Fast Food Workers
As I write this, thousands of fast food workers and their supporters are conducting protests and sit ins at McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. They complain that the low wages prevent them from supporting their families, despite the super profits of their employers. They want a basic minimum wage of $15 an hour for a start. The response of the employers is not surprising. A spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association called the protesters “professional agitators” and claimed that the fast food restaurants “train America’s workforce and provide a pathway towards upward mobility and success.” On the other hand, several cities now have initiatives to increase the minimum wage, and in his speech on Labor Day, President Obama said: “There is no denying a simple truth: America deserves a raise.”
A Cooperative Culture
Here in Southern California, there are few cooperatives. But in the San Franciso Bay Area, cooperativism is thriving. The oldest is the Cheese Board in Berkely, founded in the 1970s by two young men who traveled to Israel and learned cooperativism on a kibbutz. There are also bakeries, food co-ops, technology co-ops, even a bicycle manufacturing co-op. One of the most successful co-ops is W.A.G.E.S. (Women’s Action to Gain Economic
Security). They have organized several housecleaning cooperatives that have dramatically improved the lives of immigrant workers for almost two decades. All the above co-ops belong to an association called the Network of Bay Area Worker Co-ops (NABAWCS).
Worker owned cooperatives have helped revitalize inner cities in places such as Cleveland and Detroit, and they are also commonplace in many southern states. They help each other financially, share technology and provide trainings and workshops.
All cooperatives share a common set of principles that serve as the foundation for a broader cooperative movement worldwide:
1) Open and voluntary membership.
2) Democratic member control.
3) Member economic participation.
4) Autonomy and independence.
5) Education, information and training.
6) Cooperation among cooperatives.
7) Concern for community.
These principles are extremely important. Work and responsibilities have to be shared. We have to continually educate ourselves about the need for solidarity and for respecting each other’s talents. Once that trust solidifies, you have a true co-op. It’s not easy. It is a work in progress. But it is rewarding, and it has a wonderful effect on the local community.
-- Mark Day, coordinator, Fresh Tamales