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How Co-ops Can Pave the Way to a Solidarity Economy

Remarkable Credit Union episode 83

Many credit unions differentiate from banks by pointing out that they are member-owned, but the average consumer doesn’t always understand what that means. Though our country tends to idolize entrepreneurs and CEOs, we are less likely to think too much about ownership and its various implications.

Cooperatives — whether worker-owned like PixelSpoke or member-owned like our credit union clients — bring the issue of ownership to the forefront, pushing us to think more deeply about who should have a voice and a stake.

This month, we’re excited to welcome our Operations Manager Katie Stone as our guest host to untangle this knotty issue with Rebecca Fisher-McGinty, a worker owner at Round Sky Solutions and a graduate of Saint Mary’s University’s Masters of Cooperative Management program, and McKenzie Jones, an off-grid farmer turned social scientist who brings a deep commitment to service and equity into her work with cooperatives.

Together they tackle this month’s BIG question:

How can co-ops help us pave the way to a solidarity economy that bakes diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts directly into ownership structures?

Key Takeaways:

  1. Co-ops are more than an ownership structure — they are democracy in practice
    • Tool for creating not just better workplaces but also better communities
    • Lots of ways to “co-op” outside the workplace as well — for instance, as part of a housing co-op or a barter & trade community
  1. Since co-ops are about bringing more people into the decision-making processes, they are particularly conducive to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
    • Introducting Democracy within the workplace is a really impactful way to shift power dynamics
    • Gets More people involved in crafting the culture and hiring practices
    • Co-ops are people-centered, not exclusively profit-centered
  1. Taking a step back to look at the co-op movement as a whole, they are really about reimagining our economy
    • Shift from an extractive economy to a solidarity economy, which is about building and sharing power and wealth for all
    • Money is neither inherently good nor evil, but how we use and distribute it is key
  1. The so-called “great resignation” and quiet quitting trends we’ve seen recently are a direct response to the toxic, extractive nature of most workplaces
    • Many workers became disillusioned during the pandemic and some started practicing cooperation through organic mutual aid networks
    • The co-op movement is growing because people crave autonomy over their jobs and lives, even though ownership can be stressful and hard
  1. The co-op movement has tons of opportunities for growth
    • We need more case studies and also need to just connect the dots on ways we are already cooperating with one another in our daily lives
    • Need more relationship building between co-ops and need to promote a unified theory of change

Read the full transcript:

Cameron:
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Remarkable Credit Union Podcast.
We created our podcast to help credit union leaders think outside of the box about marketing, technology, and community impact. Each episode we bring on expert guests from inside and outside of the industry for conversations about innovation. Our goal is to challenge your preconceptions about business as usual, and provide you with actionable takeaways that you can use to grow your membership, improve the financial health of your cooperative, and magnify the positive impact that you have in your community.
Today I’m very excited to welcome PixelSpoke Co-owner and Operations Manager, Katie Stone who will be stepping into host today’s podcast.

Katie:
Thank you, Cameron. I’m really excited to tackle this episode’s big question: How can co-ops help us pave the way to a solidarity economy that bakes diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts directly into ownership structures?

We’ve invited two guests here today to help us connect the dots. We have Rebecca Fisher-McGinty with us. She has been a worker owner at Round Sky Solutions since 2016. She’s a graduate of St. Mary’s University’s Masters of Cooperative Management Program and she has some really big visions about how cooperatives can support each other. She loves to talk and dream up cooperative and solidarity economies and with a calling for environmental, social, economic, and racial justice, she has been working alongside and facilitating teams of people for over a decade in all types of settings. Welcome, Rebecca.

And then we also have with us McKenzie Jones. McKenzie is an off-grid farmer turned social scientist who brings a deep commitment to service and equity into her work with cooperatives. She received a B.S. In Human Development and Family Studies from the Pennsylvania State University and an M.S. In Design and Environmental Analysis from Cornell University.

McKenzie is a cooperative developer who assists other worker owners and social impact organizations define their business needs and make a successful plan for instilling democracy in the workplace. She believes in worker ownership as a pathway out of oppressive economics and in her free time, McKenzie enjoys riding her homemade bike, going on road trips with her kids and playing in her band, Strange Heavy. Welcome, McKenzie.

