Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Community Currency Magazine and Main Street Cash Merge

Hi friends of the alternative currency world,

As Mark Herpel, dedicated editor of Main Street Cash (the only major new source for currencies), focuses on healing, leadership of these two major news sources of the currency movement are being merged for more efficiency in publishing and ease for our readers. Matthew Slater will be leading this merger as it morphs into a "collaborative community crowdsourcing project". BACE members will be helping out in this endeavor. If you have articles or updates about your currency project or currency theory, please send to matslats (at) gmail.com so we can keep the movement connected and moving forward together.

Thanks! Mira Luna

Alternative Economy Theory

If you are new to this blog and alternative economic theory here are a few good articles to start with to gain a background in common currents of thought:


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why We Started Giftflow

by Hans Schoenberg
from Shareable.net

The most emailed NY Times article right now is titled “But Will It Make You Happy?” Questioning our consumer culture, the author interviews a number of wealthy yet unhappy people who found relief in giving away their many possessions. One of the interviewee’s has the last line: “Give away some of your stuff,’ she advises. See how it feels.”

Here in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, there are hundreds of people living within one mile of the coffee shop where we wrote this essay who lack access to some of the most fundamental human needs. At the same time, hundreds more are frustrated with the way consumption has taken over their lives and cluttered their homes. The abundance of stuff that is the result of our consumption driven culture could potentially be used to not only help friends share with friends, but to change entire communities.

Each year, Yale Recycling’s Spring Salvage program gathers the goods students would have otherwise thrown away as they move out of their dorms. The “waste,” worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, is then distributed to local nonprofits. This event demonstrates that the New Haven community already has the resources it needs in the form of excess stuff, but for most of the year those resources sit unused in our houses and dorms. A system only exists to reuse this “waste” once a year and only because Yale can afford to finance it. We saw an opportunity to reimagine how communities can share and work together.

We started GiftFlow to give communities a new set of tools. Here’s how it works: individuals log onto GiftFlow and create a profile where they list everything they have to give away (ranging from a spare jacket to an hour of volunteer time) and everything they need. You give what you can to get what you need. Each transaction is recorded so that individuals can gain a reputation for contributing to their community.

The driving force behind the system is an ethic of indirect reciprocity or circular giving. Lewis Hyde described it best in his book The Gift:

“Circular giving differs from reciprocal giving in several ways. First, when the gift moves in a circle, no one ever receives it from the same person she gives it to...When the gift moves in a circle its motion is beyond the control of the personal ego, and so each bearer must be part of the group and each donation is an act of social faith.”

Hans first came across accounts of gift economies while studying economic anthropology. Giving without expectation of immediate return, many people in Mali participate in an informal gift economy that includes everything from child care to food from the garden. They see the gift as a string, connecting families, friends and neighbors in a web of mutual support. As a political organizer, Hans believed the idea of a gift economy carried far more potential to create change than mainstream campaigns around distant and often negative political issues.

The ethic of indirect reciprocity can support entire organizations, however, these social structures aren’t always robust. Cris learned this first hand when he helped to create the New Haven Bike Collective. Based around a gift economy of unwanted bicycles and the free time of volunteers, the main drag on the group came from a constant sense of being “free-ridden.” People would take a free bike and give little back to the organization. Cris immediately got involved in Giftflow because he saw how it could provide a platform to account for who supports and who benefits from the Collective.

In the past, gift economies only worked in small social circles because of problems with coordination and reputation. Brandon had been studying how the Internet can change social interactions, and realized that an online social network could support a gift economy. A website could strengthen and formalize what is already happening in communities around the world, making it work well across greater distances, in larger social circles, between individuals as well as institutions.

Our team continues to grow. We are a non-profit and welcome the gifts and contributions of anyone who might be interested. We hope that the online community of GiftFlow creates an offline community of mutual interdependence and support.

Monday, August 23, 2010

SF Community Congress Economic Plan

Posted on August 13, 2010 by sfcommunitycongress

Guiding principles

1. Economic development policies must contribute to the health and well-being of the city’s neighborhoods and residents, provide decent wages, have a positive impact on the urban environment, and promote alternative ownership models.

2. Local government is a key driver of the local economy, both through infrastructure development and public sector employment.

3. Economic policy must balance “external” market linkages with the powers of local government to create more democratic and accountable development. [don’t understand this one – rephrase?]

4. The city’s existing financial resources should be mobilized to fund economically viable social enterprises.

5. Local government must provide means for shaping economic development, through new forms of participatory governance that encourage representation of constituents typically excluded from decisionmaking.

I. Financing and Promoting Local Development

1. Establish a Municipal Bank of San Francisco by amending the City’s charter, to be incorporated as a federally insured credit union, and funded with an initial investment of [$100 million] of City reserves, with additional increments thereafter, to invest in community-based economic development, such as small businesses, local clean energy, social enterprises and cooperatives, and other projects that provide economic benefits to low income residents of San Francisco.
2. Establish a publicly-owned Municipal Development Corporation (MDC) to undertake large-scale production of goods and services to be sold at competitive rates, such as clean energy (see #3), medical marijuana cultivation, and a city-owned fiber optic network, with surpluses used to invest in community-based economic development.
3. Begin investing in large-scale, renewable clean energy projects funded through a combination of local revenue bonds and funding from a local Municipal Bank, with the goal of entirely supplanting PG&E from the local market, and using surpluses to invest in community-based economic development.

II. Reforming Local Governance

1. Consolidate the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, as well as relevant economic development aspects of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and the Department of City Planning, into a Department of Community-based Economic Development, to be overseen by a commission jointly appointed by the Mayor and Supervisors, and charged with insuring the economic development policy is implemented in accordance with the City Charter and the General Plan.
2. Establish Local Community Councils consisting of members from a diverse range of San Francisco neighborhoods and sectors, with official [consultation status] within the new Department of Community-based Economic Development, and with seats on the boards of both the Municipal Bank and the MDC, to ensure that policies address the needs of a broad spectrum of San Francisco residents.

III. Fiscal Reform of Local Government

1. Implement a long-term progressive tax revenue plan, by convening a post-election working group in early 2011, to conduct research into the impacts of taxation schemes on private sector investment, develop recommendations, and guidelines for implementation.
2. Establish a Community Budgeting process in conjunction with progressive taxation, the Municipal Bank and the MDC, with councils from each of San Francisco’s electoral districts, charged with developing initial recommendations to the Board as part of the annual appropriations process, to insure greater participation in the budgeting process.

IV. Labor and Development Standards

1. Require all contractors with the City to implement just cause termination procedures, and require card check neutrality agreements with local non-profits as a condition of receiving City funding to give employees choice in whether they wish to be represented by a union
2. Require all developers to negotiate with the San Francisco Building Trades Council to insure targeted hiring requirements are applied to local construction jobs
3. Require all future approvals of large-scale development projects to adhere to strict local hiring mandates, and require developers to insure that at least 75% of all project-related jobs (including those that are subcontracted) to pay the local living wage, and fees to provide seed money to local work center organizations to conduct oversight of fair hiring and remuneration standards.
4. All employers located in any City-approved major development shall be required to give hiring priority to residents from surrounding neighborhoods, to low income individuals and those earning less then 80% of city medium income, in conjunction with “first source” hiring offices to be administered by the Department of Community-based Economic Development.
5. Enhance the effectiveness of the Community Jobs Program through controlling legislation and examination of existing strengths and weaknesses in implementation of the CJP.
6. Establish a San Francisco Green Jobs Corps to provide paid on-the-job training to those facing barriers to long-term employment in doing energy audits and assessments, assisting low-income home owners and small businesses in obtaining loans and rebates for energy efficiency retrofits, and performing “low-tech” energy retrofits, such as caulking, weather-stripping and insulation. The training program would place people in long-term green jobs in workers cooperatives that would perform the energy retrofits funded by loan and rebate programs.

V. Investing in the Arts, Worker Coops, Small Business, Urban Manufacturing, and the Green Economy

Cultural Economy

1. Consolidate existing arts programs in a new Cultural Economy Department, to commission work by local artists, and sponsor and promote local art, music, and performance festivals; creatie ongoing earned income opportunities for San Francisco artists by seeding their participation in international projects; and identify locations for arts centers and arts industry incubators on public property (like Port land).
2. Consolidate the current 1-2% for art developer fees, to be directed towards community arts activity, providing space support through rent subsidies and other programs that support culturally-based arts industries.
3. Create a municipal cultural works program, similar to the New Deal’s Federal arts, music, and theater programs.

Solidarity Economy & Worker Cooperatives

1. Create a Cooperative Technical Assistance Center, a Cooperative Loan Fund, and a Cooperative Business Incubator site, to support worker cooperatives and other alternative worker-owned, worker-run business endeavors, as well as supporting the development of Community-owned corporations.
2. Implement procurement policies for all city agencies and other public agencies (such as the universities and hospitals), to prioritize procurement from existing and emerging worker cooperatives, other social enterprises, and locally-owned small businesses.

Small Businesses and Urban Manufacturing

1. Develop a comprehensive commercial corridor and “Back Street Business” assistance, retention, and attraction program.
2. Link workforce development and placement (and community college programs) to the employment needs and entrepreneurship potential of San Francisco small businesses, Back Streets enterprises, and emerging green economy and worker coop sectors.
3. Create regulation to ensure that all neighborhood economic development entities and business improvement districts truly represent local residents, workers, and small businesses, not just property owner interests.

