At the end of July, 11 people traveled from Philadelphia to the biannual Worker Cooperative National Conference in Austin, Texas. The conference was organized by the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) and the Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI).
We asked Philly attendees to share a few thoughts about what they learned and what inspired them at the conference.
kiran nigam, AORTA:
I was lucky enough to participate in the Health for All Convening on Friday. It pushed me to think about health care from beyond the perspective of my individual co-op, and to embrace the possibilities of what we can do when we pool our resources at a national level.
The session on retirement and succession planning allowed me to get advice (as a member of a young co-op) from members of co-ops that have been around for decades. All of them offered the same advice: Start saving now! It adds up! They also shared that setting up a 401k plan is not very hard. I left feeling inspired to help my co-op set up retirement accounts for our members now (not 10 years from now!).”
Michaela Holmes, PACA:
“First, a breakfast taco (or two) with creamy Texas green salsa is absolutely the most delicious start to any day.
Ana Martina, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives:
“Something that stuck with me during the Worker Cooperative National Conference were the reflections during the Health for All Convening. The thought of how still today we keep a level of segregation in a system that decides who deserves health care over others, especially noncitizens who still contribute to the economy of the US. That along with the growing movement of immigrant people joining cooperatives, this means we need to do a lot of extra work to win the right to access basic care, or work towards cooperative funds to take care of each other in an era that cuts rights and benefits of people regardless of their citizenship – for instance if you happened to be under the scrutiny of the criminal justice system.”
Peter Frank, PACA:
“I found it pretty interesting and exciting that multiple groups are franchising already successful worker co-op businesses. The Center for Family Life is developing an app to make it easier for worker co-op cleaning, handyman, and dog walking businesses to open and thrive. Arizmendi Bakeries are supporting the expansion of their existing franchise model to places like Calgary, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. An association of worker co-op tech co-ops is forming and part of their vision is to franchise tech co-ops around the country. This is a strategy that has great potential to grow the number of worker co-ops by replicating the development of already successful businesses, making the start-up process much easier.”
Kristin Schwab, PACA:
“I was really moved by the keynote by Jose Antonio Varga of Define American and Emerging US, who does culture shifting and media making work to raise awareness and shift politics around immigration, race, gender, and American identity. His sharing of his story in the New York Times, My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant, and in front of us at the Worker Coop Conference reminded me of the importance of story and vulnerability in organizing. As a white woman with Irish and German roots, I couldn’t agree more with his statement, “as long as parents love their kids they are going to cross whatever border you put in front of them.” He also shared that, “for us [as immigrants], a job is more than a job; it’s about dignity.” I was excited to return to Philly and see a number of applicants from undocumented immigrants coming in for 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses. ”
Caitlin Quigley, PACA:
“As usual, I learned something from Ed Whitfield (and you can too). He discussed the idea of productive justice: opening up opportunities for people to be productive and not just consumers. “A lot of us actually enjoy producing, creating, and contributing to society,” he said. He described this concept partly in response to Doug Rushkoff’s suggestion of a universal basic income, where each person would receive enough income from the government to meet their basic needs. Basically, Whitfield argued that even in an age of plenty when technology can reduce the amount of work humans need to do, people will still have a desire to produce and create. Productive justice raises an important question for us: how can we set up our co-ops as places that people can fulfill their need to produce, create, and contribute? How can technology feed our creativity instead of stifling it? Ed Whitfield is wise and brilliant.”
Mo Manklang, PACA:
Mo wrote a piece for Generocity.org called “4 lessons from the Worker Cooperative National Conference on creating space for equality.” Here’s one of her takeaways:
“Most sessions throughout the conference, including the keynotes, had simultaneous translation. Interpreters from Community Language Cooperative and the Austin Language Justice Collective ensured that most of the sessions were interpreted from Spanish to English and vice versa — a complement to the fully bilingual conference booklet — to ensure that workers owners from across the country had the best experience possible.
“This kind of forward thinking keeps participants in step with each other and created a welcoming environment for all. For organizations such as Living Hope Wheelchair Association, which consists primarily of immigrants with spinal cord injuries, both language and mobile accessibility were key to simply being at the table to have a conversation.”
Photos by Mo Manklang, Kristin Schwab, Peter Frank, and Michaela Holmes.