Co-operative power —> to the people

Here in our fair borough it seems like everyone is aware of the trendy Park Slope Food Co-op: Cheap, high quality food is made available to members if they work for the store for about 3 hours a month.  But alas! Far fewer people are aware of We Can Do It! (Sí Se Puede!) Women’s Cooperative cleaning service based in Sunset Park. Founded in August 2006, it’s an organization of immigrant women who work as domestic cleaners on their own terms.

All members of the group are workers; technically they’re all part owners of the enterprise.  They do all the publicity, scheduling and, of course, labor themselves (or with the help of volunteers). For each job they work, usually for $100 or thereabouts, $5 of their fee goes towards administrative costs to keep the organization afloat.

So it’s a win-win situation: consumers get lower prices since the infamous middleman has been removed. Workers don’t have to be subject to the exploitative labor practices and wages which are all too commonly associated with immigrant labor (the theory of monopsony describes this situation aptly). And the underfunded welfare / public benefits sector, which doesn’t have the best track record serving immigrants anyway, gets a break. Plus these workers can’t be deported since they’re business owners! And oh my goodness…the workers own the means of production! Well I never.

Now it turns out that the ongoing logistics and the relatively small start-up cost of this project was shouldered partially by the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, which in turn is a subsidiary of the SCO Family of Services a community-based non-profit organization which (probably) gets grants from a number of private foundations as well as the shrinking pool of money that the Federal and New York State governments earmark for this kind of thing every year.

So it seems like much of the start-up capital and running costs for this venture comes from various forms of government. But said government recoups its minimal investment through taxes and, indeed, a stimulated economy! Plus stable, working families promote nicer neighborhoods, which should raise property value (and tax revenue) and the standard of living for everyone involved. So in addition to being a small-scale, community-based, worker-owned organization, this is also a way for the government to spend its money, or even indirectly to make money, in a way that definitely benefits the community (rather than the corporations).

So instead of abandoning government altogether, perhaps it’s worth recognizing that there is a set of policies out there that could simultaneously relieve the plight of the urban poor while also promoting entrepreneurship, that could reduce welfare spending while also reducing the gap between rich and poor,  that could promote community development and encourage people to be more fiscally responsible.

Everybody knows about the famous micro-finance initiatives in Bangladesh which earned a 2006 Nobel Prize, as well as a lot of money, for Grameen Bank. I’d support a similar, hypothetical government program (though perhaps with more of an eye towards community).

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