To start, I think we’ll ask a question of both of you. Most people in the United States have a fuzzy understanding at best of what cooperative ownership means. Can each of you start by sharing a little bit about how you first became aware of worker ownership and what inspired you to get involved in the worker co-op movement?

We can start with Rebecca. That’d be great.

Rebecca:
Nice to see all of you. Thanks for having me.

I first learned about worker cooperatives when I was in college, or cooperatives in general. A friend of mine, Xin Chenholm, was doing cooperative organizing and that was the first person that talked about co-ops to me. And at the time, I was more focused on social justice organizing in a different area of work, which I think could layer well together, but I kind of just kept it in the back of my head and went into the environmental world and just felt that there was a lot of misalignment about how environmental nonprofits were doing the work that I was in. There was a lot of mission creep, which just means that people shifted their mission in order to get funding and I really was craving a more systemic view of the work.

And so then I went back and thought about, okay, what are different structures or orientations to the work? And then I remembered my conversations in college, so that was about five years later, and then I was like, okay, cooperatives could give me that systemic view that I was really looking for and maybe less resistance to change that I was feeling in nonprofits. I really wanted change and a space to envision how I want the world to be, how we wanted the world to be, our workplaces to be.

That’s kind of how I started going to cooperatives, feeling just not alignment. And I think for nonprofits and for cooperatives, really there are tools. So I think my own understanding of the use of them and the strengths of them have shifted over time. And I’m also really happy to be in the co-op world because I think it inherently could be a tool for creating more better workplaces, better communities, practicing democracy. It really is about us and how we want to use it for people. So that’s more grounding for me lately.

Katie:
Thanks, Rebecca. McKenzie, over to you.

McKenzie:
Thanks for having me today. Nice to see you all. Thanks for that response, Rebecca. I think that we maybe feel similarly in sort of the circuitous path toward cooperatives. If I am to really reflect on my whole life, I think even as a child, I felt somewhat on the fringes of capitalist society. I’ve always been a champion for the people without necessarily knowing what that meant or having language for it. But I’ve been really interested in a lot of philosophical texts around democratic societies and different ways that people organize themselves.

And I think that my entry into cooperativism probably started as a really young parent when I got really engaged in the barter and trade community. And as someone who had children young, right outside of college, I wasn’t always financially stable and wanted to connect with other people. And so I think that the barter economy was kind of an entry point for me into there are ways to exist, there are economic structures outside of capitalist wealth.

And so I moved to Ithaca about 15 years ago with a baby in tow and went to grad school at Cornell. And one of my commitments had been to become more environmentally sustainable, similar to Rebecca. I had a car that ran on vegetable oil and biodiesel and I found a cooperative of people in Ithaca who were collecting waste vegetable oil from restaurants and turning it into biodiesel in a trailer in the woods. And that was my first engagement with a formal cooperative, which people were sharing work, sharing ideas and really engaging democratically.

And then before too long, I was a founding member of a housing cooperative. I was also in the nonprofit world. I started to find worker cooperatives as something that was tying all of the pieces together. I wanted my work to feel meaningful and purposeful. I wanted it to build power for people. I wanted my work to be considerate of all of these varying facets. And I feel like co-ops, based upon the Rochdale Principles, really are inherently caring for the community, caring for the environment. So that’s kind of the pathway here.

And I’ve been a worker owner in cooperatives and I also have a nonprofit that I manage that develops cooperatives. And I think that I benefited personally in many ways from being part of the cooperative movement and also feel as if the cooperative movement is building infrastructure that can benefit a lot of people. It’s an exciting time to be part of the co-op space.

Katie:
It definitely is. Thanks so much. It’s really interesting hearing both of your backgrounds.
Next up, we wanted to ask, a lot of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at companies focus on hiring practices and work cultures. If more companies were to transition to a worker-owned ownership structure, what impact could that have on DEI?

McKenzie:
Yeah, this is a really great question. I’ve been thinking about it a little bit.
Hiring and workplace culture are realms of work where we should be really focused on diversity and equity and inclusion. And in the co-op context, there’s an ability for more people within a workplace to craft that workplace culture and to craft hiring practices and to be recruiting and making those hiring decisions. Sometimes when businesses say that they care about diversity in their hiring, there might still be a very narrow set of people making decisions about who gets hired. So first and foremost, a co-op can really open up the voices at the table.

