Friday, February 25, 2011

US Federation of Worker Cooperatives Supports Public Sector Workers' Right to Collective Bargaining

Press release from the USFWC Board stating our solidarity with the movement in Wisconsin
USFWC contact: Melissa Hoover, (415) 309-5983,


US Federation of Worker Cooperatives Supports Public Sector Workers' Right to Collective Bargaining

The United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) stands in solidarity with public workers protesting the State of Wisconsin’s Budget Repair Bill to protect their right to collective bargaining. The USFWC is a national grassroots membership organization of and for worker cooperatives, other democratic workplaces, and the organizations that support the growth and continued development of worker cooperatives.

John McNamara, president of the USFWC Board and worker-owner at Union Cab Cooperative of Madison said, “We are at Ground Zero of the labor movement right now. The battle over public sector unions and their right to collectively bargain is our struggle. What happens in Wisconsin will help change the course of debate in this country that will prevent the Shock Capitalism advocates from operating.”

US Federation Executive Director Melissa Hoover states: “Worker cooperatives are historically and currently part of the labor movement. We promote the idea of democracy--not just in the workplace, but in the labor union structure and in our civic life. We support the workers of Wisconsin and internationally. Corporate handouts by governments cannot be paid for by working people.”

Two of the most basic principles followed by worker cooperatives worldwide are 'democratic member control' and 'member economic participation.' As institutions of economic democracy, worker cooperatives support political democracy and the rights of all workers to engage in the political process. The USFWC stands against this “smoke screen” to attack workers, sell off state assets, and destroy the ability of workers to engage in the political process, and encourages its members and allies to contact their legislators to oppose the “repair” bill.

For more on the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives: For more on worker cooperatives and their guiding principles:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chicago's Participatory Budgeting Champion Re-elected in Landslide

Incumbent Joe Moore was re-elected Tuesday by his constituents in the 49th ward, edging out challenger Brian White. As of 10:37 p.m. with all results in, Moore won with 73 percent of the vote.The 49th ward, which has roughly the same boundaries as the Rogers Park neighborhood, saw slightly over 43 percent turnout in Tuesday's municipal election. Moore was first elected as alderman in 1991.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's the Inequality Stupid

The Great Recession and the slump that followed have triggered a jobs crisis that's been making headlines since before President Obama was in office, and that will likely be with us for years. But the American economy is also plagued by a less-noted, but just as serious, problem: Simply put, over the last 30 years, the gap between rich and poor has widened into a chasm.
Gradual developments like this don't typically lend themselves to news coverage. But Mother Jones magazine has crunched the data on inequality, and put together a group of stunning new charts. Taken together, they offer a dramatic visual illustration of who's doing well and who's doing badly in modern America. The poorest 90 percent of Americans make an average of $31,244 a year, while the top 1 percent make over $1.1 million.

To see lots of graphics that break down the gross inequalities see Mother Jones' article.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Company Converts to Worker Coop in Recession

Oakland North
The late Neldam’s bakery is reborn, with workers in charge and treats as diverse as Telegraph Ave.
By: Alyssa Fetini | September 11, 2010 – 12:00 pm

There is a new bakery in town—sort of. When recession-related woes forced Neldam’s Danish Bakery on 34th St. and Telegraph Ave to close its doors in July after 81 years in business, its longterm employees banded together to give the Koreatown staple a fresh start.

“When Neldam’s closed, I thought to myself ‘what am I going to do now?’” said Mark Davis, who had been a baker at Neldam’s for 37 years.

Less than three months later, Davis has an answer. With the help of the building owners and investors Kevin and Sukhee Yoo, Davis and twelve of Neldam’s former employees, many of whom have worked together for decades, have formed a co-op to reopen the bakery under a new name: Taste of Denmark.

The new, employee-run Taste of Denmark, which opened for business on September 9, will give the employees a stake in the business — an added incentive to see it succeed.

“Now the former employees can not only have their old jobs back, but be owners and put more passion into the bakery,” said Sukhee Yoo.

The veteran employees and new managers say they hope their perspective on the changing needs of their customers will help Taste of Denmark avoid the same fate as Neldam’s. “Before, it was a very Danish style bakery but now we realize that we need to cater to the Asian- American community, the black community and Hispanics,” said Yoo, referencing the area’s increasingly ethnically and culturally diverse population.

