Institutionalizing a Commitment to Racial and Economic Justice

Worker Co-ops Move Beyond Business as Usual
Posted by: 
Emily Sladek

During the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives membership meeting this past July in Austin, Texas, the Federation shared with its membership the newly created Racial and Economic Justice Member Council. The Council is hoping to facilitate the Federation’s adoption of three more principles that will guide worker cooperatives. This marks an important institutional change, as organizations strive to create and sustain racial and economic justice. (Right: Protest march for justice for Trayvon Martin in Austin, TX in 2013. Photo by Ain92).

The vision and principles put forward by the Council elevates worker cooperatives from just another kind of business model to a driver for “dismantling systems of economic and racial oppression.” Part of the Council’s strategy is to link to the movements for trans and queer liberation, gender, environmental, and disability justice, and anti-imperialism. The Council’s leadership comes from different sectors of the worker-cooperative movement and communities, consisting of people of color, people from marginalized communities, and allies.

Specifically, the Racial and Economic Justice Member Council proposed to the Federation membership that they adopt three additional principles. These are: 1) Equity in All Dimensions, including wealth, class, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.; 2) Subordinate Nature of Capital, the idea that people and their labor is more important than private interests; and 3) Social Transformation, that co-ops support community development and network with other partners to nurture cultural practices and communities. These principles are adopted from other movements and organizations, such as the Solidarity Economy movementThe Working World, and Mondragón, among others. (Below: "Checking out the machines being built at Fagor Automation Factory" from the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives tour of the Mondragón Cooperatives).

Proposing new principles for the worker cooperatives sector is an innovative step. Currently, there is agreement on seven international principles for cooperatives. The additional principles proposed by the Council acknowledges the current historical moment happening in the United States, as well as the centuries-long work to address racial and economic inequalities. 

Recently, the Movement for Black Lives released a platform which promotes the creation of more cooperatives. This work is also driven by the fact that the people organizing new worker co-ops in the United States increasingly60 percent of all new worker-owners by one measureare themselves people of color. Adopting new country-specific, placed-based principles and accountability measures helps ensure that worker cooperatives continue to move each other and the U.S. society towards racial and economic justice. With these additional racial and economic justice principles, the Federation is seeking to better advocate and respond appropriately to the needs of Black communities as well as others marginalized by the current economic system. As one person said at the Federation meeting, “It is important as more people are coming in and thinking about coming in that our principles reflect what we are trying to build.”