Hundreds of co-op members, promoters, lawyers, and scholars from the eastern half of the United States convened this month at Fordham Law School for a three-day conference titled The Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy.
The conference, held June 9–11, included some three dozen workshops and classes addressing a wide range of issues, such as democratic decision-making and team-building practices, debt and equity in cooperatives, and a strategy session for LGBTQ economic democracy. The conference also featured two major plenary panels, including an opening night panel that addressed worker co-ops and resistance movements including Black Lives Matter.
Hundreds of worker co-ops, owned by employees on a one-worker one-share basis, operate across the United States. Employees either directly govern the business or elect a board that hires and supervises managers.
According to its web site, ECWD exists to expose people to the concept of worker-owned businesses; strengthen existing worker-owned businesses; develop relationships between democratically-owned businesses, labor institutions, and resource organizations; and build the movement for workplace democracy.
One of the conference’s sessions on June 10 explored “Building Cooperatives in New Spaces and Places,” featuring presentations from cooperators based in Detroit, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas (near the U.S.-Mexico border), and Lewiston, Maine.
Mohamed Dekow, executive director of Sustainable Livelihoods Relief Organization in Maine, shared how cooperative farming had allowed him and other Somali Bantu immigrants to connect with the Lewiston community. Now he dreams of serving the crops from his farm at a Somali restaurant.
“We want to see immigrant men and women come together and share traditional immigrant food with American families,” Dekow said.
The Fordham Law Community Economic Development Clinic, directed by Professor Brian Glick, co-sponsored the conference along with the NYC Network of Worker Co-ops. The conference takes place every two years.