ownership

by John Logue
From Dollars and Sense

No one said it was going to be easy for the employees of Brainard Rivet to take ownership of their company. Certainly not Jeff Chine, the worker heading the buyout committee: "They arrested us, handcuffed us, took us to the station, booked us, and in 45 minutes we were back on the picket line. READ MORE

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Case Study: Union Workers Buy Mill--Strike Deal with Environmentalists

In October, 1997, Champion International Corp, of Stamford, CT, then an independent multinational paper maker, announced that its DairyPak Division with two sprawling paper mills in western North Carolina and finishing plants in five other states, was for sale. READ MORE


On May 14, 1999, in the largest union-led buyout in the country since 1994, employees and the KPS Special Situations Fund together bought a paper mill, an extruding plant, and five converting plants from Champion International for $200 million.

The new company, Blue Ridge Paper Products, has 2200 new employee owners who work in the paper mill in Canton, North Carolina, in the extruding mill in Waynesville, NC, and in five Dairy Pak converting plants in Georgia, Iowa, Texas, New Jersey & Olmsted Falls, Ohio. READ MORE


More on the investment firm that partnered with the union

Gung Ho Industrial Cooperatives

from wikipedia

Gung-ho is a phrase borrowed from Chinese, frequently used in English as an adjective meaning enthusiastic. The original Mandarin Chinese phrase is Gōnghé (工合), a standard abbreviation for gōngyè hézuòshè (工業合作社), meaning industrial worker's cooperative. (It is true that gōng means work and hé means together, but gōnghé by itself is not a standard Chinese term and serves only as an abbreviation for gōngyè hézuòshè: an English-language analogy of a not-fully-comprehensible abbreviated phrase would be "IndCoop".)

The phrase entered the American vernacular when it was picked up by then-Major Evans F. Carlson, USMC. According to Carlson, it was used as a slogan by the WW2-era Communist Party of China's 8th Route Army, led by Zhu De.

The phrase was originally coined by Rewi Alley, a New Zealander who went to China in the 1920s and whose contribution to the country was later recognised when he became modern China's first honorary citizen. The industrial workers co-operatives that were formed as part of the Gung-ho movement stemmed from Helen Foster (Peg) Snow, wife of American journalist Edgar Snow. Peg Snow suggested to Rewi Alley that China needed widespread industry through the establishment of a movement (Alley, 1987).

Carlson traveled with the 8th and with Rewi Alley. Later he used gung ho during his (unconventional) command of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. From there it spread throughout the Marine Corps (hence the association between the two) and into American society as a whole. It is now often used in the ironic sense of excessively enthusiastic, overzealous.

Alley, R. (1987) Rewi Alley - An Autobiography, New World Press.