Green Economy and Urban Agriculture

1. Mandate public procurement of local, healthy, living-wage foods, and provide subsidy support to programs that sell local healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods, to be funded through new progressive taxes on unhealthy and/or expensive foods.
2. Create urban agriculture zoning designations and begin conversion of surplus city-owned properties for urban agriculture, including portions of the city’s golf courses into farms and orchards, employing San Francisco’s new Green Job Corps workers.
3. Develop an urban agriculture outreach and education program, including workforce development, neighborhood tool libraries and materials depots, and R&D into roof gardens, vertical farming and aquaculture.
4. Commit to the comprehensive seismic and energy retrofit of 100% of San Francisco’s existing multifamily and rental housing units by the year 2020, to be funded through a rotating capital improvement fund created by the pooling of renters’ security deposits.
5. Create a green business incubator with a focus on R&D and manufacturing of appropriate technologies, including recycling and remanufacture businesses.

VI. Institutionalizing an Alternative Economic Development Agenda

1. Establish a new, independent think tank to undertake ongoing research, feasibility and analysis for progressive revenue, governance, and economic development policy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Cooperative Manifesto

By Tim Huet

A Manifesto for a Life-Changing Conclusion

When my colleagues, the editors of this publication, asked me to write a brief piece explaining why I got into cooperative development, I responded that this posed a perhaps insurmountable difficulty: briefly explaining how I arrived at the life-changing conclusion that (trumpets, please) There Is No More Important Social Change Work You Can Do Than Cooperative Development. I mentioned that I'd been thinking of writing an essay arguing that— while chaining oneself to a tree might be sexier; while blockading WTO meetings might seem more “front-line”; while busting-out Starbucks windows might seem more cutting-edge—There Is No More Important Social Change Work You Can Do Than Cooperative Development (hereinafter, TINMISCWYCDTCD). The editors responded with the generous offer of feature space in order to accommodate the TINMISCWYCDTCD argument. So, the editors having called my bluff (giving me enough space/rope to hang myself), here I am pounding out my Cooperative Manifesto.

In the following section, I've laid out six conclusions I reached some dozen years ago (in my mid-twenties) that premised my decision to devote myself to cooperative development. Before launching into those conclusions/premises, I wish to clarify that I don't use the term “cooperative development” in some restrictive sense to mean only starting new cooperatives or expanding/restructuring established ones. For me, anything that a member does to improve her/his cooperative or help it achieve its mission is cooperative development (could be excellent customer service, could be developing personnel systems). I'll argue herein that all such cooperative development work is inherently important social change work.

A Long and Logical Road

Premise 1: Regulation and reform will not keep capitalism from destroying our environment and creating disastrous social cleavages; fundamental change is needed.

I could go on for a quite a while regarding why capitalism inevitably leads to ecological and social ruin -- and there was a time (during my student days) when I did go on at length about the pathology and prognosis. But I came to the conclusion that it was largely a waste of time. Because—

Premise 2: There's no point convincing people of the prevailing system's intrinsic and inevitable failings if you can't offer hope of anything better.

I became very proficient at persuading people regarding the downsides and doom. But that simply led to the question, “What can you offer better?” And, believe me, an exploration of the theoretical promise of anarcho-syndicalism or your-ideal(ist)-prescription-of-choice won't get you very far with most people. Because—

Premise 3: The overwhelming majority of people cannot be convinced with theoretical arguments, but require demonstrative proof.


Premise 4: You can't simply wait for capitalism to collapse (or work to “tear down capitalism”), with the expectation that “after the collapse” people will “get revolutionary consciousness” and be receptive to your arguments about building a truly democratic society and economy.

History indicates clearly that, in the wake of economic collapse, people are more likely to listen to fascist/totalitarian appeals to their fears and hunger than they are to elaborate proposals for building a more democratic economy and society. We cannot simply await the apocalypse, cheering or working for capitalismís collapse; we need to build the democratic future now. We at least need to build a working example of a democratic future economy and society, an inspiring example people can turn to as their eyes are opened wide by capitalismís escalating crises and increasingly frequent crashes. Moreover—

Premise 5: Efforts to tear down the system or protest its injustices do not develop the constructive skills and habits of mind that a democratic economy and society require.

There is plenty about the current regime that inspires and even requires protest. But we get stuck in an oppositional, critical, reactive mentality if all we do is protest. By endeavoring to build working models of economic democracy, we also build the constructive skills and thinking that will be needed to operate the equitable ìpost-capitalistî society we envision.


Premise 6: You cannot achieve true democracy without economic democracy, democracy in the workplace.

You cannot say a society is truly democratic if its adults spend the majority of their waking hours in undemocratic workplaces and do not enjoy control over the basic elements of their lives (no control over their jobs ultimately means no security regarding their homes, healthcare, time, education, etc.). And the undemocratic nature of work for most adults has effects beyond the workplace and outside working hours. Autocratic models of relating in the workplace carryover into the family, larger community, and political realm. Conversely, I believe that members of worker cooperatives learn democratic skills and ways of interacting with each other—and the confidence that comes from taking control over your life—hat benefits their families and larger communities, and can carryover into the political realm.

Indeed, I don't think there is much hope for achieving even limited political democracy (what I refer to as “periodic democracy”) if you don't have the everyday democracy of workplace democracy. It is a dirty secret that no liberal and few progressives wish to acknowledge: an electorate without everyday democratic experience/perspective/skills, and the security that comes from controlling oneís fate, is too easily manipulated by fear-mongers, prejudice-peddlers, and other rightist political operators. And yet so much progressive energy goes towards state, national, and international campaigns when we lack communities/bases of everyday democracy from which to build—when we have failed to build up everyday democracy from the grassroots, community by community.

So, the more obvious meaning of my seventh premise is that “we wont have achieved true democracy until we have workplace democracy”; but the more important meaning, the one that drives my action agenda, is “we need to build cooperatives as bases for a democracy movement.”

The Promise and Importance of Worker Cooperatives for a Broader Democracy Movement

For me, worker cooperatives are not simply businesses; they are democracy demonstration projects, schools for democracy, laboratories for democracy, and organizing bases for democracy. What I mean by worker cooperatives being schools and organizing bases for democracy is perhaps clear from the above sections. But there are a couple of other points I would like to make and expand on.

Democracy demonstration projects: As stated above, it is critical to build working examples of economic democracy that people can see and experience. From that point of view, every worker cooperative is a democracy demonstration project beyond simply being a business. In addition to producing bread, bicycles, etc., we produce hope and inspiration.

As importantly, we can provide an example and experience of community, which people hunger for in our disconnected society. I see the proof and power of this on a regular basis through the cooperative bakeries with which Iím mostly directly associated. Customers come in not simply for the great bread, but also for the sustenance of community. They sense the community at our cooperatives and want to be part of that.

It follows from this that every interaction with the general public is imbued with social change importance and opportunity. Conversely, it is a wasted opportunity (or worse) if we fail to show care or concern, if we fail to serve our communities any better than “wage slaves” under the watch of a boss.

Worker cooperatives have to work for everyone, not just idealists or activists: Earlier I referenced the promise of worker cooperatives to provide activists with “right livelihood,” the opportunity to live out and further their values; however, I feel strongly that worker cooperatives have to be attractive workplaces for people other than avowed activists. If we only build businesses-communities that work for idealists (“Aren't you dedicated enough to work for minimum wage?!), we've hardly proven anything regarding the viability of economic democracy. Personally, I find it most satisfying when we hire people who've never heard or cooperatives and have never been active in their communities. It is one of the greatest pleasures of my work to see such people blossom, to grow in confidence and skills —and then perhaps lend their newly-developed skills to broader community endeavors.

Laboratories for democracy: The sad fact is that humanity has only the most rudimentary knowledge, vocabulary, technology, etc. for how to relate to each other and work together as equals. An important part of our function as cooperators and agents for social change is to be very conscious regarding our experiments in democracy and community. We are developing knowledge (regarding conflict resolution, communication, collective decision-making) very much needed not simply for the effective functioning of democratic workplaces, but for the establishment of relations based on equality and respect throughout society.

Worker cooperatives can generate capital for social causes, but shouldn't give it all away: During the 1970s ferment of U.S. worker cooperative development (I'm referencing such things as the “food conspiracies” that blossomed in the Upper Midwest, Bay Area, etc.), there was a prevalent “hippie ethic”: making money was evil and paying attention to business was “uptight” and “bourgeois”. Some movement maturation and natural selection took place. The cooperatives that survived and thrived were generally ones that realized paying attention to business allowed you to better serving your community, including generating resources for community betterment.

I know that in my region, worker cooperatives have historically been important and generous contributors to (other) social change organizations. This is something to be proud of. However, I do wonder if we have not historically under-estimated the social change value of worker cooperative development by underinvesting in our own movement. It is my hope that worker cooperatives will begin to seriously consider whether contributing to the development of more democratic jobs might be as worthwhile as donating money to charities, the arts, and other social change organizations.

Likewise, valuing our inherent social change role should inform the relationship of worker cooperatives to the larger social justice movements. While social change work is my motivation for being involved with cooperatives, it does not follow that I believe cooperatives should serve, above all, as platforms or purses for political causes. Worker cooperatives do have resources and a great deal of visibility that we can lend to various causes. However, I believe we should do this only in a focused and judicious way (for instance, a grocery cooperative focusing its support in the areas of organics and farm workers rights, or a taxi cooperative focusing its efforts on transportation policy). We need to be cautious not to tear ourselves apart or alienate our customer bases by involving ourselves in every hot-button-issue-of-the-day; to do this would waste our social capital, since by forwarding the worker cooperative movement we may contribute more to the social change movement in the long-run. This does not mean that I think worker cooperatives should stand apart from other social change movements, as I will explain in the concluding section.

