The opposite is true in northern California, especially in the S.F. Bay Area where there are scores of co-ops from bakeries to bicycle and cheese shops, employing from a handful to 200 workers. They are part of the Network of Bay Area Cooperatives (NOBAWC), which provides technical and financial assistance, as well as marketing tips and discounts to its members.
So what exactly is a cooperative? First of all it’s a democratic workplace. Unlike a private investment business, each member has one vote. All decisions are made collectively. Profits are shared equally, according to the time and effort each member contributes to the company. Surplus funds are used to buy supplies and equipment, and extra funds are distributed to our members on an annual basis.
Informal forms of cooperation existed in ancient times, but formal cooperatives began in the 18th and 19th centuries with the advent of the industrial revolution. In 1843, a group of textile workers in Rochdale, England founded the first cooperative store to escape exploitation from other store owners who sold shoddy merchandise at inflated prices..
The Mondragon corporation, one of the world’s most successful cooperative movements was founded by the Rev. Jose Maria Mendezarriata a Spanish Jesuit, in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. It now has many thousands of members and is a leading manufacture of automobiles and appliances with global outreach. Mondragon experts have also mentored several co-ops in the United States, including the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry in an inner city Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood.
Father Mendezarriata established a set of principles to guide his cooperative. Among them are open admission to all workers, regardless of race, politics or religion; participatory democracy in management (one worker, one vote); cooperation among cooperatives; social transformation and education.
We at Fresh Tamales emulate these principles. We hope that the public will buy our tamales not only because they are the best available, but to support our democratic workplace and to improve our community.