Co-ops can be a tool of liberation, co-operators in Rojava, Syria, and Jackson, Mississippi, told delegates at a UK event.
Sacajawea Hall from Cooperation Jackson and Huriye Semdin from Rojava shared their experience during a workshop at the Ways Forward conference in Manchester.
Joining in via Skype, they explained how co-ops had been at the heart of the two revolutionary movements.
In Northern Syria the co-operative economy started growing after the imposition of a blockade on the region. In 2012, following the Rojava Revolution, the Union of Cooperative Societies was established, with co-operative committees being set up in every region of Northern Syria.
Huriye Semdin told the conference that 5,000 women were working in the co-op economy in Northern Syria. She talked about the challenges brought by the embargo, which made it impossible to import heavy machinery. Without being able to access the outside world, co-ops in Rojava have to use their members’ skills and resources and rely primarily on manual labour.
“The economy survived because we depended on ourselves on the basis of a communal economy,” said Ms Semdin.
The movement is also focusing on empowering women, who make up 40% of any committee or council. Every co-operative structure of government also needs to be led by two co-chairs, one male and one female. The movement is based on the idea that the revolution must include women’s liberation.
“We aim to change the mentality of women here and make them believe they can make the changes necessary,” added Ms Semdin.
Similarly, co-ops are empowering groups of the African American community in Jackson, Mississippi, the poorest state in the USA. The Cooperation Jackson project started in 2014 with the aim of creating a co-operative supply chain.
“Cooperation Jackson comes out of black radical tradition,” said Ms Hall.
As part of the initiative, the Kuwasi Balagoon Center for Economic Democracy and Development was set up to help establish worker owned co-operatives.
So far, three co-ops have been created – Freedom Farms, an urban agri co-op, the Green Team, a compost co-op, and multi-stakeholder co-op – the Center for Community Production. The centre will be anchored by a Fabrication Laboratory and will focus on new technologies like 3D printing.
Through its Fannie Lou Hamer Community Land Trust, Cooperation Jackson has purchased vacant lots, abandoned homes and commercial facilities in the West Jackson neighbourhood, which it plans to use to create housing co-ops and address the need for affordable housing.
The movement has ambitious plans – it aims to use a 3D fabrication lab to create buildings that will be used by housing co-ops. The work of Cooperation Jackson is partially funded by donations.
“Affordable housing is one of the biggest topics now particularly in Jackson,” said Ms Hall.
With both movements are working to build a solidarity economy, such initiatives can serve as an example to other groups around the world, conference delegates agreed.