As Important, Not More Important—

And Not Sufficient

I'm aware that my opening claim of TINMISCWYCDTCD would strike some activists in other social change movements as a bit grandiose and perhaps even offensive (“How can he put that on the same level as the urgent frontline work we're doing?!). I'm hoping that this essay might reach and provoke such activists to see cooperatives as an integral to any movement for justice, peace, and sustainability. That you're not accomplishing much to save the environment if you don't address the economic engine that drives consumption and belches out pollution. That, if you want peace and democracy overseas, you should care fiercely about establishing economic as well as political democracy domestically; that developing locally-rooted sustainable economic democracy is critical to countering the forces of global expansionism and military adventure.

Yet, I do not claim that cooperative development is more important than all other forms of social change work. There are various forms of social change work that are just as important, and need to be carried out simultaneously if not in conjunction. I don't think cooperative development in itself will ever solve all the world's problems. Nor do I think worker cooperatives can or should stand apart from other social change movements; for instance, we need to battle the many injustices (racism, sexism, etc.) that pervade our society and will not be barred from our doors by any declaration that “we're all equal here at our cooperative”. In particular, I think worker cooperators need to think of ourselves and act as part of the larger labor movement, not leaving behind other workers because “we got ours”.

And I can fully understand someone dedicating herself or himself to another form of social change work and never having anything to do with cooperatives. Those who seek to be agents of social change should choose the area(s) in which they can best contribute and find the most fulfillment. For myself, I have found cooperative development to be very fulfilling as well as meaningful, and I hope to convince many others to join in.

Tim Huet helps to establish and develop bakery cooperatives through the Association of Arizmendi Cooperatives, which he co-founded in Northern California. Until recently, he was also a member of Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, where he served in various management capacities. Tim serves other worker cooperatives as an organizational consultant and attorney. He also is a Board Director for the U.S. Conference of Democratic Workplaces. His writing on cooperatives and self-management has been published in Dollars & Sense, Grassroots Economic Organizing, Peace Review, and The Stanford Law & Policy Review.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Bay Area needs to act like a city-state

A good argument for regaining local economic control through city or regional banks and currencies, as well as economic planning institutions.

From SFGate.com
Paul Saffo
Sunday, July 11, 2010

It is July and once again California has no budget. The Legislature is gridlocked and the governor is wrestling with state Controller John Chiang in a reprise of his annual minimum-wage stunt. In short, Sacramento is fiddling its tired old tune while California's economy crumbles.

It is clear that Sacramento can't solve California's problems. It is also clear that California's voters are unwilling to force real change, preferring merely to add to the state's thicket of ruinous, gridlock-inducing initiatives. Meanwhile, the mess in Sacramento is threatening the Bay Area's economic future.

That is why the Bay Area needs to start thinking like a city-state. In an age when nations have become so large that their citizens no longer identify with distant governments, city-states are political units large enough to have a global economic impact but small enough for even the most casual citizen to understand the relationships that make their city-state work. Politicians are local and thus more inclined to pragmatism and constructive action. Businesses understand that their fortunes are tied to the success of the local community. This balance between effect and size and the tendency toward social cohesion make contemporary city-states like Singapore and Hong Kong bright spots in an uncertain global economy.

The Bay Area has all the qualities of a successful city-state. Consider geography: The Bay Area isn't an island like Singapore but, like Hong Kong, it is defined by a central bay and bordered by mountains. There are no "Welcome to the Bay Area" signs on our highways, yet we all know where we leave the rest of California and enter the Bay Area.

Successful city-states have outsize economies compared to their neighbors'. If the Bay Area were to secede from California, it would instantly become the world's 25th largest economy, ahead of Austria, Taiwan, Greece and Denmark.

City-states have global business reputations. Singapore is synonymous with pragmatic corruption-free business; Hong Kong is famous for its trading savvy. The Bay Area is the global model for innovation and entrepreneurship, a fact underscored by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's recent pilgrimage to Silicon Valley in search of new ideas. The Bay Area has launched industries from personal computing and digital media to biotech, and is home to more fast-growing companies than anywhere else in the United States.

City-states have distinct identities. The Bay Area is at once diverse and socially cohesive, with a strong sense of self-identity. Residents may joke about the Bay to Breakers or the latest resolution passed by the People's Republic of Berkeley, but they are also quick to explain to outsiders why the Bay Area is so special. This cohesion can be the basis of an all-important common ground, missing elsewhere in California as the Bay Area faces up to the coming economic challenges.

City-states have pragmatic governments. Pragmatism grows up from the local level, where decisionmakers witness the consequences of their decisions in their own backyards. Bay Area cities may be in considerable pain, but cities like San Jose started facing up to their problems years before Sacramento got serious, and towns like San Carlos have been proactive in attempts to re-engineer services (the city recently outsourced its police department). The Bay Area might not resemble Singapore with its highly disciplined government ministries, but our local governmental bodies have shown remarkable foresight in creating regional bodies like BART, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to achieve pragmatic long-term goals. City-states also have awkward relationships with their neighbors. Malaysia still resents Singapore's independence and success, and Hong Kong citizens regularly oppose policies imposed on it by Beijing's central government. The Bay Area hasn't experienced this sort of tension with Sacramento, or other California regions, but it is time to do so. Tension would signal that the Bay Area is finally acting as a single body when it comes to looking out for its vital interests.

As a city-state, the Bay Area needs to remind our representatives in Sacramento that they represent us, not the entire state, much less a political party. Our local politicians also need to make themselves heard directly in Sacramento and Washington as Bay Area voices and not merely as representatives of local cities. And Bay Area business, academic and cultural leaders need to do the same.

This sounds like a recipe for regional selfishness, but it also could be what breaks California's ruinous political gridlock and rescues the Golden State's economy. A sudden outbreak of city-state pragmatism might shock Sacramento out of its ideological deadlock and into a serious exploration of how to effect essential but unpopular solutions - from service cuts and tax increases to a rewriting of our state Constitution.

And if the rest of the state doesn't come to its senses, perhaps the Bay Area should follow Singapore's example in 1965 and threaten to secede. If we stopped tax payments to Sacramento and embargoed the export of iPhones, the rest of California would beg us to return - and on our own terms.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How Money Separates Us

by Mira Luna

I came to currency work out of a sense of hope for a new economy that builds relationships between people and with nature rather than breaking them. I also come from a place of trauma. I have watched through my activist work people being exploited in sweatshops, people being poisoned to death or disability, and the Earth that I love so much be carelessly destroyed. I have also experienced trauma of exploitation, abuse and alienation in personal relationships as a result of the money paradigm.

In my activist work, I see people destroying each other and the Earth in order to gain a profit or just make a living in poorly designed economy that doesn’t provide enough money for everyone to feel secure. They chase after pieces of paper or numbers in an account in cyberspace believing this is the only way to get their needs met. They obsessively and blindly funnel their energy into systems that doesn't care about their survival at all. Survival in that system requires insensitivity, callousness and often pure luck (being born white, male or with rich parents or simply a good gamble on the stock market). We turn a blind eye to abuse of the Earth and vulnerable people in order play the game and hope that we win. Winning doesn't require merit of good behavior and usually involves someone else losing.

In my personal relationships, I see my friends, family, coworkers and lovers try to maximize their share of the pie. They see me as separate from them, especially when I need help buying medicine, conveniently reconnecting when I seem more well or financially independent (which is really challenging when you have a life-threatening, disabling illness). In several relationships, I’ve had boyfriends reconsider our relationship because I didn’t make enough or they saw the hole of medical debt I’m in and run away scared. I’ve had friends and partners who have lots of money sit by and watch me get ill again as I couldn’t afford the right medicine. I’ve had family members stop contacting me for fear I’ll ask them for money, even if I never had. I’ve also had people close to me steal money from me or not pay me back even when they are able. In other people's relationships, I see separate bank accounts, prenuptial agreements, and bitter divorces, as well as organizations fighting over grants money, businesses firing vulnerable workers, and so on. I struggle all the time as I see my old fears manifest. On my side, I have enough love and compassion to want everyone to be provided for, but sometimes I feel have to protect myself and the little money I have in order to stay alive.

If you don’t trust others to take care of you and so you don’t take care of them, then they will feel the same way. On the other hand, when you take care of others and trust them to take care of you in return, the more they will feel able to trust you to do the same. It's a chain reaction, like the flap of a butterfly's wings or the fall of a domino. The trust I am speaking of requires you to jump out on a limb the same way you do in serious romantic relationship. Yet, I am asking you to do this with almost everyone you meet. There are people who are so far from ready to make the leap that making that leap yourself to meet them may only serve to crush your ability to trust anyone in the future. But I believe most people can, and the more people we can make that leap with together, the more we will have a community of trust that provides much more security than any bank account ever could.

And what if my happiness was bound up in yours? What if we recognized our connection to each other so strongly that we knew we need to trust in order to truly be happy and we knew we needed to take care of each other in order not to feel the others’ suffering so we could feel their joy. I see so many people separated from each other, by money, by fear, by their work and they feel there is no alternative. So they try to create happiness through buying things or going on fancy vacations, and a deep depression lingers just below the surface. Some of these people go to a potluck or the Really Really Free Market or Burning Man and I see them come alive because their needs are being met without worrying about the scarcity of money and therefore not holding a wall between beings that long for connection.

We’ve all had traumas around interpersonal money issues and around the destructive capacity of profit-maximization. Can we get over them? I am not asking you to jump off a cliff with me right now. I am asking you to start making small steps to take care of the people around you and the Earth without fear of money. We don’t need money at all to do work or to get most of things we need if we are creative and have community. I am also advocating that when you do this, you tell people you trust them to take care of you when you need it so that they know there is string attached to your help and you may need to use it some day. Strings are good, they weave together healthy, reciprocal community.