And something that I’ll say now about workplace culture is that it exists whether or not it’s intentionally crafted, and so I think that co-ops are very intentional about how their workplace culture is crafted. We see workplace cultures that are toxic or unhealthy sometimes or extractive and maybe they don’t mean to be that way, but they are that way and they’re not intentionally creating an alternative. So in a co-op, there’s often a little bit more effort towards the culture itself being genuinely inclusive and equitable just because of how many people are at the table. When people who are providing labor for a company also have the ability to be the president of the board, there’s just already a more integrated and equitable mix.

And I think beyond those practices, management is another place where we see co-ops be able to really help to open up opportunities for diversity and inclusion and equity. Again, when all of the people who are working for a company and contributing to the profits of a company have the ability to be owners of that company and benefit from the profits of that company, those people feel more invested in the success of that company. We just know that a successful company, just like any ecosystem, is one that is diverse, that is balanced and that incorporates more voices and more ideas.

And this is not to say that there aren’t out there that struggle. There are plenty of all-white or male-led worker-owned cooperatives out there. But I think being able to have the pathway for workers to become owners is one way that worker co-ops are inherently economically more inclusive and just. And again, because of the principles that co-ops follow, there’s at least the sentiment of wanting to work towards racial justice and to work towards justice in other areas beyond economic. But at its core, a co-op is intended to be an economically equitable and just place.

Rebecca:
Yeah. Appreciating what you just said, McKenzie, and coming back to the basics are really helpful for me because I think they’re also really deep.

Co-ops are not profit-centered but people-centered. To me, that is inherently different than typical businesses and how worker co-ops might go about DEI or racial justice could look a lot different because they’re people-centered and it’s not exploiting labor necessarily in order to make more profit. I think that in itself starts to kind of unravel some of what happens in the world.

But also, the worker co-op movement started to add another principle around anti-oppression and anti-racism. I think that is really important for worker co-ops in the cooperative movement is to name this explicitly as our value as a movement so that we can pay attention to it because DEI, in itself, isn’t going to solve racism, sexism, all the other isms. And so coming back to what’s the space that we want and how do we make it happen could be a strength of cooperatives.

I also think democracy within the workplace, hiring aside, democracy within the workplace helps to shift power dynamics within your organization. And that, to me, is really the exciting part is how do we see the dynamics that are happening that we don’t want to happen, that aren’t serving us, that aren’t serving our people, all of the people on our team and in our community, we can expand it. But starting with this kind of closed container and then how do we shift those, knowing that those things are going to come up? We could have the best values, the most intentional team, we still live in this world that there’s a lot to unlearn. So how do we change within our team? How do we notice and slow things down and shift things?

That, to me, is where I think worker co-ops could really bring a lot of strength and a lot of power to DEI work and expanding what that even means beyond boxes to check. To me, that’s not as meaningful and I’m assuming that’s not what you’re asking, but also just to name it. That’s often what DEI is, and how do we just expand what collective liberation, collective justice means to us? That’s what I think our strength could be.

Katie:
Great, thanks Rebecca.
I’ve got this next question for McKenzie specifically. Lots of people in the B Corp community and the cooperative movement talk about building an inclusive economy. What does that mean to you, and what would it actually look like in practice?

McKenzie:
Another phrase that I really like to use along with inclusive economy is a solidarity economy. What that looks like is access to building internal power and wealth for all people.

That’s very simplistic of course, but if we’re going to compare it to a capitalist economy that we’re all living in and operating in, we see that there is untethered potential for growth for a very small group of people. There’s a lot, a lot, a lot of wealth for not many people and that’s sort of one of the pillars of capitalism, right? That anyone can become rich, but the truth is those rich people are only doing so on the backs of the labor of many, many, many people who are not participating in that wealth, who are not gaining that wealth. And that doesn’t even get into generational wealth. And Rebecca is talking about liberation. I mean, there’s a lot of oppression that has come before us, before our time, before our generation, before this iteration of end-state capitalism or something like that.

I think of an inclusive economy or a solidarity economy as one that is inherently meant to be shared. Profit is not on its own a bad thing. Money is neither good nor evil on its own, but the way that we use it, whether or not we’re oppressing people with it or liberating people, that’s where we get into some of that moral high ground. So I think that an inclusive economy is one that is ethically sound in that it’s truly accessible to all people and it’s shared among multiple people.

