• Marcelo Vieta

Proposed Recovery for Durham Region Post COVID-19

Updated: Aug 8

Themes: Economy, Enterprise, Policy


By Margaret Chadee


Let the market-fixers and cooperators help rebuild community wealth with local co-operatives

Many of us immigrants, newcomers, contract and temporary workers have felt the pain and struggle of having to do part time work in Canada with no job security. And now, so many of us in the Durham Region, where I live, have lost our jobs due to permanent closures of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can we save some of these SMEs so that we can secure jobs and take back control of our economic destiny?  


I publicly advocate for multi-stakeholders to promote a legitimized transformation of co-operative business opportunities by mobilizing resources through negotiation, funding and aligning competencies!  

Due to extensive research conducted and in-depth analysis within the co-operative sector, I would like to propose a co-operative recovery for the community of Durham Region using the existing political institutions and initiatives already in place in Durham. I believe this could become a model for Durham and other municipalities across Canada for the post-Covid-19 reconstruction. I publicly advocate for multi-stakeholders to promote a legitimized transformation of co-operative business opportunities by mobilizing resources through negotiation, funding and aligning competencies!  


Therefore, in this paper, I will explore how I will engage the Ontario Cooperative Association  and join with the team, including the market-fixers (representatives of co-operatives, who fill gaps and provide services and resources to areas where the markets fail to act due to the nature of the area), cooperators, immigrants, newcomers, unemployed, academic activist voices, the Regional Municipality of Durham and the Task Force of the Chambers of Commerce in Durham Region. The goal is to forge opportunities to open up a new arena of intersectional negotiations in order to produce an amalgam (Wolff, 2020) that represents a socially infused solidarity economic democracy, a fair economy rooted in equity and local mutual support.


My positionality is that the devastating practices and scope of structural barriers of capitalism (Wolff & West, 2015) and the control of resources for profits is the root cause of our job struggles.  In order to address the current mass unemployment, I argue that systems change should be reorganized within a social framework and economic democracy should be intentional as we alter the existing structures to strengthen our local resilience.


The two-tiered co-operative recovery proposal for Durham Region is as follows:


1. Capitalism


Capitalism incorporates production, distribution, competition, consumption, investment, globalization and privatization and allows government and employers to work together for profit. I argue that capitalism is firmly entrenched as the dominant economic system. The reality is no different in Durham Region, which includes an unending roller-coaster of systemic biases shaped by the devastating practices of a profit-driven production economic system and performed by wage labor, where most people own nothing and few people own immense wealth.  


This capitalist system (Wolff, 2017) reflects trends of fierce competition, innovation, growth, and deep inequalities within the economic cycle which, unfortunately, never naturally “trickles down” improved standards of living to the rest of us. People are living through a collapse of capitalism as we face COVID-19 and the growing insecurities, anguish and fears surrounding this pandemic (Brilliant, 2020), and the social inequalities and injustices continue to weaken us and keep us “struggling and suffering.”  


My vision is to ensure that the co-operative sector expands within the capitalist system, and slowly erodes its hold on all aspects of life so that the co-operative team can help the unemployed in Durham Region to reverse the cycle of poverty. The team will strive to build community wealth from the socialization of revenues generated from social reproduction and move forward with recuperated workplaces and more secure and stable jobs.  Together, we will decide on the alternative: a neweconomic, productive, cultural and social reality that is self-sustaining and less exploitative the kind of mix of private enterprise and worker co-operatives which we need in Durham Region.

(i) Social Solidarity Economy (SSE)

The market-fixers, co-operators and the Durham Region task force will team up and work closely with the third sector – also known as the social solidarity economy (SSE) which is rooted in strong community and social objectives and which has a transformative vision for democratic management espousing values of solidarity, inclusivity, mutual aid, sharing and caring.   

I have conducted a couple of interviews with affected Durham entrepreneurs who understand these principles because of their diversity and they want to live and work in an exemplary community that thrives on making meaning on their life-world. There is no one, universalized way of defining these practices for the social and solidarity economy but they represent important initiatives currently on the table such as anti-oppression, diverse cultures, heritage, equity, participatory democracy, planet-first thinking, struggles to eradicate climate change, job preservation, poverty eradication, pluralism and socio-economic sustainability. 

My argument is that we, the Durham community, can rescue ourselves within the co-operative model and facilitate the rehiring of thousands who have been laid off in Durham Region by re-organizing the economy to negotiate for social wealth and surplus through co-operative jobs.   


It is through this critical negotiation that we will learn together in the struggle and create the pre-figurative mode of economic democracy – which entrenches the economic back into the social so that capital and business will continue to grow and stay local during the revival and expansion of the co-operative sector in Durham Region. All our relationships, intentions and actions in the conversion of SMEs and liquidated companies into worker co-ops, and many via worker buy-outs, will embrace a proud and united Durham community building towards an "all in this together" (Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2020) economy. 


(ii) Economic Democracy

In order for us to start rebuilding in Durham Region, the underlying basic value of economic democracy is “participatory autonomy” whereby every member “participates in forming the rules to which they must submit and the consequences of which they must bear” (Schweickart, 2015). Economic democracy involves “an arrangement of the economic system which will give a just distribution of work, income and wealth in a country” (Macpherson, 1985).  In the co-operative sector, our unequivocal assertion is that work could become more humane and fulfilling, and could equitably distribute wealth in Durham Region, so that members will feel a just, caring and emancipatory means of production and distribution; a new way of co-operativizing work.