Even as we do this, we need to build measures for collective security, like healthcare and housing. Most healthcare could be provided through alternative and preventive care outside the mainstream healthcare system, but occasionally we need expensive medicines or hospital care. We should have universal, guaranteed healthcare so people can feel more able to let go and trust that they won’t die for lack of money. We also need to make sure everyone has a place to live and food. The fear of not being able to afford rent or mortgage, and therefore being homeless, also drives people to fight over money or take on unethical work. I believe if we can get government or form our own collectives to take care of these basic needs in a more formal and secure manner, we could meet almost all of other needs through more informal, relationship-based collective action and mutual aid, like barter, timebanks, and gifting circles. Collectivity and mutual aid would flourish as energy is freed up and fears about our most basic needs not being met disappear. It would also be helpful to have systematic ways of rewarding people for doing good rather than luck or bad behavior, such as timebanks and local currencies. Without formal measures, we are still all responsible for each others’ care.

We are all connected. As you realize and actualize this, you may notice that you feel happier as you feel walls built by money drop down. You may feel more loved and relaxed. You may feel like you can start planning to quit an unethical job and direct your energy in a better way. You may feel like you can move your investments to sustainable and equitable local projects since you see the value of community and a healthy Earth above money for care and security.

Separation is a painful illusion that nullifies love, love is the source of happiness, and your happiness is tied in a web of connection to the happiness of the world. Take the leap. I am ready to join you.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Outline History of Cooperatives in the Bay Area and California

By John Curl

John Curl is author of For All The People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements and Communalism in America. Oakland: PM Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-60486-072-6


For thousands of years the San Francisco Bay Area supported a population of thousands of Ohlones, Miwoks, and Wintuns living in a stable life system based on peaceful collectivity.

The basic societal unit was a tribelet of typically about 250 people. There were about thirty permanent villages scattered around the Bay and into the delta, alongside rivers and creeks. The typical village had about fifteen houses arranged in a circle around a plaza, with a communal sweat lodge. Their houses were dome-shaped, framed with bent willow poles, between about six and twenty feet in diameter, each housing an extended family; the sweat lodges were usually twice as big as the family houses. Besides these main villages, there were other settlements used at different harvest seasons, and families and tribelets moved about throughout the cycle. The bay was also shared with tribelets having their primary villages inland, who made treks here in regular seasons for particular harvests.

Most tribelets spoke different dialects, but all lived in very similar life patterns. Food was readily available, so they lived entirely by hunting and gathering; hunger was entirely unknown. Annual intertwined harvests were connected with rituals and social celebrations oriented toward maintaining balance in the natural world and among people. Among the tribelets there was a complex network of trade, marriage, gift-giving, and ritual feasts. There were occasional conflicts between tribelets or villages, but differences were almost invariably settled with gifts as reparations to wronged parties.

Most hunting and gathering was done by extended families, but periodically they worked in larger communal groups. Communal hunts were invariably followed by great feasts and celebrations. Catches were divided in a ritual manner, with different parts of particular animals going to designated family members, relatives and neighbors.

Each tribelet had an elder man or woman in a chief-like position, but this position held mostly moral authority, and a chief's power varied with the respect commanded by deeds. A new chief was chosen by a consensus of elders, always however from the same family. The chief's main job was to maintain the traditional balances within the village, and tribelet, and with neighboring tribelets. This included seeing to the general welfare of the community. It was considered a great personal shame on the chief if anyone in the tribelet was needy. Cooperation and sharing were virtues, and competitiveness was not. People gained status in the community through generosity. Private property in land was unknown. Families and tribelets had "collecting rights" to particular areas to gather foods, but were expected to be generous to neighbors; should a harvest in one area fail, the unfortunate tribelet or family could traditionally share in the resources of adjoining areas. It was virtually unthinkable to let a neighbor go hungry. The elderly, crippled, sick, and children were well cared for by the village. A person's goods were not handed down in the family after death, but were dispersed or destroyed.


When the Spanish arrived, about 350,000 Native people lived in Alta California, including about 10,000 each of Ohlone, Miwok, and Wintun. The Spanish began their first settlement and mission in San Diego in 1769. San Francisco Mission Dolores was founded in 1776, and the following year the first East Bay mission at Santa Clara. In all, they organized a chain of 21 missions. The missions acquired great wealth by forced Indian labor, the primary economy of the region. Within a short time, the Native peoples' way of life disrupted and destroyed. After a half century of Spanish rule, ended by the Mexican Revolution of 1821, the Native population was reduced by over 2/3rds.

Californio settlers from Mexico, many artisans among them, arrived in groups that were cooperative en route, then dispersed and lived in ranchos or agricultural settlements near the missions. Californios were never very numerous, and their population peaked around 7,000. There was little private land during the Spanish period. The government did not offer community land grants in California, as they did in New Mexico, where the cooperative ejido system was widespread. Instead, they granted land to individuals for cattle ranching. Most of California land was considered usable primarily for ranching, but over 30 acres was needed for each head, so grants were large. During the entire Spanish period, fewer than thirty land grants were issued. Much of the East Bay, including the sites of Oakland and Berkeley, was granted to the Peralta family as Rancho San Antonio, less than a year before the declaration of the Mexican Republic in 1821. When the new Mexican government took over, it accelerated the land grant program, and there were over 1,000 California land grants by 1840.


Between 1840-46 about 1,500 US citizens entered California, mostly in overland emigrant parties from the mid-west. These Anglo-American home seekers, beginning in 1841 with Bidwell's Party of 32 emigrant men, women and children from Missouri, were typically cooperative and collective en route in their wagon trains, with elected leaders. Although some settled together after arriving, most disbanded and each family went its own way.

Soon after the American conquest of 1846-48, gold was discovered and people poured into California, thousands in emigrant parties, with San Francisco the dock to prepare for the jump into the gold fields. Over 100 parties of ?Americans? from the mid-west and east flooded in overland in 1849, and large numbers arrived from the east by sea, about 77,000 people in all, exploding the non-Indian population four times, then almost doubling it again the next year. About 20,000 entered from Mexico, Britain, France, Spain, Chile, Peru, Hawaii, China and other countries. The region and the city quickly took on an international character.

At the beginning of the Gold Rush, Yerba Buena?soon to be renamed San Francisco?was still a sleepy port town of 812 people, dealing mostly in cowhides and tallow. Almost overnight the entire fabric of Bay Area and California society changed. By the summer of 1849, San Francisco had become a booming commercial center of 5,000, and by 1850, of 25,000. By 1850 over half the population was engaged in mining. All routes to the mines started at San Francisco, and the gold flowed back through it. The Bay Area suddenly became the hub of the region.

In the mines this situation produced what many early historians described as a unique social spirit. "It is sometimes said," an historian wrote in 1886, "that the miners of 1848 and 1849 had the most interesting and efficient system of cooperation, successful for years, but finally broken down and destroyed by the encroachments of capital. They joined their labor, man to man, in many a company to turn the course of mountain streams and mine the rich gravel beds below. Hundreds of such organizations, most assuredly cooperative, existed during the mining days. . . but by 1856 most of the mining rights and water rights acquired by them had lapsed, or had passed into the hands of capitalists. Some of these simple cooperative groups fulfilled the purpose for which they were organized and then disbanded." (Schinn)

"Every man was a laborer," a later historian added, "whether or not he had previously been a teacher, lawyer, farmer, mechanic, preacher or sailor. Physical labor was honorable. Class lines and class distinctions were forgotten, and a universal spirit of rough democracy prevailed. This wholehearted democratic spirit of the mining days permeated virtually every phase of early California life." (Cross).

California labor historian L. Eaves wrote in 1910, "There were miners' unions in all the camps - meetings where the conditions under which the mines should be worked were freely discussed, and regulations binding upon the community agreed upon. They heartily approved of the prevailing regime of absolute democracy and equality of opportunity, and vigorously opposed all efforts to introduce any class of servile labor."


Large numbers also flooded into California looking for land to farm. Most became squatters. Apart from the Spanish and Mexican land grants, most of California was considered public land, and that was where miners and squatters primarily staked claims. There was deep sympathy and solidarity between miners and squatters, for those who failed in the mines commonly turned to farming.

Squatting quickly became widespread throughout rural California. In the westward expanding US in the early 1800s, squatting was sanctioned by the ?preemption? acts, which offered a process by which squatting on unsurveyed land could become a legal homestead. (These laws would be superceded by the Homestead Act of 1862.) The first California legislature in 1850 awarded the right of preemption to anyone settled on and improving up to 160 acres of public land.

In the fall of 1850, after just two years of boom, the economy tanked hard. Squatting quickly became common in urban areas, including San Francisco. Many urban squatters were former miners. Mutual aid played a predominant role in urban squatter settlements.

The squatters claimed that all land should be presumed to be public until legal title should be proven, and in San Francisco a Settlers' Party was formed to protect squatters' rights. In the East Bay the squatter town called Contra Costa was founded in 1850, which would develop into Oakland. There were squatter riots in Sacramento in 1850, put down by two militia companies. In 1856 the State legislature passed another law recognizing squatters' rights, but it was struck down by the state Supreme Court.

By the treaty that ended the war, Mexican land grants were to be respected. This involved over eight million acres of the best land in California, held by about 800 people. Almost none of this land was opened to homesteaders, but instead most of it was taken over intact by Anglo-Americans, often by fraud and swindle. Land speculators had a heyday. Most failed miners found themselves stonewalled out of the farming areas. Thousands of small holdings were snatched out from under settlers by false and forged claims.

The national land question, debated since the founding of the US, was briefly resolved when Congress passed the Homestead Act of 1862, partly as an incentive to northern workers during the Civil War. California was seen as a social safety value for workers exploited in eastern cities, and as area of social experimentation. But most of this "free" western land, and the best of it, in California as elsewhere, quickly wound up in the pockets of speculators and the railroads. Over 20 million acres of California were granted to the railroads, which quickly came to dominate the state. Only a small percentage of those who poured into the west ever held onto any land. By 1870 the ownership of California land was firmly established in the pattern we have to this day. In 1871 Henry George wrote, "The land of California is already to a large extent monopolized by a few individuals." Out of a population of 600,000 at that time, sixteen men each controlled over 84 square miles, about 500 owned half the farmable land in the state, and the vast majority were landless.