I have a list somewhere of the tenants of solidarity economy that I can’t entirely remember off the top of my head, but I encourage you all to look into it. I think an inclusive economy also is not just necessarily about making profit or generating wealth for this lifetime or generations to come, but I think it’s also about the decisions that are made about what we do with that wealth and who benefits from it.

So in my mind, on the ground, a solidarity or inclusive economy is one in which housing is accessible to every single person. Maybe that’s because interest rates are low, maybe that’s because there are no barriers to getting a loan for people based on being previously incarcerated or being previously bankrupt. Maybe a solidarity economy is one in which there’s not predatory lending, and so people aren’t stuck in cycles of debt and it makes it a lot easier to do something like get into a home. An inclusive economy is one in which there’s distribution of resources, and not just money resources but education and healthcare and just access to opportunity.

I think of a solidarity economy as one, not to be sort of Pollyanna about it, but it’s somewhat utopic or it’s an idealistic type of economy, one in which people can gain wealth, people can garner wealth but not at the expense of others. It’s a non-extractive economy, I think is a really important point. Solidarity economy is not one that oppresses people. It’s one in which people have options and choices about how they make their money, they own their work, they have options and choices about how they spend their money and they’re not being tied to creditors or lenders or employers for having a high quality of life, that those things are sort of developed and lived internally as opposed to at the whim of someone else who has already been fortunate enough to gain a lot of wealth.

Katie:
Thanks, McKenzie.
This next question’s for Rebecca. What’s the largest challenge you think the worker-owned cooperative movement faces in the United States and globally?

Rebecca:
There’s a few things I’m thinking about, so I’ll just share.

One of the things is believing that it’s possible that worker-owned co-ops work and also knowing that they exist. There’s a lot of people I talk to that I say, “I work at a worker co-op,” and they’re like, “What are you saying?” And explaining what worker cooperatives are and what it means and basically that the workers own the business together seems very hard for people to understand that that could work, that workers could own their own business and that they could do it together and that they could collaborate. Who makes the decisions? Who makes the final say, is a big question I get often. I think the belief that it is possible, that is a big challenge, like getting mainstream areas willing to believe that.

And I also think, on that same token, is creating really good examples of showing that it works and that aren’t the heroes that make it work. Showing really good examples without having a hero mentality about it, that these are the workers and that they made it work, so it’s not just one person. I think that’s shifting our understanding about leadership within organizations.

And I’ll also share when I got the opportunity to go to Mondragon and we were talking with some of the worker support people, kind of welfare in some sense, but it’s Mondragon-owned, and they were talking about helping people who were laid off from their job for whatever reason get into another cooperative within their Mondragon network. So if you are laid off, you can go to another Mondragon cooperative. But some of those people don’t have the skills for the other cooperatives, so they bring them to school. And they were explaining to us that they lower the hours so that they can go to school. That helps them also have their life outside of work and school and still be able to be placed into another cooperative.

And I was there with a group of students and people were like, “Oh. Well, wouldn’t that be nice?” How surprising that this company would support workers to have their work-life balance. It almost seemed like a shock to Americans that that was possible.
And so I think unlearning some of these beliefs that we have about what’s possible and how we can actually support each other to also have joy, access to joy. So those are some of the challenges I see today. Although tomorrow, maybe I’d have a different answer because I think there are a few, but today, those are most alive.

Katie:
A number of us here have read the Making Mondragon book. A really cool reference. Thanks for bringing them up.
I’ll open up this next question to both of you. What’s the largest challenge your worker-owned co-op has faced, and how did you rise to that challenge? And if you both would like to answer, great, or both of you don’t have an answer, that’s fine too.

McKenzie:
Yeah. In my experience as a member owner and also as a co-op developer, capital is one of the largest problems. I’ll say cashflow issues can be really difficult in a co-op. That’s in part because co-ops, as Rebecca mentioned, there’s a lot of education that needs to be done around them. They’re not attractive to your typical investor that’s just looking on turning a big profit or venture capitalists aren’t really interested in co-ops. And so there’s a small but mighty pool of groups that will help to fund or lend to co-ops.

