The Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives is rooted in the ideals of co-operation, mutuality and solidarity. VAWC is itself an expression of co-operative principles — a “co-op of co-ops” that have come together as a means of strengthening the efforts of our individual co-ops to develop their businesses, serve their members, and contribute to the wider co-operative economy.
Utilizing relations among Members and Staff, VAWC serves co-ops with a variety of activities to have strong, vibrant co-ops in a system that is raising awareness and serving its membership.
Support and Development
Start-ups, conversions and existing co-ops receive comprehensive support from VAWC Staff and VAWC Member networks. VAWC Members and Start Up Members receive support for legal and founding documents, mission statements and structure, hiring and expansion and more.
Our vision of a thriving co-operative system depends on interco-operation and partnership among and across all sectors. We co-founded the Valley Co-operative Business Association (VCBA), attend several conferences and are members of the United States Federation of Worker Co-operatives (USFWC). VAWC Member Co-ops receive 50% off membership to the USFWC and 25% off membership in VCBA as well as being a part of our ongoing collaboration with Neighboring Food Co-op Association and Co-operative Fund of New England.
Co-operative Enterprise Collaborative
We co-create and manage curriculum with faculty, students and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association at UMass, Amherst. The CEC provides classes about co-operatives, internships and classroom visits from co-operators.
VAWC Members receive a VAWC Owners Manual describing operations and history of their own co-op as well as that of VAWC.
Conference Presence and Presentations
VAWC presents at numerous local and movent conferences, classrooms and events including the United States Federation of Worker Co-ops, the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy, Northeast Organic Farmers Association, Western Mass Jobs With Justice, Vermont Employee Ownership Center and more.
Advertising, Marketing, and Public Relations
Our Working for a Co-operative Economy ad campaign features Members and is printed in 3 food co-op newsletters, reaching over 10,000 members in our region as well as the United States Federation of Worker Co-operatives newsletter.
VAWC Members are plugged into a network of co-operatives who prioritize patronizing other co-ops with VAWC Staff assisting on marketing strategies. Using press releases and social media, web presence and online commentary, and local and movement media VAWC raises awareness of its Members and their support co-op.
Direction and Goals of VAWC
VAWC Members direct and determine VAWC’s mission, vision and work based on one-member-one-vote process at monthly meetings. VAWC Members contribute to the growth and strengthening of our members and movement through our Co-opreneur work. Whether it is increasing the collaboration and purchasing from existing co-ops, converting existing businesses to co-operatives, surveying demand from co-ops for new entities, or developing co-operatives on our own VAWC is a center of co-op development in our region.
Co-op Identity and other resources
Here we only hope to provide a simple outline and provide resources you can access on your own. At the bottom of this page we have a short list of resources that go more in depth.
But let’s start with the basics.
What is a Co-op?
A cooperative (also co-operative or coöperative; often referred to as a co-op or coop) is defined by the International Co-operative Alliance’s Statement on the Co-operative Identity as an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.
Co-ops are based on the co-operative principles first drafted by the Rochdale Pioneers in England during the 1800′s. For a very short piece on this wonderful and insightful history click here.
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.
1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership
Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control
Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.
3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.
5th Principle: Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
6th Principle: Co-operation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7th Principle: Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.
Different types of Co-operatives
Co-ops are formed for many reasons and in different forms. So what makes worker co-operatives unique from other types of co-operatives – consumer, producer, and purchasing? It is important and useful to co-operate around renting or owning a home, as in housing co-ops. Purchasing co-ops benefits members through lower cost items, like in a buying club or business association. Just as important is to co-operate around what we consume, like the food we buy, where members in food co-ops have a real say. But what about the product or service itself? Worker co-operatives are unique and exciting in that they do not focus on where we spend our money, but rather on how we earn our money.
There is a good deal of information out there about worker co-operatives. Here are some favorites:
- Learning about how we pooled our resources and developed a shared strategy is as important as the activities we perform. We encourage you to read Erbin Crowell’s Masters Thesis on VAWC Exploring Co-op Led Development.
- Worker Co-op Tool Box from Northcountry Cooperative Foundation: A free pdf download of a guide in which two VAWC Member Co-ops are case studies.
- ‘No Bosses Here – A Manual on Working Collectively’ – by Vocations for Social Change. A 33rd anniversary re-print by Levellers Press of this perennial manual. Table of Contents includes: Starting a Collective; Decision Making; Dividing of Collective Work; Dealing with Feelings; People Issues: Hirings, Firings, Leavings and Salaries; and the movement and Social Change. For a copy, contact Collective Copies – 413 586-5829 – $15 plus shipping.
We invite you to contact us for more support: email@example.com.