Industrial worker cooperatives were common in early San Francisco. The Knights of Labor had a presence, and encouraged worker cooperatives with their vision of a Cooperative Commonwealth and their nationwide chain of almost 200 worker cooperatives.

In 1867 the San Francisco boot and shoemakers staged a general strike in their industry in protest of reductions of prices for piece work. This was connected with the introduction of Chinese labor. The strike failed and many of the workers formed the United Workingmen?s Cooperative Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company of San Francisco. Two decades later it was still ranked as ?one of the most solid business houses in the city.?

Completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 resulted in layoffs of many workers, causing unemployment, and leading to worker cooperatives. In 1870 there were three cooperative foundries in San Francisco, a cooperative saddle and harness company, and five cooperative boot and shoe factories, some of them organized by the shoemaker labor union known as the Knights of St. Crispin. In 1872 the Pacific United Workingmen?s Furniture Manufacturing Company organized with a capital stock of $50,000.

Historian Clare Horner lists the following worker cooperatives in San Francisco during the early period (with year founded): Carpenters? Eight-Hour Protective Union Co-operative Planing Mill (1867); Journeymen?s Co-operative Boot and Shoe Manufactory (1867); United Workmen?s Boot and Shoe Factory (1868); Metropolitan Boot and Shoemakers? Union (1868); Women?s Co-operative Union (ornamental goods, clothing) (1868); St. Crispin?s Co-operative Boot and Shoe Factory (1869); California Co-operative Boot and Shoe Factory (1869); Miners? Foundry (1869); co-operative tailors (1870); Woman?s Co-operative Printing Union (1870); Golden State Iron Works (1870); Columbia Foundry (1871); co-operative printing shop (1871); co-operative laundry (1877); Co-operative Watch Repairing Co. (1881).

How long many of these worker cooperatives continued is not recorded, but it is likely that most of them succumbed during the wave of repression of the Knights of Labor chain of cooperatives in the years following the Haymarket Massacre of 1886.

All Chinese people entered California as contract labor for one of six companies, but many soon set up independent businesses, particularly laundries, often as cooperatives. The six companies were involved in organizing an extensive and very disciplined system of Chinese-American worker cooperatives in the San Francisco area.


Cooperative Union Store opened in San Francisco in 1867, the first cooperative store in California, organized on principles similar to Rochdale. By 1875 there were six consumer co-op stores in the state. But they ?fell victim to the prosperity that followed the panic of 1873, and to the reaction following too rapid a growth.? (Parker)

In 1874 the Italian vegetable farmers of San Francisco organized a very successful cooperative market, the Colombo Market. In 1910 they supplied 95% of all vegetables consumed in the city. All participating farmers sold under a system fixed prices.

In rural areas in the 1870s the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry organized cooperative stores, creameries, agricultural marketing and purchasing associations, and banks in California. In the following decade the Grange faded, but other rural cooperatives continued, particularly in irrigation, road building, farming, telephones, fruit picking and packing, warehouses, supply purchasing and marketing associations.

In 1904 the Cooperative Meat Company of Oakland was organized by the Butchers Union as result of attempt of employers to introduce the ?open shop.? They also opened a sausage factory and operated a branch in East Oakland.

Mutual fire insurance was widespread in California. In 1900 there were mutual companies in six counties; by 1909 in 17.

The Labor Exchange movement of 1889-1906 spread throughout the west, and ran 22 Exchanges in California. Beginning by organizing barter, a number of these Exchanges became Rochdale stores. Dos Palos Rochdale Co (1896) began as an exchange in 1896 and became the first specifically Rochdale store in California, while it continued to market farmer members? produce.

In 1894 the Altrurian Cooperative Councils, based in Oakland, organized the first cooperative store system in the urban Bay Area.

In 1899 representatives of a number of co-op stores in rural California communities came together in Oakland and organized the Pacific Coast Cooperative Union (PCCU). A co-op wholesale?Rochdale Wholesale Co.? opened in 1900 in San Francisco. At that time there were six stores in California. They set out to organize more stores, as they considered these needed to make the wholesale viable. An organizing bureau was formed, and by the end of 1900, there 28 stores in the Rochdale Family. In 1900 the PCCU and the Rochdale Wholesale Co. had the distinction of being the only cooperatives in the US sending delegates to Europe to the congress of the International Cooperative Alliance. In 1905, out of 65 co-op stores in California, 51 were part of the Rochdale group. Historian Ira Cross wrote in 1905: ?In no place is the cooperative movement so strong or so successful as in California.? In 1906, there were 100 stores. But the movement in San Francisco was hurt by the earthquake and fire. They moved the wholesale temporarily to Oakland. The financial panic of 1907 hurt many co-op branches. In 1910 there were about 50 stores in California, including San Jose, most in smaller towns. Of these, 46 were organized together in the Rochdale Family. Each store held stock in the Rochdale Wholesale Co. of San Francisco. They were attacked by other wholesalers, which were trying to force Rochdale into bankruptcy. Many stores were weak, and the wholesale needed a bigger movement to support it. In 1910 they reorganized on new plan. Called the California Rochdale Co., they aggressively organized new branches. Branch managers worked under centralized supervision of the manager of Rochdale Wholesale Co. By 1912 they were a chain of 12 branches. They collapsed in 1913, and all branches closed. Rochdale Wholesale Co. was on verge of collapsing, with less than 30 co-op store as members. However, there were still 100 independent associations in California.

The Pacific Cooperative League (PCL) was formed in 1913 as an organizing & informational organization. They had 30 co-ops members in California at that time. They began with buying clubs as a mail-order scheme attached to Rochdale Co. The first few years they sold only coal, sugar, and groceries. In 1917 they began to organize local stores. Local members formed ?management committees,? but the managers were selected and supervised by the central organization. In 1919 they had 32 branches in California and Arizona. By 1920 they were extended into OR, WA, ID, NV, NM, & TX. They took over the Rochdale wholesale, and joined the International Cooperative Alliance. In 1921 they had 17 stores and a $4 million volume. But they were soon in an internecine war with the Cooperative League (CL) over centralization. CL, founded in 1916 and based in the east, was the primary national cooperative organization in the US. The PCL was also more radically oriented than the CL, and PCL supported the Seattle General Strike of 1919, while CL condemned it. PCL was refused recognition at the 1920 CL National Congress. In the post-war boom of 1923, PCL collapsed, primarily due to overexpansion. But in the Bay Area, the East Bay Pacific Cooperative League continued and resurfaced as a Self-Help cooperative in 1930.

After the economy collapsed in 1929, only 5 co-op stores remained in California.


From the early years of the American period, the Bay Area saw waves of urban workers organize cooperatively to form rural colonies in the surrounding region. Many early colonies were planned to be collective only at first. Typically a time period was set up, often ten years during which the land was worked in common and all income from crops, etc., was devoted to paying for it and improving it; afterward the land was divided into individual plots. Many however had an aspect of land development schemes, and many speculators made killings through swindles. "Semi-cooperative schemes are abundant" a 19th century historian wrote, "temporary associations to buy and divide up land, or colonies where each purchaser agrees to certain mutual improvements, are matters of frequent occurrence." (Schinn)

One of the earliest colonies was Anaheim (1858). The site was prepared using Mexican labor; as soon as the workers moved onto it, it was divided, but continued to have many cooperative aspects for some time. There was a long string of colonies in the 1870s and '80s, many involving different immigrant groups: Kingsbury (Swedish), Selma (Danes), Rosendale (English), El Chino, Elizabeth, Citrus. The Italian-Swiss Colony, originating from a San Francisco credit union of immigrant workers, never divided their land, but became a joint-stock company revolving about their vineyard.

An historian wrote in 1935, "The land-colonization project, as a means of solving the farm-labor problem dates from a very early period... Land colonization, on a collective basis, has a definite background in California. Most of the early settlements in the state were based upon group colonization; a large number of the rural communities, which later developed into cities, were settled by groups of settlers . . . For many years the practice was for a promoter to purchase a large tract of land, subdivide it into small acreage lots, endow the subdivision with a euphonious name and then proceed to interest some group in (it) as a community. . .Many cooperative and semi experimental ?new life? colonies were established... It is unquestionably true that land-settlement promoters exploited to the full the social idealism of prospective immigrants who wanted to found new communities in California. Some of these early land colonies were advertised as cooperative or semi-cooperative ventures. In fact, some elements of cooperation were to be found in many of the colony settlements. The older colony settlements were, by and large, successful, but as the state grew the colony idea was appropriated by unscrupulous promoters who worked great havoc with their pretentious swindles." (McWilliams) A state legislature inquiry in 1915 of 32 land colony settlements begun between 1900-15 found swindles connected with almost every one.

But the vast majority of colonists were not swindlers. Many were part of a larger movement for social justice. The International Workingmen's Association (IWA), organized in 1852 in San Francisco with the leadership of Burnette Haskell, J. J. Martin and Frank Roney, tried to renew the old First International (which had disbanded six years earlier). Haskell was a newspaper editor and a leader of the radical wing of the Knights of Labor. Martin would soon be the main organizer of the area's first successful Seamen's Union. Roney had been a leader of the anti-Kearney faction of the Workingmen's Party of California, and along with Haskell, would be one of the central leaders of the Federated Trades Council.