But being able to get loan-ready as a worker-owned cooperative, it’s a little bit … There are practical implications, like taxes and how patronage is seen as income, that sort of stuff. But I think that there are also some mental and social barriers to getting co-ops money. A lot of people who are in the business of lending aren’t interested in just supporting a whole bunch of workers to make their dreams come true. People invest, banks invest because they have their own needs that they want to meet. They have their own profits that they want to turn.

So that’s just one big one that I think is pretty seen throughout the movement. Very similar to a lot of social impact organizations, whether they are co-ops or not, or a lot of grassroots movements, whether they’re cooperative or not. And we see that getting money is just kind of hard. There’s money out there, but moving it into the co-op movement is difficult.

And I’ve also seen decision-making can be tough. While we believe in the democratic process in workplaces, and while there are varying styles of governance that can suit different businesses, it can be challenging to make big decisions among a lot of people. And I don’t know that I need to belabor that point a lot because I think everyone here has experienced that, whether it be among a group of friends or within a family or maybe in a workplace that was somewhat collective. I think we come to the best conclusions when we make decisions together, but I can’t pretend that it’s always easy or without difficult emotions.

I’ve definitely had some hard conversations, as a board member in a co-op, for example, about the direction the co-op’s going to go or whether or not we’re going to terminate a member. Those are some real life decisions that can just take a long time to make when there are, rightfully so, many people making them together.

Rebecca:
Definitely what you said, McKenzie, resonates with me.

And for us, where the cash flow issue becomes … One of our biggest challenges, which I think we’re still facing, is matching up how we see ourselves, how we want to treat ourselves as workers, having benefits, really human-centered ways of looking at the work and not exploiting ourselves. And as a team of three people, it’s hard to have enough money in order to give ourselves benefits, in order to give ourselves the pay that would really support our quality of life. So I think matching up values and how we want to treat workers, including ourselves, and also being able to do that, that’s been hard to match up and we’ve had to be really creative about, “Okay, well how do we slow down a little bit? How do we not exploit ourselves?”

And part of how we’ve approached that is being creative about benefits, like having really flexible hours around time. Basically unlimited time off in some ways, but not paid, but letting people just slow down where they need to. And also, giving ourselves many breaks within the work. Even if we can’t project that we can give ourselves the amount of PTO, we can see, “Okay, in this next six months or whatever, we have some spaciousness and we should take it now.” So this more agile approach to supporting ourselves, even if it doesn’t fit in the business model, it’s still important, so finding the little pockets of support.

Katie:
That’s great, thank you.

Changing gears a little bit, there has been a lot of buzz lately about the great resignation and quiet quitting. Clearly a lot of workers aren’t happy at work. How do you think worker-owned cooperatives address this pervasive sense of dissatisfaction? We’ll start with you, McKenzie.

McKenzie:
Yeah, man, that’s such a loaded term, right? Quiet quitting. Just the idea that if we don’t do exactly what our company wants us to do when we want to do it, even if it’s outside of our job description or beyond the hours we’re meant to work, means that we are somehow disloyal. That’s a sign of an extractive economy. I think the concept of quiet quitting is a vestige of the toxicity of many workplaces that we live in.

I think that co-op address that workplace dissatisfaction purely by providing an alternative. And I think we actually saw, since the beginning of the pandemic where we know so many workers became disenfranchised with lack of safety, lack of hazard pay, losing jobs, et cetera, while Jeff Bezos made trillions more dollars for himself, I think we’ve seen an increase in interest in worker cooperatives and in alternative styles of work, working with each other, working on our own.

I don’t have the stats on hand, but every year the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and their research arm, the Democracy at Work Institute, put out a state of the sector report on cooperatives. And I want to say that maybe in 2019, there were like 450 co-ops in the United States, and now I think it’s closer to 600, which means that there are new co-ops being formed rapidly. I think it’s really tied to mutual aid in that sense. I think that the ways that we saw mutual aid networks organically show up when people were out of work, when people didn’t have money for food, when people who weren’t compromised couldn’t be in public grocery stores, we saw a lot of informal mutual aid networks come together to support those people. And I think that a lot of those grassroots efforts are formalizing in many ways and one of them is definitely in worker cooperatives.

