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The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives! The resolution urges promotion of housing co-ops, worker-owned businesses, consumer co-ops, and agricultural co-ops and identifies cooperatives as a key strategy to eradicate poverty, provide affordable housing, increase food production, and create jobs.
WHAT IS A COOPERATIVE?
A cooperative is a member-owned and democratically controlled enterprise or business. Housing co-ops are owned and operated by the residents. Worker co-ops are owned and run by their workers, with no boss or shareholders to make profits from workers* labor. Consumer co-ops, such as many food stores and credit unions, are owned by the members who patronize the business. Agricultural co-ops, such as fruit or dairy cooperatives, are made up of farmers who use the power of their numbers to get a fair price for their products, for joint purchasing, marketing, and advocacy with regulatory bodies.
Cooperatives demonstrate that workers don*t need a boss, residents don*t need a landlord, farmers don*t need corporate agribusiness, and consumers don*t need mega-conglomerates or big banks. Co-ops demonstrate every day that cooperation works, and that competition is not necessary or natural. Cooperatives are a strong model for both self-help and societal transformation. They empower working people and lower-income people, by giving workers control of the means of production, residents control over their housing, farmers control over food production, and consumers control of needed products and services. Cooperatives take the slogans, “Another world is possible” and “Be the change you want to see in the world,” seriously by creating decentralized democracy here and now.
Most Americans are not aware that cooperatives exist, because they are a small part of the overall economy. We are taught that competition, rather than working together, is the only way to run an economy. However, in recent years co-ops have grown dramatically at the same time that so many traditional businesses are going under due to the failure of the capitalist economic system. Over 30,000 cooperatives are currently flourishing in the US, with over 73,000 places of business, as some cooperatives have more than one branch, restaurant, bank, store, etc. These co-ops have over 130 million members, generating $653 million in revenue, creating more than two million jobs.
For instance, there are 800 electricity cooperatives in the US, organized into the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, producing electricity and promoting renewable energy sources. There are over 300 food co-ops. Ninety-two million Americans are member-owners of the nation*s 7,790 credit unions. In 2011, over 650,000 people closed their accounts in banks and moved their money to credit unions. New York City has over one million people who belong to a co-op of some type.
YEAR OF THE CO-OP EVENTS HAPPENING AROUND THE WORLD!
Lots of exciting projects and events are planned for the International Year of the Co-op. The International Cooperative Alliance has a comprehensive list at ica.coop. They are taking the lead in organizing and coordinating many activities around the world. The National Cooperative Business Association has set up a special website, USA2012.coop, where you can download materials such as IYC posters, articles and leaflets promoting co-ops, profiles of all their member co-ops, and even bingo cards to play Co-op Bingo (with names of different co-ops on each bingo square, along with fun facts and statistics about how cooperatives benefit the community).
The San Francisco Bay Area is a stronghold of cooperatives of all types, especially housing cooperatives and worker-owned businesses.
WORKER CO-OPS IN THE BAY
The Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NOBAWC, pronounced “No Boss”) represents 35 thriving worker-owned cooperatives ranging from Nabolom Bakery to Pedal Express bike delivery service to Rainbow Grocery Co-op to Inkworks printing collective to wood-working co-ops to the Lusty Lady strip club. In fact, some of NOBAWC businesses have been so successful that they have “cloned” themselves by creating spin-off businesses, such as the ever-growing number of Arizmendi bakeries on all sides of the Bay. NOBAWC has created a map showing locations of all their member co-ops (www.nobawc.org for details).
The California Center for Cooperative Development (CCCD) will be holding a two-day “Celebrate Cooperatives!” conference in Oakland May 4 & 5, primarily focused on worker co-ops. cccd.org.
Housing cooperatives have flourished in the Bay Area for over 40 years, from small independent co-ops of 5 units to huge co-ops with over 400 units. The East Bay Cooperative Housing Coalition is planning a series of events to bring more attention to housing co-ops as an important component of affordable housing. The current economic meltdown has caused many people to lose their homes through foreclosures, but limited equity housing co-ops are stable and thriving. The current real estate crisis was created by predatory lending and other fraudulent practices by financial institutions. Since limited equity housing co-ops are by definition removed from the speculative real estate market, their value has not been inflated, so they are not vulnerable to market fluctuations.
International Year of the Co-op provides an opportunity to demonstrate how co-ops provide affordable home ownership for working people who otherwise could not afford to buy homes. The coalition is planning a Housing Co-op Tour of Berkeley on May 20, touring successful housing co-ops as part of Affordable Housing Week. And members of housing co-ops have designed a co-op flag, with the intention of having each co-op in the Bay Area fly the co-op flag throughout the year. Most people are not aware of the existence of co-ops in their own neighborhood, so the co-op flags can educate the public about co-ops. A new website connecting residents of different housing co-ops has been developed to educate people and to strengthen the power of co-ops: www.coopnetwork.net. You can order a flag for your co-op from Bay Area Community Land Trust www.bayareaclt.org. Also, check out sfclt.org, mycooprocks.coop, uk.coop/2012, and strongertogether.coop.