The previous “one worker, one vote” blog posted on Labor Day. During this three-month interval, the nationwide 1worker1vote.org movement, self-funded since its 2015 founding, co-incubated an automotive & aerospace manufacturing conversion to union co-op ownership working group by teaming with a global top ten consultancy and with staunch support from our Advisory Board. We ramped-up our multi-year commitment to the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI) and “Vital Brooklyn” hospital de-gentrification ecosystems in collaboration with local community leaders, MIT CO-LAB and Mondragon’s cooperative consultancy, LKS, through two precedent-setting learning missions featuring elected and procurement officials to Mondragon.
Concurrently, 1worker1vote.org refined our equalizing ownership tax policy, “Ownership4All” campaign, in partnership with the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and in designing a socially impacting messaging platform focusing on transforming results with IBIS Communications and ASBC. In partnership with our “living lab,” the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative (CUCI), CUNY Law School’s Community Economic Development Clinic (CEDC), Medgar Evers College’s Dubois Bunche Center for Public Policy, and like-minded academic allies (from Harvard Business School, the University of Southern New Hampshire and others), we accelerated efforts to build a nationwide union co-op community college curriculum for a Q1 2018 launch.
This week in Cincinnati (Friday, December 1st & Saturday, December 2nd) will feature our third biennial Union Co-op Symposium. As an event highlight and to respond to incoming requests, we will launch the 1:1 network through an affiliation agreement to fashion a clear way for interested groups to understand how they can join and participate.
The goal is to showcase both vision and practical steps validating the October 2009 imagining behind the United Steelworkers – Mondragon International collaboration to revive North American manufacturing through shared values of workplace democracy and worker equity. Back in March 26th, 2012, the USW-OEOC (Ohio Employee Ownership Center)- Mondragon International North America (MINA) team launched the union co-op model and its formal template from the USW headquarters atrium in Pittsburgh. Eight years (2009) and five years (2012) later, respectively, the French claim that “happiness comes from courage and work” describes our movement’s relentless search to aggregate tipping points and scale.
A 1worker1vote union co-op is a competitive, for-profit business owned and directed by its workers, guided by the core principles of workplace and community democracy, solidarity, sustainability, profitability, competitiveness and accountability, and inspired by 61 heavily benchmarked years of the Mondragon cooperative experience and the USW/OEOC/ Mondragon International North America template. Our approach is not one-off or top-down but organic/bottom-up & ecosystem-based:
- Example of Midwest cooperative worker-ownership ecosystem – the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative (CUCI): http://www.cincinnatiunioncoop.org;
- Example of large coastal city cooperative worker-ownership ecosystem – the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative: commonwise.nyc, colab.mit.edu & bronxchange.com
Worker/employee-owned enterprises offer two compelling aspirational metrics: first, earning more in income and retirement than counterparts at traditional firms; and second, appearing more resilient with a higher rate of surviving the first five critical start-up years while sustaining better fiscal health during downturns such as the 2008 Great Recession. Direct beneficiaries include underserved working-class communities, those experiencing sector-devastating downward mobility spirals, rising immigrant and communities of color, and paycheck-dependent workers often in temporary contracts without benefits or periodically jobless – more than one-third of the U.S. workforce. Management/ownership also benefits as shareholders for whom a return to an upwardly mobile and fair civic-eco-democracy by more empowered stakeholders increases profitability, cohesion and competitiveness.
Some of the key advantages of the union co-op approach are that scale exists, and industry choice is broad. To date and on a nationwide basis, those who doubt, hope and who commit can find progress in these developments:
- The formation of Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative and its five co-op entities (CUCI workers are now represented by the USW and Sustainergy co-op is in the process of organizing with the USW)
- The LA Union Co-op Initiative (LUCI) which includes a carwash converted to worker ownership with USW representation
- The Greater Dayton Union Co-op Initiative (DUCI)
- 2000 CHCA worker-owners in NYC – SEIU 1199
- 3000 IAM Maine Lobstering Union members – IMLU Local 207
- 1,000 CWA Local 7777 worker-owner taxi drivers in Denver
- Encouraging activity and experimentation in NYC (BCDI & Vital Brooklyn), Ft. Wayne/IN, St. Louis/MO, and central Massachusetts (USW printing co-op).
Experience shows that ecosystem transformation takes a village and a generation. The founder of the Mondragon cooperative vision dedicated 15 years to way-showing before the first worker-owned and managed enterprise formed in the early 1950s. Similarly, the U.S. union co-op movement while in its infancy is building step by step infrastructure through enabling projects and enterprises that can scale. A growing number of labor unions are choosing to begin to experiment with the union-coop model – in addition to the USW, other participating U.S. unions include the AFT, CWA, IAM, IUE-CWA, UFCW, AFSCME, SEIU, IBEW, UE, and UAW.
Given our movement’s industrial “rustbelt” origins, the mission before us is to overcome how culturally suffocating and economically taxing inequalities lay waste to neighborhood democratic and solidarity sinews by under-imagining and commoditizing relationships between technology, capital and labor. Our challenge is to show and prove new ecosystem platform synergies and their scaling capacities beyond borders to respond to the siren calls of domestic and global ethnocentric populism. We start this vast campaign by re-seeding America’s founding self-reliance (an end to crippling dependencies) ethos and midwife the return to more fulfilling local-living economies throughout the United States of Inequality’s most underserved places.
Structuring proven experiences, shared values and market-leading innovation can result in new aspirational opportunities for workers owning and managing empowered enterprises. There is strong interest both from rising U.S. immigration communities and internationally. Many countries are analyzing how best to connect, combine and transform unions and cooperatives. As a recent example and one through the USW/UNITE relationship, 1worker1vote is beginning an exchange with Unite Scotland – the Scottish component of Unite the Union as well as with the UK cooperative community through 1worker1vote-LKS collaboration: https://youngfoundation.org/publications/humanity-work-mondragon-social-innovation-ecosystem-case study/.
Mondragon’s founder, José María Arizmendiarrieta, offered the prescient, disruptive, anti-status quo observation that “there is always another step to take”, the idea that the quality and dimensions of the journey determine destinations.
Michael Alden Peck is a co-founder of 1worker1vote and serves as its executive director. www.1worker1vote.org (https://www.facebook.com/1worker1vote) is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit formed in New York State in 2015, with Cincinnati (http://www.cincinnatiunioncoop.org) serving as the prototyping “living lab” for the nationwide 1worker1vote movement.