I think one way that a co-op can address worker dissatisfaction is by existing within a container in which that feedback is welcome and seen as generative. All co-ops function differently, but I do a lot of coaching on developing a conflict resolution process or a grievance process for worker owners because there are decisions that have to be made together, because everyone has an owning stake in the business. It’s obvious that we want people to be feeling happy, we want people to be feeling connected to each other. We want people to be working well together. So co-ops will tend to lean a little bit more into some of those collaboration styles and governance styles that involve a lot of people making decisions together, creating a pathway for, “If you are dissatisfied, this is who you can talk to and you can trust us to want to care about you because you are us, we are us, we are you.”

So you might have a human resources manager in a cooperative who is a member owner the same way that a software developer is. There’s equal playing field for worker owners. If someone is agitated at work, there’s ideally a place to go and someone who understands their role. I think that’s something really special that a co-op can offer because people are resigning from their jobs when they’re dissatisfied because they’ve probably expressed that dissatisfaction and no one believed them or no one cared or no one developed a pathway out of that dissatisfaction for them.

In a co-op, if I’m a member owner, regardless of what my job description is, I can go to another member owner, and say, “I know you know what I’m talking about. We might not agree on this topic, but we are in the same space together. We were in that same room together. I know you can understand that I’m having a hard time with this decision. How can we move forward together?” A philosophy of collaboration and wanting to improve lives for each other as opposed to making decisions across the board that we don’t care about the satisfaction of workers’ impact.

There are those tactical tools, like developing grievance process that’s way more common in a co-op than I’ve seen in standard businesses, and also just sort of the emotional philosophical feeling of being in solidarity with other people. It’s a lot easier to feel satisfied if you feel not other than people that you’re working with.

Katie:
Really great point. Rebecca, do you have anything to add on that question?

Rebecca:
Yeah, I’ll just kind of offer a little snippet. In my cooperative studies, and I really resonate with this, one of the studies was on factory workers in Argentina that had become a cooperative. The researcher, I think Marcelo Vieta is the researcher, and they were interviewing them asking like, “How’s work?” They’re like, “Oh man, it’s really just so hard. I go home, I’m stressed about the business. The decisions are so hard. I spend a lot more time at work now that we own it. It’s just a lot more responsibility and effort.” And they’re like, “Okay, okay.” They’re getting all the information about what people are having challenges with and then they say, “So would you go back to how the factory was before?” They’re like, “Oh, definitely not.” And they ask them why, and it’s partially about autonomy and power over their work, and just so much more influence on their world is possible, even though it is harder, it’s not utopia. It’s not like, “Oh, we’re a worker co-op and now it’s all easy.”

And this really resonates to me is that we have a sense of, “I really like to have ownership of my work and ownership over my life and that is key to me.” So is my worker co-op world the best? Nothing bad ever happens? No, but it feels worth it to be in that together and it feels it aligns well.

So I think that’s, to me, part of the answer to that is, does it align? Do you have influence and power over your work? That would be my sense of part of the answer to quiet quitting or reframing, even, what quiet quitting is.

Katie:
Thanks so much. I have one last question for both of you. Why don’t you think more people know about worker-owned cooperatives, and how can we spread the word?

Rebecca, why don’t we start with you this time?

Rebecca:
I think partly, as a co-op movement, we’re learning how to do this better, but we’re not great at naming how cooperation has existed already in Lots of our communities and how cooperation has existed for a long time before worker co-ops became an incorporation and even since. To me, I think we need to expand what we’ll allow into the umbrella of cooperation and worker cooperatives, personally. That could be controversial, possibly.

And I think how we spread the word is just to share the case studies, the anecdotes of what’s happening in our work and be really front-forward about that we are cooperatives. I think that’s really important, really communicating that identity is important to spreading the word.

Katie:
And more podcasts, right?

Rebecca:
Oh, definitely.

Katie:
Yeah. McKenzie, how about you?

McKenzie:
Yeah, definitely more podcasts, more books, more webinars, more conferences, definitely more abilities, opportunities for people to engage, I think, is a big part of it.

I definitely agree with what Rebecca’s saying about case studies and building an identity. I think that there is something that individual co-ops and also the coop movement is trying to develop, which is what’s our theory of change? What are the social impacts that we’re trying to have, and where are we successful, and where are we falling short?