This new IWA met with a fair amount of success over the next several years, which was a time of rising radical worker movements around the country. But during the nation-wide police repression after the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago, the IWA dissolved, along with most other radical groups in America. Seventy of the leaders and members, including Haskell and Martin, thereupon formed Kaweah Cooperative Commonwealth, "To illustrate and validate the premises on which the labor movement is based." They homesteaded a tract of 600 acres in Tulare county. Rising at their peak to 300 members, by 1890 they had constructed an 18-mile road and a ferry, published a weekly magazine, operated a sawmill, besides building homes, orchards and gardens. They functioned under a system of labor-checks based on the amount of time worked; the checks were convertible for any item at the community-run store. But reactionary forces in the state soon took note and the US Congress quickly passed a bill creating Sequoia National Forest out of Kaweah under the false grounds that their original homesteads filings had been technically deficient. Two years later the Kaweahns were driven from the land by US cavalry and arrested.

The Cooperative Brotherhood of Winters Island, in the Bay near the delta, was begun in 1893 by Erastus Kelsey from the Nationalist Club of Oakland and Kate Nevins, an organizer from the Farmers' Alliance and Populist Party. All three organizations backed cooperativization of the economy; the Alliance organized the largest farmers' cooperative network in the United States, taking up where the National Grange had left off. Winters Island began with 100 members, but probably no more than a third of these ever actually lived there. Their plan for intensive agriculture got underway, yet the entire operation remained dependent on outside members' support. Then the country hurtled into a deep depression and outside money dried up, strangling the colony. The last residents dwindled away about ten years after its founding.

Altruria community came out of the Christian Socialist movement, a powerful influence nationwide at the time; its name came from a utopian novel by Wm. Dean Howells. A Berkeley Unitarian minister, Edward Payne, sparked the idea for the colony in 1894. Cooperative Councils were formed on both sides of the Bay. They bought a plot of land near Santa Rosa and thirty people moved onto it, mostly working families, a majority of them artisans. They used labor-checks for their work and practiced equality of goods. There was an entrance fee. They were supported by a string of clubs as far away as Los Angeles. But they had financial problems. Although they had seven houses and a hotel built by the end of their first year, they had to fold, broke into three smaller groups, which stayed together another year, then the entire project dissipated. Meanwhile, however, the Altrurian Cooperative Councils were also organizing their cooperative store system in Oakland.

Fort Romie community was begun in 1898 by the San Francisco Salvation Army as an attempt to create "a peasant proprietorship in California by settling the unemployed on the land." They bought a tract in the Salinas Valley, near Soledad, close to a sugar beet factory. The tract was cut up into smaller lots of 10-20 acres and distributed to poor families mostly from San Francisco. By 1903 there were 70 colonist families there, raising beets through collective irrigation and using many cooperative techniques. Although the plan never got beyond this first plot, it was widely held to be a very successful demonstration project. The EPIC movement of 1934 would again take up the idea of settling the urban unemployed on the land.

Japanese immigrants formed the cooperative colony of Livingston in 1910. They did so well that state planners began proposing that the government help organize colonies of non-Japanese in the area. The planners also had the racist side motivation of limiting Japanese expansion in the area. With planning from the University of California, Durham and Delhi communities were set up nearby in 1919. But the land chosen was poor and the post-World War I deflation brought both colonies to ruin; both finally disbanded in 1931. Livingston however, flourished until the Japanese internment during World War II.

Job Harriman was manager of the San Francisco Altrurian cooperative store in 1895, ran for Vice President of the United States as Gene Debs' running mate in 1900 on the Socialist Party, then came close to being elected the first Socialist mayor of Los Angeles in 1910. In 1914 Harriman led a large group of cooperators out onto land outside Los Angeles to form Llano del Rio Cooperative Colony. Like Kaweah, it grew out of a failed union activist movement. Much of their support and many of their members came from the Bay Area, although the primary base was in southern California. A year after founding they had 150 members and by 1917, a thousand. They operated a printshop, shoemaker, cannery, laundry, bakery, cabinet shop, brick makers, and other industries. But they were constantly harassed by authorities for their radicalism, were beset with organizational problems (they were overly managerial), and found their water rights taken out from under them by the courts. They bought new land in Louisiana, and many moved there while the California bankruptcy court closed Llano. New Llano grew to a peak of over 300 residents during the Great Depression.

Self-Help Coops sprang up soon after the economic crash of 1929. A survey in December 1934 counted 310 different groups, with over one-half million members, with people involved in 29 states, about two-thirds of them in about 175 groups in California. Several forms of Self-Help were usually distinguished, although most groups practiced them all to varying degrees: exchange among members, exchange of labor for goods or services, and cooperative production for use, trade or sale. Exchange among members was the most widespread, and commonly involved partial payment in cash. It was only in the later stage of the movement that many groups turned to production, and most never did to an appreciable extent. The groups appeared wherever conditions were ripe among the unemployed and underemployed, particularly near farming areas, It was truly a spontaneous mass movement.
Numerically the largest concentration was in Los Angeles county, where about 75,000 people in 107 groups participated in the harvest of fall 1932, Among the earliest in the state were the LA Exchange, started by Bessie Mays, the Compton Relief Association, begun by a group of World War I veterans, and the Unemployed Association of Santa Ana (in Orange county). Since farming areas were easily accessible in the south, most of these groups organized large numbers of people to harvest produce in exchange for a share of the crops. Nearby Orange county was also an area of concentration.
In the San Francisco Bay Area the Self-Help movement reached its most sophisticated level of development. The first Bay Area labor exchange was set up by the Pacific Cooperators League of Oakland in 1930. The summer and fall of 1932 saw the biggest blossoming. By spring 1933 there were 22 Self-Help groups in the East Bay, nine in San Francisco and the Peninsula, one in San Jose.
The Berkeley Unemployed Association, at 2110 Parker Street, had sections that included sewing, quilting and weaving, shoe repair, barber, food canning and conserving, wood yard, kitchen and dining room, commissary, garage, machine shop, woodshop, mattress factory, and painter and carpenter teams. At their height they involved several hundred people and had full medical and dental coverage. A visitor to the wood shop in December 1934 reported them working on office desks and furniture, as well as fruit lugs for the farm exchange section. They later changed their name to the Berkeley Self-Help Cooperative, typical of many groups who considered themselves no longer unemployed.
A few blocks away, on Delaware Street, was the Pacific Cooperative League (PCL), which operated a garage, flour mill, wood yard, store, canning and weaving projects, and ran a newspaper, the Herald of Cooperation, later called the Voice of the Self-Employed. They laid claim to having organized one of the earliest labor exchanges of the Depression, when they traded an Atascadero rancher their harvesting labor for part of his apricot crop in September 1930. The PCL was not a new organization like almost all the rest, but dated back decades, surviving the death of their parent organization and staggering along at a low level until sparked by the Great Depression.
The San Jose Unemployed Relief Council (later called the San Jose Self-Help Co-op) was formed by a group of laid-off cannery workers. They soon had a wood yard, a fruit-and-vegetable drying yard, a store, laundry, farm, soap factory, barbershop, shoe shop, commissary, sewing project and contracted for a wide variety of jobs and services, At their height they were about 1200 strong.
The Peninsula Economic Exchange, in Palo Alto, was organized by a group of unemployed white collar workers, professionals, and bankrupt merchants. With about a hundred member families, they had a store, a farm, a cannery, woodyard, and fishing boat. Unlike most of the other northern groups, they issued scrip, in-house currency, to members for hours worked. "Scrip exchanges" were more common at first in southern California, but were usually plagued with problems.
The most highly developed group in California was the Unemployed Exchange Association (U.X.A.), begun in 1932 in Oakland with the leadership of Carl Rhodehamel, an unemployed electrical engineer. Beyond organizing barter and labor exchange, they began producing articles for trade and sale. They set up a foundry and machine shop, a woodshop, garage, a soap factory, a print shop, a food conserving project, nursery and adult school. They had eighteen trucks that they?d rebuilt from junk. They branched outside of town, and maintained a woodlot in Dixon, ranches near Modesto and Winters, lumber mills near Oroville and in the Santa Cruz mountains. At their peak they were providing 1500 people with farm produce, medical and dental benefits, auto repair, some housing and other services. They called it Reciprocal Economy. They made no distinction in labor value between men and women, skilled and unskilled. At first they functioned entirely by barter; it was all done on the books, without a circulating scrip. Members could write "orders" ? like checks ? against their account to other members for services provided. Eventually they began making trades that involved part payment in cash. All work was credited at one hundred points per hour. Members exchanged points earned for their choice of items in the commissary. Each article brought in was given a point value, which approximated the labor time that went into it, with some adjustment for comparable money value. They offered many services for points, including complete medical and dental, garage, nursery school, and barber. They provided some housing and all of their firewood needs. At their peak they would distribute forty tons of food per week to their members.
Unions and Self-Help groups often worked together. A good number of workers belonged to both a union and a co-op. Some Self-Help co-ops, such as the San Jose Unemployed Relief Council, were staffed by unionists. Others, such as the U.X.A., decided specifically that they would not seek to take over any jobs already being performed by steadily employed labor. This friendship paid off in mutual solidarity during the San Francisco General Strike. The Self-Help co-ops of the Bay Area were able to move about freely bringing supplies to the strikers, while "normal" commerce was blockaded. Both the unemployed and the strikers had fruit and vegetables "at a time when money could not procure them."
While the New Deal famously helped rural America through assisting in organizing co-ops for irrigation, electricity, farming, and other infrastructure, they drew the line at urban worker co-ops, which might challenge the wage system in industries. The New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA) of 1935 helped with grants to Self-Help co-ops, then also hurt them by not permitting the sale of products made in the co-ops. The WPA struck a mortal blow by not permitting work in Self-Help co-ops to count as WPA hours. Unemployed people desperately needed a cash income, so many?particularly younger people?flooded out of the Self-Help co-ops for WPA jobs.

