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Power of Cooperatives to Drive Social Change

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Location: United States
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I love this quote from W.E.B  DuBois that Jon Steinman shares in Grocery Story to demonstrate hoe powerful co-ops can be to drive social change and help people obtain better livelihoods for themselves.

There exists today a chance for [blacks] to organize a cooperative State within their own group. By letting Negro farmers feed Negro artisans, and Negro technicians guide [black] home industries and [black] thinkers plan this integration of cooperation, while [black] artists dramatize and beautify the struggle, economic independence can be achieved. To doubt that this is possible is to doubt the essential humanity and the quality of brains of [black people].”292 — W.E.B. Du Bois, 1935

During the suffrage movement for African Americans, cooperatives were heavily used to bring about social change through their ability to support and empower African American communities.
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Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Great subject Dave!

Cooperatives can be really effective forces for change for any community and there are some great examples of how they have helped and are helping around the world. As an added bonus, they can live perfectly well inside a more dog-eat-dog capitalist system that from time to time seems to eat some community or other for dinner, chew them up, and spit them out. So the chewed-up and spit-out communities can really use the added strength that cooperatives give them.

I have a good example right here where I live in the Basque Country of Spain. The cooperative economy in general is very strong here, and it is viewed as very normal to structure a new startup business of any kind as a cooperative. Software development, an architecture studio, a machining shop, anything. Most famous here is the Mondragon cooperative group, which is composed of, to most people's surprise, worker-owned and mostly industrial cooperatives. And they are extremely successful.

For conservatives and others normally suspicious of such things, let me assure you that you don't need to call a meeting to decide whether you can go to the bathroom. They work pretty much like a normal workplace, except that in the back of the minds of the upper management, they know that they can be relieved of their duties at the next AGM if they don't run the company to the satisfaction of the people that work there. But that is a very rare occurrence.

These are worker-owned cooperatives, and the really great thing about their structure is that the capital and the voting rights are held evenly among all the workers. So guess what, no one votes to close down their production plant, lay themselves off, and send the company to China. But they do do business in China and open plants and offices there if it's in their interest, just like any other business would.

Our local economy is very strong, and the manufacturing base has never gone away. There are prosperous "working class" jobs, and plenty of them, just like in the "old days" elsewhere. Of course there are ups and downs like in all businesses, but in the end everyone knows their workplace is there for them, and is not going to sell them down the river some day. Many people go to work in a company when they're 20-somethings and retire at the same company. Or maybe at another cooperative 1 km away. Yes, today. In the end, the structure has a lot of things for people all across the political spectrum to like. And the local Mondragon group has been going for over 60 years and has worked out a lot of the kinks, so they're a great example to learn from.

All that said, I wonder what a group of permaculture cooperatives could be like?

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