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Early in 2011 a group of mental health professionals, all long-time colleagues working together in a rural community, began a process of collaboration for the purpose of pursuing a responsive and fiscally responsible model of service to the region.
Themes, Statements and Thoughts
By Kevin Schmidt
Dilemmas related to the economy, health insurance, labor, and financial stability have been evident in the community, across our state and nation. There has been increasing interest and focus on the various structures and economic systems that are the foundation of our careers, investments and our health care. Experiencing these pressures and determined to adopt a business model that will allow us to serve a much wider range of the community, twelve individuals formed a Worker’s Cooperative, Center Point Counseling Services. Cooperatives are a time-tested and resilient model that allows labor to manage itself with integrity, honesty, transparency, and efficiency. Labor has been organizing as cooperatives for hundreds of years. What’s old is now new again, at least for mental health services in Vernon County.
Specifically, our cooperative does not require an expensive and complicated layer of management. We manage ourselves. We not only own the practice, but we experience a sense of ownership, facilitated uniquely when the individuals providing the labor are also the owners. We are all financially, emotionally, professionally, ethically, and literally, invested in the practice.
Cooperatives are the only business models built on a set of principles, a set of seven goals and priorities other than generating income. Yes, we need to plan for financial stability, but in addition to reasonable and predicted financial goals for our business, our commitment to central tenets of Cooperatives keeps us focused on serving the community as well. These principles include free and open membership, democratic member control, economic participation, autonomy and independence, education/information/training, cooperation among co-ops, and concern for community.
When considering these principles, they generate a culture of outreach, service and community integration that is unprecedented in our modern professional and economic structures. Many have accepted the ubiquitous and mindless popular values of competition, unbridled consumption and growth, the commodification of labor, and the exploitation of the environment.
A principle that serves as the foundation for all cooperatives, including Center Point, is democratic member control. Embracing this principle requires a systemic reconsidering of our basic tenets of democracy. Democracy, we are reminded as co-op members, is a very active process, a demanding and challenging engagement. “Democracy” is a verb, not a noun. Forming a democracy has required us to be cognizant of a wide variety of issues facing not only our business, but our community as well. Democratic member control means that we have to learn about a range of social and business-related issues. We have to articulate our opinions, fairly and directly, and consider our sentiments in the context of the sentiments of our peers. The democracy we are crafting in this small group, is complex, challenging, rich, vibrant, and engaging versus a “democracy” that requires (or allows) only emotional, judgmental sound bites, and discourages a calm and reasoned weighing of seasoned insight with others, in a public forum.
Forming this worker’s cooperative has inspired our members to pay attention to many various aspects of our community. No longer comfortable with complacency in any form, there is no time or use in feeling discouraged and alienated by our larger state and national political challenges. We are not disempowered, alienated from envisioning political and social solutions. We assume our efficacy and power, to take responsibility for a tiny slice of our economy, and grow it with care and measured intent.
Forming this cooperative has showed us that some common win-lose dichotomies are not only illogical, but are also counter-productive and squander the time and efforts of all involved. Competition seems less and less reasonable, after assuming that cooperation and social cohesion are, perhaps, legitimate and attainable options for our larger community, state, nation and world.
Cooperative business models, based on our set of time-honored essential principles, foster unique and powerful businesses in our community. Forming, fostering, and working within these structures is an exercise in validation and empowerment. It is inspiring to be a working member of a cooperative. It is curative, it ameliorates and restores us as laborers, by integrating “labor” and “management” until these terms seem unnecessary, or even references to troubled and tedious social myths. We are not just “labor” although we are the people who provide the services. And we are not “management”, but we do manage and own the business, making every last one of the decisions. We are, in fact, Members, in a Worker’s Cooperative. We manage ourselves, we own it, we provide the labor.
As members, we have solidarity financially; by owning the practice, generating income, and distributing the income fairly. We have solidarity professionally; by providing feedback, consultation, supervision, and by generating a wealthy milieu of competence, insight and skill. We have solidarity ethically; going well beyond the minimal standards necessary and approaching the most sound and ethical practice we dare imagine, serving clients with a persistent and focused determination, thereby, adding essential meaning and spirit to our lives. We have solidarity with other cooperatives; reaching out and offering collaboration, support, encouragement, and coordination. We have solidarity with the community; providing comprehensive and quality services to the community as a whole.
Our Cooperative is not only an exciting development for those in the community in need of mental health services, but also for the business community. We are a model of what can be done when labor and management integrate and flatten out hierarchy. We are a testament to the flexibility and ingenuity of the labor force. Please do not hesitate to contact us, come by and talk with us about our services; either to make referrals or to just learn more about our story and our cooperative. We welcome and enjoy sharing what it is like to form and work within a cooperative. We are Center Point Counseling Services, A Worker’s Cooperative.
Cooperatives worldwide operate by seven principles, as adopted in 1995 by the International Cooperative Alliance. A cooperative is 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.
Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, 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
Cooperatives are democratic organizations 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 cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.
3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. 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 cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
5th Principle: Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. They inform the public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
6th Principle: Co-operation among Co-operatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7th Principle: Concern for Community
Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.
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