Between October 2017 & July 2018 I'm touring Barcelona, the US and Canada, to meet, make links with and learn about
- alternative co-operative economies, social currencies and crypto-currencies
- the North American worker co-operative movement
- radical worker co-operatives and embedding worker co-operation in strategies for social change
I'm planning to sail there and back, so that part of my trip will be super exciting and very low carbon.
visiting workers co-ops with links to community organising/grassroots economic organising - ie, those who are actively trying to promote the workers co-op model and support people in disadvantaged communities to set them up.
meeting with various people from the US Federation of Workers Co-ops and the Democracy at Work Institute, particularly with a view to learning about their training programmes: how the curricula are worked out, where the funding comes from, what the governance/links between DAWI and the Federation are - which elements or programmes would be relevant to and replicable in the UK?
I want to find out about projects/institutions/mechanisms that
make workers co-ops and the worker co-op movement more resilient
work in the overlap between co-ops and community organising
raise the profile of worker ownership and control
connect co-ops into alternative economic systems, eg LETS and crypto currencies
embed politics in workers co-ops and workers co-ops in political activity. I'm personally most interested in ecological and anti-consumption politics and how to reconcile that with making a living.
I can bring information and experience of:
the UK workers co-op movement over the last 5 years.
the Radical Routes network of radical co-operatives over the last 20 years. RR is a federation of radical co-operatives working for social change. It is a mutual aid network, mostly run by work contribution of the members, which operates on a consensus decision-making basis through quarterly general meetings. It offers loans to member co-ops, as well as skills training, advice, support, inspiration and solidarity.
Here are the RR Aims & Principles.
newly acquired information about the integrated co-operative economies being developed in Catalunya, and the local and global infrastuctures they are developing to extend their reach.
experience of living in a small, urban, communal housing co-operative over 24 years and working in a small collective printers workers co-op since 2000, including thoughts on how separately and together the two co-ops have contributed to a growing ecosystem of co-ops in our area.
Using the equity of existing housing co-ops to support the growth of new ones.
Being a worker co-operator, co-op activist and co-op development advisor at the same time, with a focus on helping co-ops work out how to embody their values and principles in their working practices and identities.
Outcomes during the tour
to produce case studies and interviews in blog and video format - this serves the purposes of providing a structure to the visit, creating something that I hope is of use to the host co-op/organisation in terms of having an outside perspective, having a format that enables comparison of different co-ops and is of use to UK co-ops in understanding similarities and differences. And last, but not least, putting faces to names and making the stories human, resonant and accessible.
to produce reports for Co-operatives UK and the Workers Co-op Council and articles for UK publications and forums: Co-op News/ the workers co-op Loomio Group/ other publications as relevant (eg Peace News, New Internationalist, Stir to Action, Red Pepper, etc). I assume there will also be US and Canadian media that will be interested.
to share information I have about the UK co-op movement/Radical Routes and CIC/FairCoop in seminars and talks
to host real-time online discussions between people I'm with and co-operators back in the UK/Barcelona or whom I have recently met.
late Oct-late Nov: staying in Barcelona in two communities linked to the Cooperativa Integral Catalana (CIC), learning how their seemingly hundreds of co-operative projects work and are integrated/networked, how their various internal currencies and crypto-currencies work and how international links/trading partnerships can be developed.
late Nov-New Year: sail across the Atlantic
Jan to mid-July 2018: a clockwise tour of North America, starting and ending in the south east (Florida? The Caribbean? Mississippi?)
late July: sail back to the UK
WHY I THINK IT'S NECESSARY
Until fairly recently, we in the UK have had a long period of stagnation in the workers co-op movement, since the workers co-op federation (ICOM) merged with the consumer co-op federation (The Co-op Union), meaning that we haven't been self-organising for about 15 years. We have started to pull out of that with the development of the workers co-op weekend (2017 was its 4th year) and the Workers Co-op Solidarity Fund, and a wave of new workers co-ops over the last 5 years. To some degree this was catalysed by an injection of cash into co-op development (The short-lived Co-operative Enterprise Hub) as well as the worsening employment situation and rolling back of unemployment benefits.
Although it seems that the US and UK worker co-op sectors are about the same size, it's my impression that US co-ops, particularly with the creation of the DAWI, are putting a huge amount of effort and resources into building capacity and resilience within the movement and into promoting the model. Additionally, I perceive a much clearer focus on worker co-operation as a solution for disadvantaged communities. What can we learn from this in the UK? And what has worked and not worked in the US and why?
I think that historically, workers co-ops have (more than other sectors of the co-op movement) drawn their strength and sense of mission from having strong political agendas and I want to explore whether this is as true in North America as it is in the UK.
As the world is becoming more interconnected, financial resources are becoming scarcer, the ecological context is getting scarier and with the rise of crypto-currencies and global co-ops, I want to ensure that co-ops in the UK have solid links around the world (particularly with other English-speaking co-ops), have access to useful experience and can take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. And I also want that for co-ops globally.
I'm particularly excited by the possibilities for inter-co-operative and anti-authoritarian trade that seem to me to exist in the FairCoin, FairCoop and FreedomCoop initiatives coming from Catalonia.
HOW'S IT GOING TO HAPPEN?
Well, I don't fly and I don't drive, so i'm largely doing it by sailboat, train and bus. Hence the circular route.
I haven't yet worked out how to fund this trip - i've got a few months of backpay from Footprint and £1000 from Co-ops UK, then i've got to work out how to plug the gap! I have an idea for getting crowdfunded by the UK workers co-op movement, which will also make the whole thing much more accountable. But if you have any thoughts on other sources of cash, please share!
So the 'How' part still leaves quite a lot to the imagination.
I'm seeking a sponsor for my J1 'Specialist' visa. Here is a link to the designated sponsor organisations. This probably means being enrolled on an existing programme managed by an academic institution. It may mean that I have to go to where my sponsor is as soon as I arrive in the US.
I'm a complete novice at working within academic confines and language, so - now you know what i want to do, maybe we could skype or something to see if it's possible to turn it into something that sounds more formal/recognisable from an academic point of view.
I think it will become a lot easier to start firming things up once the visa application is in progress, as so much else depends on it
A founding and current member of Footprint Workers’ Co-op and member of Cornerstone Housing Co-op (Leeds, Yorkshire) since 1995, I have lived communally and worked collectively for 20 years.
Both co-ops are members of Radical Routes (RR), a mutual aid federation for co-ops working for a radically different world, based on co-operation and mutual aid, common ownership, non-hierarchy and ecological sustainability.
Through Radical Routes I helped organise the first three 'Co-operators Camp' areas at The Green Gathering, starting in 2014.
I have worked with the Workers Co-op Council of Co-operatives UK, particularly on helping organise the first Workers Co-op Weekend in 2014. From July 2017-July 2018 I am an Associate of Co-operatives UK, which is an informal role as a researcher/ ambassador for the co-op movement.
Here's some more:
I don't have much in the way of academic experience, and am particularly hesitant about producing reports or papers of any length. However, I'm very happy to collaborate with others on that sort of thing, and to offer my input at seminars or as a guest lecturer.