In September 1933, while the U.X.A. and the other Self-Help co-ops were on an upswing, Upton Sinclair, novelistic chronicler of American social reality, long a leading member of the California Socialist Party, suddenly changed his registration to Democrat and threw his hat into the ring for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination with a program he called EPIC: End Poverty In California.
With "Production For Use" as its rallying cry, the EPIC plan proposed creating state agencies to take over idle farms and production facilities and turn them over to the unemployed, to ?establish State land colonies whereby the unemployed may become self-sustaining, to acquire factories and production plants whereby the unemployed may produce the basic necessities required for themselves and for the land colonies, and to operate these factories and house and feed and care for the workers..., (to) maintain a distribution system of each other?s products..., thus constituting a complete industrial system, a new and self-sustaining world for those our present system cannot employ.?

EPIC clubs sprang up around the state like grass after rain, ultimately 2000 of them. The EPIC News reached a circulation of 1.5 million. But most of the Democratic Old Guard defected to the Republicans to oppose Sinclair. In the midst of possibly the most vicious and libelous campaign in California history, Sinclair went to Roosevelt for support, and met with him. Sinclair recounts the conversation:

"At the end he told me that he was coming out for production for use. I said, 'If you do that, Mr. President, it will elect me.' 'Well,' he said, 'I am going to do it.'"
FDR indicated he would come out for the plan during a nationwide radio address scheduled for the week before the election, but in the end FDR said nothing about production for use. Sinclair got 37%, the Republican 49%, and a third party candidate the difference.
After the defeat, a large number of EPIC groups planned buying clubs and stores. Over the following year, they succeeded in organizing 210 consumer co-ops in California, with 50,000 members, almost all the groups newly organized. Among the most successful at first were New Day Co-op in Oakland, with 1000 members, and Producers-Consumers Co-op at 668 Haight Street in San Francisco. But these and the great majority of the others soon collapsed.
Consumer Cooperatives of Berkeley (CCB) began as one of these buying clubs formed in 1936, soon joining with a Finnish Co-op that started around the same time. It was destined to become the largest and most successful consumer cooperative in the United States at its height in the 1970s, with 100,000 member families. In 1938, the Berkeley Co-op began its first campaign to promote stronger consumer protection laws and expressed solidarity with the labor movement. By 1957 the Berkeley Co-op had become the second largest urban cooperative in the United States. Further expansion resulted in a pharmacy, an arts and crafts co-op, a co-op book store, and a credit union. But along with expansion came problems. The Co-op News debated the issue, "How do we keep democratic control and participation while we continue to expand?" They had close ties with two other Bay Area cooperatives: the Palo Alto Co-op and Associated Cooperatives (AC), the regional wholesale. Both had been founded at about the same time as CCB, and involved some of the same people. Expansion of co-op stores into new areas was fueled by the wholesale?s perceived need to be larger to maximize economics of scale. Meanwhile, the Berkeley Co-op?s social accomplishments continued to mount. In 1962 they instituted "free speech tables" near entrances for literature and petitions. In 1963 they debated milk contamination from a proposed nearby nuclear power plant; supported a local anti-discrimination housing ordinance; stopped stocking products boycotted by the Central Labor Council. In 1964 they increased minority employment; held a food drive "to aid persons suffering Civil Rights discrimination" in Mississippi; pioneered biodegradable detergent with Co-op label. In 1965 they packaged meat with the better side down; lobbied for a bread and cereal enrichment law; educated on peanut butter additives. In 1966-67 they lobbied for a Fair Packaging and Labeling law; contributed to the United Farm Workers (UFW) co-op in Delano; instituted unit pricing on all shelves; lobbied for regulation of diet foods and for a unit pricing law; agitated against a phone rate increase; labeled all Dow products as boycotted because of their napalm production; assisted the legal defense fund for besieged integrated Southern co-ops. In 1968 they authorized centers to ban smoking; removed all nonunion grapes; withdrew from the Chamber of Commerce because of their consistent opposition to consumer legislation. In 1969 they battled against utility rate hikes; donated food to the Black Panthers children?s breakfast program; demanded the "immediate termination" of the military occupation of Berkeley by the National Guard (ordered by Governor Ronald Reagan because of People?s Park); posted statements at all co-op centers condemning the war; closed in solidarity during a People?s Park protest march and on Vietnam Moratorium Day.
At the same time, the co-op was continuously drained by failing expansion stores, and profits continued to spiral down. The truth had to be faced: expansion had failed. There were ten losing stores scattered around the north Bay Area, supported by the three still-thriving Berkeley Co-ops. "Just as the arrow was shot into the air, it fell back to earth," said president Fred Guy, "and in 1983 one by one all the losing operations were closed, at great financial loss, and the Co-op remained briefly with only the centers in Berkeley left, just being a community cooperative, which was perhaps what they should have remained all along.? In 1987 CCB filed bankruptcy, followed by the wholesale and the Palo Alto Co-op.
The "inter-communalist" Black Panther Party, first organized in Oakland in 1966, ran a host of "survival programs pending political revolution." In Oakland this included a health clinic, free shoe factory, plumbing service, food and clothing, cooperative housing, job-finding service, transportation for elders, breakfast program for children, pest control, busing to prisons for visitors, and prisoners? commissary. All goods and services were free. The Panthers ran communal houses for full-time party workers. Through boycotts they convinced many businesses to recycle some of their profits back into the community through the Panthers? social projects.
Starting in the mid-1960s, large numbers of young people worked to create a survival network outside of and against the capitalist system with a common ideological base of working to build a new social system based on cooperation and sharing ?within the shell of the old.? The mass media called it the ?counterculture? or ?alternative.? It was an era when many people, particularly young people, were searching for a better way to relate to the world and to each other. Many thought that they found it in collective and cooperative work. The world they rejected was based on hierarchy, power, and competition. They wanted a world based on equality, democracy, cooperation, sharing; a way to live and work that could liberate. In the mutual aid and support they found there, they saw the embryo of a new society in which the promises of America could at last become reality. The earliest rumblings of the counterculture probably came with the left?s rediscovery of the collective form of organization in the freedom rider groups of the early Civil Rights movement, and in the Anti-Vietnam war and student movements.

The collective form of organization helped break through formalistic ?democracy? at a moment when a new energy was bursting forth through the social fabric. Within a few years, dozens of these groups sprang up in numerous fields such as the women?s, ecology and anti-nuclear movements. Collectives were used to organize almost every activity from education, childcare, art, communications and counseling to legal services and recycling. Almost all the early countercultural forms chose the collective form because participants wanted their means to reflect their ends. These forms ranged from freestores to communes, from ?underground? newspapers to collective gardens, including cooperative houses, food conspiracies, and ?free? schools and universities. They developed the organizational technology that laid the base for the producer and merchant worker collectives and cooperatives that appeared in widespread areas.

Many of the early collectives tried to provide basic social services that capitalist society did not supply. Primarily young professionals formed the free clinics, law collectives and free schools. Others were connected to political movements, like the Young Patriots? clinic in Chicago and the Black Panthers? clinic in Oakland. Most clinics functioned through collectives of physicians, paraprofessionals and volunteers. Almost all had some combination of control by the worker collective and the community. Most of these social service collectives survived through donations and grants.


Young people from all over the country were drawn to the San Francisco Bay Area, where conditions, including inexpensive housing, seemed ripe for a new consciousness. By the summer of 1966 the community of young people had grown to such proportions that it began to gather national attention in the news media. Communal households were widespread. A newspaper expressing the new consciousness appeared, the Oracle. The first ?Human Be-in? happened that fall in Golden Gate Park. The Haight became the hothouse in which the national movement called the counterculture was born.

The group known as the Diggers helped to channel the enormous energy that was exploding into the rudiments of a survival system outside of the old society. They began gathering necessities that were being wasted or hoarded, and redistributed them, organizing free food giveaways and a Freestore. Duplicated around the country, the Freestore was run entirely on collective energy. The idea was simple: people could bring and take what they wanted and needed.

But national attention brought a flood of people from all over the country to San Francisco in the summer of 1967, overwhelming the community and making it impossible to continue as it had been. Entrepreneurs looted the Freestore, coming at favorable hours to clean out anything sellable. This resulted in the store being replaced by a free box on the street.

Moving beyond the limitations of the Diggers? approach, people soon began setting up more organized structures. ?Alternative? news media, primarily ?underground? newspapers, grew to mass proportions around the country by the late 1960s, filled with information impossible to come by in the mainstream media. Collectives doing community service work were often ?open,? and almost anyone could join or participate as an unpaid volunteer. The open collective was for projects that attempted to draw in as much community energy and input as possible. In numerous university towns ?free universities? were set up, with courses in subjects ignored by the schools. These eventually gave way to a large variety of ?alternative? educational organizations.

Numerous collectives of every sort came out of the women?s and feminist movements. The collective structure was a natural form, as it provides group empowerment for previously disempowered people. A small collective group started the San Francisco Women?s Center in 1970. Over the following years, numerous women inspired by feminist ideology came together spontaneously into small consciousness-raising groups. Out of these developed many service projects, such as the Health Collectives and the Switchboard, to fill gaps not provided for by society; and many women? work collectives, such as Seven Sisters Construction, the Juice Bar, A Woman?s Place. The Women?s Center and Women?s Building became an umbrella organization of about eighteen collective projects.

Collectives hit the airwaves. In the Bay Area, listener-sponsored KPFA radio, begun back in 1949 as the flagship of the Pacifica network, struggled and experimented with the issues of collectives and internal democracy in these years. Like the Berkeley Co-op, KPFA earned recognition as a community resource.

Collective groups also played an important role in the development of the Bay Area?s gay and lesbian communities. The San Francisco Gay Men?s Chorus, for example, self-organized in the days following days the assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978, after an impromptu gathering the night of the tragedy to sing on the steps of city hall.


