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Network of Bay Area Worker Collectives (NoBAWC) History
by NoBAWC
Saturday Jun 29th, 2002 11:49 AM
NoBAWC was founded in September 1994 when workers representing nine workplaces met to address the isolation of worker cooperatives and to build a worker cooperative movement. Strategically, this meant supporting existing worker cooperatives, establishing and strengthening bonds between worker co-ops and organizing new worker cooperatives.
Currently, NoBAWC is comprised of about 50 self-managed workplaces. By self-management, it is meant a workplace where the workers control the means of production, the resources of the organization and the work process. The unequal boss-worker conventional relationship is replaced by an egalitarian one where each worker (except those who are temporary or in probationary periods) has as much potential decision-making power as the next, and where ultimate authority lies with the workers as a whole. NoBAWC member workplaces include small and medium-sized workplaces employing from a few to over two hundred workers and include workplaces from diverse industries and sectors of the economy. There is also diversity among worker cooperatives regarding their organizational and legal structures. Most are for profit while some are non-profit, most earn a living from their respective cooperative while some are volunteer-run and some utilize direct democracy while others use both direct and representational structures. Most of these workplaces have been operating successfully for years, with some celebrating more than twenty years in business.

Since its beginning, NoBAWC has been a volunteer organization run by workers from participating cooperatives. However, it is currently in the process of formalizing its structure to include a budget and staff in order to better serve the needs of self-managed businesses and to promote worker's self management in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. General meetings occur every other month; facilitators and notetakers are rotated, and minutes are maintained by an elected archivist. Decisions affecting NoBAWC (i.e. using the name and/or resources of the organization) are decided upon or ratified by the organization as a whole. Committees/project groups are autonomous with regard to their organizing, but they remain accountable to the organization. Decisions are made by modified consensus.

Despite the difficulty of meeting its ambitious goals with a volunteer-run budgetless structure, NoBAWC has had some significant accomplishments. First, the existence of NoBAWC has helped create community among worker cooperatives. It has reduced their isolation and has facilitated communication and relationship-building. This occurs on many levels, from larger meetings--to work groups and committees--to interpersonal interactions. For example, NoBAWC roundtables have been very successful in reducing isolation and building community between worker co-ops because they allow time to discuss varied solutions to common problems. Roundtables focus on a particular common issue or concern, such as diversity, hiring and firing, leadership or initiative, conflict resolution, etc. In addition to these formal settings, NoBAWC has served as a catalyst for workers from different co-ops to meet on their own in order to address roundtable issues in more depth or to discuss other difficulties a workplace may be having. This communication reminds co-op workers that they are not alone in dealing with these issues and that a wealth of knowledge and experience exists in other workplaces.

Second, NoBAWC has organized concrete projects in an effort to provide practically tangible benefits to its members. For example, NoBAWC has had a successful discount card program for over five years. Discount cards are distributed to workers at participating NoBAWC workplaces and entitle the holder to a 10% discount off the regular price on all goods and services at participating NoBAWC workplaces. Not only does this have an obvious financial reward, but also serves to replace the isolation of co-ops with solidarity and a sense of collective identity. In addition, NoBAWC has placed a joint newspaper advertisement and is developing a Web site that also have this dual effect. On the one hand, they serve a marketing need for NoBAWC workplaces, and on the other hand, they build cohesion among worker-run businesses by linking them in the print media and on the Internet. Moreover, NoBAWC is currently working on a worker co-op poster for display and distribution. It will contain a map as well as a photo and a description of each co-op. Like the discount card, joint advertisement, and the website, this project serves the dual role of marketing and building community. Furthermore, co-ops use NoBAWC as a hiring resource; by announcing job openings at meetings, workplaces have access to potential applicants who have experience working in a democratic setting.

Third, NoBAWC has supported struggling co-ops as well as helped new ones get off the ground. For instance, roundtables focusing on individual workplaces have served as unique forums to discuss the most difficult issues a worker co-op may be facing. These roundtables often lead to the continued involvement of workers from other workplaces in the search for solutions. NoBAWC has also served as an intermediary to connect people with newly forming cooperatives by offering advice and technical expertise, such as in the cases of a diver's cooperative and a heating and air conditioning co-op.

Lastly, NoBAWC has filled an educational and larger political role by forging links between the community and cooperative workplaces. For example, presentations by representatives of the National Cooperative Bank and the Community Bank of the Bay have both opened doors for worker co-ops that may be in need of financial assistance and have made financial institutions more aware of the worker cooperative community in the Bay Area. In addition, presentations by people that have worked with co-ops in the U.S. and abroad, or have done organizing similar to NoBAWC, give a wider perspective and historical continuity that is needed to overcome isolation and help NoBAWC and worker cooperatives learn from others‚ experiences. Also, NoBAWC has been involved in many conferences and community events, such as: the annual worker cooperative conference in Breitenbush, Oregon, conferences organized by the University of California at Davis Center for Cooperatives, the Active Resistance Conference, Reclaiming May Day events in San Francisco and NoBAWC members have participated in classes at the University of California at Berkeley. Moreover, there has been some newspaper coverage of NoBAWC which has helped to educate the community and promote worker cooperatives as a realistic alternative for working people.

The challenges that NoBAWC has faced and is facing are based on its structural limitations. A budgetless, volunteer-run organization comprised of people who periodically meet after work is limited in what it can accomplish. The difficulty of NoBAWC to realistically meet some of the goals expressed in its mission statement, the limits of its ability to respond to requests for assistance by individuals and workplaces and the inability to execute some projects reflect the limitations of NoBAWC organized as it is. In order to address these problems and move to the next level, NoBAWC has begun the process toward a more formalized structure with a budget and paid staff. A steering committee has been elected and this body has hired a part-time organizer. The steering committee and organizer have raised $12,200.00 so far to fund this transition to a more formalized NoBAWC. In addition to administrative duties and working on NoBAWC projects, the focus of the organizer's time will go toward drafting, conducting and evaluating a comprehensive survey of NoBAWC's approximately fifty member businesses. This survey will 1) evaluate the educational and technical assistance needs of worker cooperatives, 2) help develop NoBAWC's future legal, membership and decision-making structures and 3) help develop NoBAWC's funding base, including assessing the willingness of co-ops to pay dues to a more formalized NoBAWC structure. The survey results and open discussion will guide NoBAWC to a more formalized and effective future.

For more information, contact NoBAWC at (510) 549-1514 or nobawc [at] igc.org
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TITLE AUTHOR DATE
Just a Small Suggestion ...Co-opFriday Jul 5th, 2002 7:28 PM
Please seek it elsewhereyou are too sick for usThursday Jul 4th, 2002 5:07 AM
Get the facts straightWobblie GirlWednesday Jul 3rd, 2002 6:12 PM
hmm,aaronWednesday Jul 3rd, 2002 1:48 AM
The Losing End v. the Winning End of the BattleCo-opTuesday Jul 2nd, 2002 11:52 PM
Who is angry?worker beeTuesday Jul 2nd, 2002 5:54 PM
I am sorry, NoBAWCEdwin BishTuesday Jul 2nd, 2002 4:33 PM
worker bee, you are living in the pastEdwin BishTuesday Jul 2nd, 2002 3:05 PM
Workplace Hierarchyworker beeTuesday Jul 2nd, 2002 2:17 PM
Worker bee, take it up with NoBAWCEdwin BishTuesday Jul 2nd, 2002 1:31 PM
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