Though Taste of Denmark will feature all of Neldam’s standard pastries, such as croissants, turnovers, cakes and (of course) danishes, plans for Asian pastries, tres leches cakes, and sugar and gluten- free options are underway. “We’d like to think that anyone can come in here and ask for something, and although we might not have a lot of it, we’d at least have something for everybody,” Davis said.

Oaklanders have already welcomed the bakery back with open arms. By 8 a.m. on opening day, Taste of Denmark was already full of customers—some new, eager to try out the free samples on the counter, and some faithful devotees. “I’ve been coming here since the 1940’s” said self-proclaimed regular Madeline Wells. “The people here are amazing. The pastries are like nothing I’ve ever tasted. This place is in a category all its own.”

A Taste of Denmark is located at 3401 Telegraph Ave. The hours, as of Sept. 9, are 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

3 Participatory Budgeting Projects Make Finals of "Vitalizing Democracy" Prize

New Videos on Participatory Budgeting in Argentina & Brazil
Feb 16, 2011
The Bertelsmann Foundation has posted short videos (in English) describing the seven finalists for the 2011 “Vitalizing Democracy” Prize. 158 democratic innovations from around the world were submitted, and three of the finalists are cases of participatory budgeting. Each case also uses technology in innovative ways, for SMS-voting, internet voting, electronic ballots, or online forums.

- La Plata (Argentina): Participatory Budgeting uses SMS-voting and electronic ballots.

- Belo Horizonte (Brazil) Co-Governance: part of Belo Horizonte’s participatory budgeting includes Internet and interactive voice response (IVR) voting.

- Recife (Brazil) Participatory Budgeting: includes electronic ballots and Internet voting.

E-participatory budgeting:
innovative practice in Belo Horizonte (Brazil)
One of the most interesting e-participation experiments
is the e-participatory budget of Belo Horizonte, in Brazil.
With 2.35 million inhabitants, this city is the sixth largest
in Brazil and an important political centre in the country.
Its PB is one of the oldest in Brazil: it began in 1993 and
its methodology has been innovative. Most notably, it has
included an autonomous housing PB designed to deal with
this especially important issue. It is based on a two-year cycle,
a feature that has tended to inspire other experiments in
Brazil, and places emphasis on popular control over the real
execution of the public works that have been chosen.
In 2006 a digital PB was added as a third pillar, which was
repeated in 2008 and 2010. The digital PB has three objectives:
to modernise PB through the use of ICTs; to increase
citizen involvement in the process, and to include big investments,
concerning the whole city, in the participatory
budgeting process. In fact, most Brazilian PBs face a double
problem: participation remains relatively limited (1 to 3
percent of the people in cities, somewhat higher in smaller
towns) and the biggest investments tend to remain outside
their reach.

The idea is to organise an online vote open to all residents
older than 16, in order to prioritise some investments that
require much more than the amounts available at the district
level. In order to participate, citizens have to access the
e-voting platform through the city‘s official website, where
information on the various public works is provided. The
decision is made through majority rule, with no preference
given to socially disadvantaged areas. In 2006, 25 million
R$ (around 14 million US$) were made available to the digital
PB. The amount was increased to 50 million (28 million
US$) in 2008, so that one public work (a beltway around
a very important square) could be selected. In comparison,
around 80 million R$ (44 million US$) were given to the
district PB in 2007-2008, and 110 million R$ (around 61
million US$) in 2009-2010. (In this last round, 110 public
works were selected, which means that the average amount
was 1 million R$, around 550,000 US$.) The methodology
was somewhat different in 2006, when voters could cast
9 votes, one per district, and 2009, when voters had only
one choice and it was also possible to vote by phone.
173,000 persons voted in 2006 (nearly 10 percent of the
Belo Horizonte electorate), and 124,000 in 2008 – compared
with 38,000, 34,000 and 44,000 voters for the district
PB in 2005/2006, 2007/2008 and 2009/2010. The increase
in participation with online voting has been a clear success.
However, the deliberative dimension has been virtually lost
(only 1,200 contributions were made in the online forum in
2006), and the digital participatory budget looks more like
a ‚light‘ referendum than a ‚traditional‘ PB. This peculiar
success has made the Belo Horizonte digital PB an internationally
recognised good practice (Peixoto, 2008).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Tale of 2 Dollars

Posted by Dandarius on February 5, 2011
On Transition California

To clearly understand the power of self-reliant economics as an investment model, let us follow the adventures of two dollars as they go out to seek their fortune and make their mark in the world.

