“No common is possible unless we refuse to base our life and our reproduction on the suffering of others, unless we refuse to see ourselves as separate from them” - Silvia Federici
Anchoring Communities is a project led by Jay Cumberland, an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by the eBay Foundation at the Sustainable Economies Law Center. This project helps workers and tenants in the Bay Area resist displacement by taking collective control of their workplaces and buildings.
Many problems converge to cause displacement. So, many strategies must combine to prevent further displacement. This project uses one unique strategy to target the Bay Area’s racialized problem of high rent and low wages. It helps workers and tenants come together to take control of their workplaces and apartment buildings. This helps workers create worker cooperatives, and it helps tenants create housing cooperatives. Collective control of housing and jobs helps people reduce their rent and raise their wages. It anchors people in place and prevents further displacement. This security gives people a greater ability to build social, economic, and political power for themselves and others.
Here’s how this project works:
Existing movements to help workers and tenants take collective control have incredible potential. Yet, barriers stand in the way of these movements reaching their full potential. This project makes the public aware of problems holding these movements back. Then, it uses legal and non-legal skills to create solutions to these problems. After that, it rallies people and organizations around these issues to make them more impactful.
Agitating → Highlighting Problems Standing in the Way of Collective Control
Dependence on Business Owners and Landlords
Worker and housing co-op conversions happen because business owners and landlords want them to happen. Workers and tenants receive little support in exercising their bargaining power. They have little hope of convincing bad business owners and landlords to sell to them. Relying on the generosity of a few business owners and landlords limits the growth and militancy of the cooperative movement.
Focus on Owners and Ownership
Business owners hire most worker co-op conversion organizations. This means they work for the benefit of the owners, not the workers. These organizations target business owners with outreach. This means workers don't know their businesses are for sale and can't be proactive. These organizations aim to convince owners that workers can be as responsible as owners. This means these organizations do not exist to build a proud working class movement focused on worker power.
Lack of Legal Services
There are attorneys and accountants who help people buy businesses and apartment buildings. There are attorneys and accountants who help people create and operate cooperatives. But, there aren’t many attorneys and accountants who do both. So, workers and tenants struggle to find support. Few strategies are being created to help them take collective control.
Lack of Connection to Broader Movements
The worker co-op conversion movement has little connection to the labor movement. This holds the movement back in many ways.
Innovating → Creating Strategies To Solve These Problems
Worker-Centered Conversion Strategies
This project ensures workers know their businesses are for sale. It creates ways to help workers negotiate prices that aren't based in part on the profit an owner could extract from them. It creates ways to help workers bring business owners to the table even when those owners aren't interested in worker control. It creates ways for the labor movement and the cooperative movement to help each other. And it creates transition processes that help workers and owners heal broken relationships.
Tenant-Centered Conversion Strategies
Policy solutions like tenants right of first refusal may be arriving in the Bay Area soon. This would give tenants the right to buy their apartment buildings, but it wouldn't make those purchases affordable. This project creates ways to help tenants negotiate for better prices. It creates ways to help them pay prices that aren't based in part on the profit an owner could extract from them.
New Ways for Attorneys to Provide Services
Workers and tenants can't afford to hire attorneys to help them take collective control. This is an issue of access to justice. Nonprofit attorneys can represent workers and tenants who can't pay me or can pay very little. Few attorneys can do this, though, so it's necessary to find a better way. This project creates ways to make it possible for attorneys in private practice to help workers and tenants take collective control.
Orchestrating → Mobilizing People and Organizations Around These Solutions
The Worker Co-op Community, Labor, and Political Movements
This project will mobilize several groups to help workers buy their businesses. These include worker cooperatives, labor unions, organizers, and political movements. It will mobilize worker's rights attorneys to negotiate settlements that result in worker control. It will mobilize restorative justice practitioners to address divisions between workers and owners.
The Housing Co-op Community, Tenant Unions, and Political Movements
This project will mobilize several groups to help tenants buy their buildings. These include housing cooperatives, tenant unions, organizers, and political movements. It will mobilize tenant's rights attorneys to negotiate settlements that result in tenant control.
Want more information about Jay’s Equal Justice Works Fellowship Project: Anchoring Communities?
Contact Jay Cumberland - [email protected]