And yeah, finding ways to not see our work in a silo or in a vacuum because worker co-ops do really dovetail nicely with a lot of grassroots efforts, with a lot of anti-racist work, with a lot of work that’s trying to break down the patriarchy. It’s all very intertwined and I think that it’s easy for anybody in any work to get a little bit tunnel-visioned about it.

And so I think worker co-ops, developing more relationships and partnerships with non-co-ops is important. There’s so much work in strengthening relationships between co-ops, which is really, really important because we have to have a solid foundation of other businesses like ours, of other people who we feel aligned with. But there’s a point at which we sort of have to turn outward and start developing some of those connections with larger institutions, with governments. In some cases, the very systems that we are railing against. And I think that that can be difficult and a little scary for grassroots movements to engage with. There’s work to be done there. I think that’s part of it.

So infiltrating, I think that co-ops are trying to sort of infiltrate other areas of society, but not everyone knows how to do that. Everybody who’s in a worker-owned co-op and everyone who’s a cooperative developer and everyone who’s part of the movement is just human. With the human experiences we have, there’s no secret formula for how to get people to care more about it.

I do think that there can be a lot of work to clarify, and again, connect between other types of co-ops. I think a lot of people are familiar with consumer co-ops. Many of us might be members of grocery co-ops. I bet some of you are members of REI, which is one of the nation’s largest consumer co-ops. You might buy your dairy products from Organic Valley, which is a producer co-op of farmers. I think people have some idea that co-ops exist. I think worker co-ops are the least visible because they’re not necessarily consumer-facing.

So I think finding ways for worker co-ops to partner with some of those other types of cooperatives, similar to the Mondragon, I think that’s going to do a lot.

And with many sort of on-the-ground efforts, a lot of hardworking people who shouldn’t exhaust themselves but have a lot of energy, I think it helps to just speak about it.

I was recently traveling for a work opportunity and had a layover in the Detroit airport and was sitting in a bar and struck up a conversation with somebody who asked what I do. He was like, “I’ve never heard of a co-op. Tell me more about it.” And he was really interested and he looked at some websites and I was like, “Great. There’s one more convert.” So I think just in our lives, the way that we interact with people, putting it at the forefront, not in a, “This is my work and I only care about my work way,” but, “My work is part of a big social movement and I think it could benefit you and I think it could benefit from your engagement also.” There’s a really symbiotic relationship between the workers and the co-ops, and the co-ops and the movement, and the movement and the workers, and all the individuals that are impacted, the families of the workers.

So yeah, Rebecca, exactly. Relationship building. I think it’s a lot of spreading the good word about what co-ops can do, and being willing to stand up for it in the face of someone who’s really, really attached to capitalism or extractive economies. I think it takes some courage, but I think that the movement itself has that.

Katie:
Thanks to both of you for some really thoughtful answers.

And thanks to our listeners for joining us for another episode of The Remarkable Credit Union. Here are some of my key takeaways.
First of all, co-ops are more than just an ownership structure. They are democracy in practice. They are a tool for creating not just better workplaces, but also better communities. And there are lots of ways to co-op outside the workplace as well. For instance, as part of a housing co-op or a barter and trade community.

Secondly, since co-ops are about bringing more people into the decision-making processes, they are particularly conducive to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Introducing democracy within the workplace is a really impactful way to shift power dynamics. It gets more people involved in crafting the culture and hiring practices for your organization. And while profits are always needed to keep the doors open, co-ops are people-centered, not exclusively profit-centered.

And then just taking a step back to look at the co-op movement as a whole, they are really about re-imagining our economy, shifting from an extractive economy to a solidarity economy, which is about building and sharing power and wealth for all. And while money is neither inherently good nor evil, we really learned that how we use it and distribute it is what’s key.

The so-called great resignation and quiet quitting trends we’ve recently seen are a direct response to the toxic extractive nature of most workplaces. And many workers became disillusioned during the pandemic and some started practicing cooperation through organic mutual aid networks. The co-op movement is really growing because people crave autonomy over their jobs and lives, even though ownership can be stressful and hard.

And finally, the co-op movement has tons of opportunities for growth. I think that’s really inspiring to me. We need more case studies and we also just need to connect the dots on ways we are already cooperating with one another in our daily lives, and we need more relationship building between co-ops and need to promote a unified theory of change.

Thanks again for joining us today for another great episode. And until next time, I wish you the best of luck in making your credit union remarkable.

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