Dollar #1 ended up in a civil engineering construction company. The company did relatively well. They won a contract with the IMF to build an oil pipeline in South America. The cost of the pipeline ultimately was the responsibility of the local government, which would end up paying for the interest on the loan to build the pipeline for many years. This road made it possible to transport oil from drilling operations in a remote section of the country. The profits from the drilling were supposed to help pay for economic development projects to benefit the local people. Unfortunately, they ended up being used to pay for the interest for the loan to build the pipeline but this did not affect the profitability of the construction company, which was paid for by the IMF who loaned the money to build the road. And so after ten years, the $1 investment was worth $3.84

There was unfortunately a minus side – environmentally, socially and economically. The pipeline had serious leaks and caused an incredible amount of pollution. The areas for miles around the drilling sites were blighted. The communities protested, but they were not shareholders, and the construction company felt itself answerable first and foremost to the shareholders. The construction company did provide a large number of jobs while the pipeline was being built, but these were generally low paying subsistence level jobs. In any case, workers generally spent all their income in stores which stocked items imported from other places. For this reason, there was no economic development in the area other than the drilling itself. 100% of the profits of the drilling operation thus left the country. The local area, being impoverished, experienced massive social unrest and unemployment. There is no way to put a price tag on these costs.

Dollar #2 went to Working Villages. It was used in the set-up and operation of grain mills. At an initial start up cost of $133,000 and a yearly operating cost of $30,000, the mills had expenses of $433,000 over a ten year period and income of $2.4 million. Net income was almost $2 million on an initial investment of under $200,000. So Dollar #2 had grown to $10 in the 10 year period.
But the story of Dollar #2 had just begun. The $10 was reinvested in development of a chain of cooperative stores, which stocked food, clothing and manufactured items produced locally at prices below the cost of imported items.. All the money earned by the local farmers during the 10 years - about $10 million was used to buy products in the stores. The stores sold items at a 25% net margin, and so produced a net profit of $2.5 million from total gross sales of $10 million over the period, from a startup capital of $100,000. The $7.5 million in gross sales that were paid out to local producers and manufacturers were all recycled through the local economy multiple times. The dressmakers who sold their dresses bought food from local farmers, who in turn bought locally made agricultural implements. The $10 thus grew to $250.

The story of Dollar #2 is starting to get interesting! Income from the milling and the stores was re-invested in building local industries, including clothing, construction materials, furniture, agricultural tools, large fruit orchards, and a large dairy. Oxen were trained to plow and transport goods, enhancing worker productivity. One farmer with a trained ox team can plow at least 10 times more land than a farmer plowing by hand. Agricultural output thus soared.
Because the economy was self-reliant, every transaction within the village economy was recycled back into the local economy. It thus became increasingly difficult to judge profitability exactly, but we conservatively estimate that the original investment produced wealth in excess of $100 million in 10 years in this one village alone. Within 10 years, we expect to have replicated the self-reliant community in hundreds of locations in the region.
The ROI for Dollar #2 was $3.86 while at the same time, by building the local economy, the opportunity for future investment increased exponentially. A local economy that at the outset could properly utilize an investment of at most $200,000 had been transformed into an economy that could effectively utilize tens of billions of dollars – all of this with zero pollution or environmental degradation and total community support.

Which dollar followed an intelligent investment course? If we consider this from the standpoint of investment security, Dollar #1 was better, because the construction company had a proven track record, and was well capitalized. If we look simply at return on investment, both courses appear almost equivalent. But if we look at the long term picture, Dollar #1 created environmental and economic chaos, while Dollar #2 was instrumental in the economic growth of the community, without any pollution or social upheaval creating prosperity across the board.