The earliest collective businesses were mostly connected with radical communication media: presses, bookstores and film. This reflected the explicitly political movement from which they emerged. They were followed by food-related cooperatives in the late 1960s, and artisan/industrial collectives and cooperatives beginning around 1970 both in urban and rural areas. Worker collectives and cooperatives represented the embedding of the counterculture in the working population; their revolutionary roots were in workers? control and self-management.

They took two basic forms. Some collectives were centralized, with each worker paid through the enterprise. Others, such as artisan cooperatives, were decentralized, maintaining the studio space or the means of production that the craftspeople used.

These early cooperative and collective work groups sprang up in many areas around the country. There were soon collective and cooperative bakers, teachers, truckers, mechanics, farmers, carpenters, printers, food-handlers, cabinetmakers, taxi-drivers, medical workers, sellers, artists, technicians, machine-operators, cooks, editors, etc. Cooperatives operated successfully almost everywhere in light production, distribution and services. Cities where the largest concentrations of worker collectives and cooperatives could be found included the San Francisco Bay Area, the Boston area, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, New Haven, Austin and Madison.

In Berkeley-Oakland, one of the earliest collectives was Taxi Unlimited, collectivized in 1965, in time to play a role in the Free Speech Movement; others included Uncle Ho?s Mechanix Rainbow, Movement Motors, Build carpenters, Alternative Food Store, and the Cheeseboard, all formed between 1970 and 1972, followed by Uprisings and Nabalom Bakeries, the Brick Hut and Swallow restaurants. Every loaf of Uprisings bread included a small flier announcing progressive political and cultural events. By the end of the decade, there were over 150 collectives and collective-cooperatives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Due to their underground nature, estimates of the total number of worker cooperatives in the US in this period differ widely. One study published in 1980 estimated between 750 and 1,000 small worker cooperatives in the US at that time.


Collectives and cooperatives connected with food cut across rural-urban lines. Of all the countercultural organizations, they became the most interconnected, the most developed ideologically and?apart from music groups?had the most far-reaching effects. In the late 1960s, ?food conspiracies? formed in cities and towns across the country. Basically buying clubs, they called themselves conspiracies to indicate that they aspired to more than just stretching dollars, and aimed at overthrowing the established food distribution system. Most had literature and newsletters that publicized their larger motives along with local food news. Most were based on member energy and labor requirements, and run through democratic and collective systems. Many connected with small local and regional organic farms, and made ?natural? foods available in their areas for the first time, while providing the farms with needed outlets. According to the Cooperative League, between 5,000 and 10,000 of these clubs had formed across the country by 1975. The Bay Area was a West coast nexus.

The Haight-Ashbury Food Conspiracy began in 1968 as a buying club, reaching 150 member houses in 1973. At the same time across the bay, the Berkeley-Oakland Organic Food Association had some twenty-one affiliated neighborhood conspiracies. The conspiracies were organized around member participation. They got food from regional farmers as well as at the Farmers? Market, and were organized so that each neighborhood conspiracy was responsible for one job each month.

In the early 1970s, ?new wave? co-op stores began appearing, run by worker collectives and many stemming from conspiracies. They differed from the earlier co-op stores in that they were non-managerial. In some, the worker collective comprised the entire membership, while in others workers and member-customers shared control. Meanwhile, natural food stores began to appear, and chain supermarkets also began stocking organic and natural food lines, providing competition at the alternative system?s strongest point. The Cooperative League estimated in 1979 that between 5,000 and 10,000 small ?new wave? food co-ops of various structures had formed in the past decade, and several thousand were probably still functioning with a 500 million dollar annual volume.

When natural food stores began appearing in an area, the buying clubs generally took a dive as the stores were providing most of the same products almost as cheaply and with more convenience. Some of the most active people in the old food conspiracies were instrumental in starting some of the stores, and many of the former conspiracy members formed their customer base. By 1976, both the Haight-Ashbury Food Conspiracy and the Berkeley-Oakland Organic Food Association had lost most of their membership and were in a state of near collapse.

The conspiracies and collective stores found that due to their small size they could usually only compete with the supermarket chains in the area of natural foods. In response, the collective stores began forming alternative wholesales, some run by independent collectives, some by federations of stores and conspiracies. Trucking collectives connected the whole into broad interlocking networks on both coasts and the Midwest. Citywide and regional ?Food Systems? attempted to grow large enough to create a stable economic base for the whole movement and to create a viable alternative to the supermarket chains.

From the Seattle Workers? Brigade and the Portland Area Food System, down to the Southern California Cooperating Communities, across to the Tucson Peoples? Warehouse, the Austin Community Project, Minneapolis Peoples? Warehouse, the Federation of Ohio River Cooperatives (extending over a six state area), and the New England People?s Cooperatives, regional Food Systems soon overlapped coast to coast.

The collective movement of the era made its greatest impact in the Food Systems. Here the counterculture actually made a frontal challenge to the dominant system in one of its most vital spots, food. It was a real and serious attempt to provide a large-scale collective alternative to the corporate food system, weaving worker-run production units into a larger organism reminiscent of the 19th century Cooperative Commonwealth vision of the Knights of Labor and their coalition with the Farmers? Alliance. Because food is essentially a political issue, many of the most volatile of forces of the 1970s met in the Food Systems, and clashed.

The Food System movement became based in ?new wave? wholesales and regional federations around the country. As such, these became the center of ideological struggle over the aims and strategy of the counterculture movement by the mid-1970s. Some saw the movement as primarily part of an overall struggle against the capitalist system, and advocated more political involvement. In general, these people thought that the movement should be focused to serve the working population, that it should be anti-profit, that its capital accumulation should not be privately owned by groups of workers or consumers, and that the movement should be more unified and centrally structured. Others saw the movement as primarily economic and personal, and in general supported decentralization, structural diversity, and federation, with each group deciding questions like capital accumulation, profit, or political involvement as it saw fit. There were not two clear-cut camps, as each organization had its own variation of worker vs. consumer control, federation vs. centralization, etc., and there were many different viewpoints within each organization.

The mid-1970s was a time of crisis for Food Systems around the country. When many small collectives and cooperatives attempted to federate into larger organizations, they came up against the problem of how to grow large enough to be economically viable without becoming managerial bureaucracies like many of the co-ops started in the 1930s. This, together with the economic recession and runaway inflation, caused most to remain on shaky foundations.

The San Francisco People?s Food System was formed in 1973 by some of the most active people who had left the old Food Conspiracy and organized the first collective stores. Over its short life, the Food System actively and materially supported a number of progressive struggles, and was instrumental in organizing the alternative People?s Bicentennial celebration in San Francisco. Internally, there was a stress on struggling with racism and sexism.

The Food System centered on the San Francisco Common-Operating Warehouse (COW). Instead of using the collective structure like most groups, the COW took a structure that in theory combined representative democracy with centralized efficiency, but in practice invested real power in a small self-perpetuating group. It was not long before the Common-Operating Warehouse?s system collided with the autonomy and consensus system of most of the member work collectives.

In early 1975, SF Food System workers began gathering in regular All-Co-op meetings (?the Forum?) to try to develop and better organize the system. By 1976, the System was growing large and strong, with member collectives and co-ops on both sides of the bay. But internally, an ideological battle was brewing over organization, involving anarchists and marxists. In April, members decided that there would be an elected Representative Body (RB). By the end of the year, the Representative Body had drafted a Basis of Unity, which was approved by all the collectives, and the RB elected a steering committee in January 1977. But at that point internal disagreements and problems rushed to a head. A number of the food collectives were involved with the prisoners? rights movement, and there was strong conflict between competing radical prisoner organizations. When a small group disrupted and shut down an All-Worker conference in April 1977. the San Francisco Food System came crashing down and, as it did, a countercultural dream shattered and died.

With the SF Food System functionally defunct, the numerous small autonomous collectives again became the main base of the movement in the Bay Area. The following year, the old Food Conspiracy was reorganized and revived as a communal enterprise, with all member-customer energy requirements removed; under this system it grew to sizable proportions again in the Bay Area for a few years. The San Francisco Common-Operating Warehouse hung on for a few years, then closed its doors in February, 1982.


Meanwhile, in 1976, a small autonomous Bay Area circle called the Collective Directory Group began a project of networking among collectives. The first edition of the Collective Directory was published in 1977. Updated editions came out in the following years. Besides listing information about groups, expanded Directories included articles on history and theory of the movement.

In 1980, workers from a wide variety of Bay Area collectives came together and formed the InterCollective, an association for exchanging ideas and information, promoting networking, and striving to develop the movement. The InterCollective had no centralized leadership or organization, but gathered in open monthly meetings and held political and cultural events. They organized a well-attended Collective Conference in 1982, weekly classes and workshops between 1981 and 1986, a Collectives Fair in 1983, and sponsored an anti-nuclear action collective for the 1982 non-violent blockade and civil disobedience at the Livermore Weapons Lab. The Collective Directory became a project of the InterCollective. The 1985 edition was the most extensive, listing almost 150 collective groups in the Bay Area and over 350 on the West coast. But by that time the collective wave had already peaked, the country dominated by Reagan-era economics. The competitive climate engulfed and bankrupted many of the most successful of the worker collectives. Some groups self-destructed. In those years, few new collectives or cooperatives were being formed. The 1985 Collective Directory was the last, and the InterCollective disbanded in 1986. But not all ?70s collectives succumbed, and some groups from this era continue today.
The Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NOBAWC) renewed the movement in 1994, after growing out of monthly meetings between several groups to discuss their experiences and common problems, with the mission of information and resource sharing among worker co-ops, and building a movement for worker self-management. NOBAWC is today a member of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives.


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