polotics Coops in the Americas I

I mentioned in an earlier post that I would try to follow up on the coop movement in Argentina. Watching the documentary The Take came at a good time as forthcoming information on what is happening in all of the Americas soon followed from diferent sources. At the monthly NoBAWC (Network of Bay Area Cooperatives) meeting, not only did I get a reportback on what is happening in the United States, but there was also a reportback on the coop movement in Argentina and Venezuela. On top of that, I just scoured the Anarchist Bookfair for books en Ingles on the Argentine coop and peoples movement and only found an article and two pamphlets. Since this research is ongoing, I will continue to post entries about what I’m reading.

Locally, the recent NoBAWC meeting proved to be a watershed moment for the growing coop movement in the Bay Area. NoBAWC just restructured their model to rely on incoming dues from the member coops. Members pay a sliding scale fee that is based upon what their annual income is. One smaller-sized coop, and another larger one, voiced concern over justifying to their paying dues for a larger organization that doesn’t really do anything.

This was my first meeting with NoBAWC, so I listened intensely as other members voiced their concerns about getting future approval from their members to pay into an organization that only provided a card that gives members discounts within the network. The larger organization is currently loosely organized, with a steering committee and a part-time employee. It is not currently a nonprofit and has been trying to go there for a few years. NoBAWC also doesn’t currently produce any content other than the discount card (I’ve seen posters done from the recent past). No other services currently exist, and no information is posted on how to create a coop (something several members mentioned in the recent meeting).

One person attending the meeting summed up the next step when he stated that coops work best in a committee form (or clusters as CELLspace calls them). NoBAWC needed to put an item on their next meeting agenda to address the need to create smaller working groups to begin to set up tasks and follow through on creating services in a Bay Area-sized, and even national, scale. Everyone at the meeting seemed overworked and booked out with their various businesses and causes, but all agreed that it was time to step up and get the region organized.

This intense discussion started when a member of the NoBAWC steering committee gave a reportback on a few other regional coops and on the formation of a United States coop federation. Sadly, I did not take any notes on the reportbacks, but can say that the other regional organizations were charged with energy and already beginning to eclipse NoBAWC in services and action. On the national level, The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives recently formed in May of 2004. The reportback said that the Federation was in the process of creating bylaws for nonprofit status, membership processes, smaller regional state federations, and was created in response to other countries wondering why the U.S. wasn’t working to unite coops on a national level.

Summing up, the meme of coop organization that I feel sparked a fire in South America in 2001 has come home to the belly of the corporate capitalist beast that is the United States. As you will see, the fire of hunger and desperation that created the horizontal organization of neighborhoods and businesses in Argentina, ripples in the liberal enclaves like the San Francisco Bay Area and on a national level. Options other than “clearcut and sell” need to be given to the public, and as the Not Rich class continues to slide into precarious existence in the United States, the coop model proves to be a testy power rising from the cracks of mainstream consumerism. With the Bay Area getting off its ass to organize, and the United States beginning to organize, there’s a chance that different options mean better living and freedom of choice.

If not now, when? If not you, who?

to be continued…

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