2. Post-COVID-19: Rebuilding Durham Region and Canada


In order to ensure the sustainability of business in Durham Region, it is being proposed that the region’s Economic Development Team should join forces with Durham’s Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade, local municipal Economic Development Teams, Business Advisory Centre of Durham and Business Improvement Areas to rapidly respond to the needs of affected SMEs and their workers. Members of the Task Force of the Chambers of Commerce in Durham Region cover Pickering/Ajax, Oshawa, Clarington, Uxbridge, Brock and Scugog.  


In a survey conducted May 20-29, 2020, closures and revenue shortfalls for the Pickering/Ajax SMEs indicate that over 80% of SME respondents experienced closures and revenue loss.  My proposal will allow for this economic Task Force to include the co-operative team to conduct negotiations and liaise with SMEs to continue to offer co-operative project solutions and one-on-one support to affected family members and workers.  


Fortunately, the Prime Minister and Premier of Ontario and the Federal Government have announced financial emergency options on the website to address the financial impacts, and SMEs can now access funds and resources to meet their specific needs via www.investdurham.ca/covidresponse in preparation for their re-opening.


The Task Force is launching a campaign now for SMEs that are re-starting, re-opening and resuming for everyone to come together with acts of kindness and solidarity to promote and support local businesses in Durham Region. 


It is being proposed that the co-operative team will work collectively with the Ontario Cooperative Association, which does the SME conversions under the umbrella of the Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation and the Canadian Cooperative Investment Fund. They will unite with Simon Gill, Director of Economic Development & Tourism of Durham Region and the Task Force to find appropriate co-operative solutions.


(i) Philosophical Vision/Systems Change


In order to achieve this revival, we must pursue a philosophical revolutionary systems change which means a re-organization of the networks and workplaces in Durham Region.  This can only be accomplished when everyone is imagining creative solutions to this current economic problem as they commit and support each other by self-producing and self-management.   This philosophy is a co-operative vision of re-imagining and practicing a more democratized workplace. We must live with hope and trust and embrace it with "wisdom loving and empathy" (Dufresne, 2020). These co-operative partnership values and principles advocate for inclusivity and give us the co-operative identity that leads us to become more useful, responsible and curious philosophically, leading towards the path of becoming differently employed and working together differently.

(ii) Research

I have conducted current global research and used multiple lenses to review the principles and values. As inspiration, the team has drawn from the work of Marcelo Vieta and his study of Argentine worker-recuperated enterprise co-operatives in his book Workers’ Self-Management in Argentina(Vieta, 2020), Mondragon's network of co-operatives and the success stories of Argentina's worker-recuperated firms (Vieta, 2020).  They show alternative forms of value production, self-managed workplaces and democratic, horizontal organizational structures.  

These success stories will be aligned to suit our local needs in order to start the process of resolving the mass unemployment (Wolff, 2020) post-Covid-19 in Canada.  We will reassess and analyze business situations to propose co-operative alternatives (Webb & Cheney, 2014) to unemployment and this will also include a proposed strategic co-operative plan of how we can enhance reemployment.  Reemployment will allow us to offer workers the dignity of a job and in the creation of worker co-ops, giving them opportunities to be present in every community as we mobilize their resources. 


(iii) The Team: Co-op Market-Fixers and Cooperators Will Re-energize the Co-op Sector

Post-COVID-19, the team, local market-fixers and co-operators will take us beyond; they will help to re-energize and re-organize co-operative solutions within the principles and values of the co-operative model, as well as adopt different lenses and voices grounded on strong social objectives for us to survive the crisis (Wolff, 2020).  They will assist in mobilizing resources so that we can support and protect each other to build community wealth by reclaiming co-operative job opportunities in Durham Region.


To Work Collaboratively with Affected SMEs


This proposal will include a tactical plan offering co-op education and working collaboratively with affected SME owners who will be securing loans from the government to convert their businesses into co-operatives.  Co-operative initiatives will be aligned with current solutions from the Task Force Interim Reports and Strategic Plan 2020-2024 representing the The Regional Municipality of Durham and this plan can very well be extended within the province of Ontario. It is therefore anticipated that the government will agree that conversion loans will secure socio-economic security and ultimately save them money in needing to dole out subsidies or Employment Income (EI) cheques. The plan will also include business opportunities for liquidated businesses to be converted into worker buy-outs.  These cases are unique and the workers possess the required skill sets and the know-how to self-produce and self-manage. They have a burning desire to plan and execute this together because they understand the egalitarian model of co-ownership.


Co-operative Sector


The funding and financial support programs and resources which will come from the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments, as well as, non-governmental organizations and SMEs will begin rebuilding and re-energizing the co-operative sector. The team will engage the Ontario Cooperative Association and the Canadian Cooperative Investment Fund to assist affected SMEs and work collaboratively with them to ensure their success and stability.

The main objective is to re-energize the co-operative sector in Durham Region by sharing co-op education and success stories based on the research.  It is expected that more and more SMEs, employers and employees will converge as they become more aware and interested in adopting the progressive values and principles of co-operativized workplaces. The positioning from this adoption process will endorse co-operative solutions and attract strong co-operative brand loyalty.


Co-operative opportunities will be offered to entrepreneurs who have a desire to become members in worker co-ops, worker-owned SMEs and worker buy-outs. They will be matched according to skill sets, creative and productive capacities in sectors such as: housing co-ops, credit unions, construction, technical services, manufacturing, renewable energy, healthcare and wellness, clinics, pharmacies, organic agriculture, farming, finance, retail, community food dispensaries and local crafts.  There will be continuous co-operative negotiations with the Economic Development Team to propose to them how the market-fixers and co-operators can assist with the implementation of socio-economic rebuilding solutions.  


Durham’s Co-operative Future


Employment barriers will be mitigated and eventually eradicated if community members are drawn together to self-produce and self-manage their economic affairs. The research is clear: there is a direct correlation where co-operatives thrive and allow communities to survive especially in times of economic crisis.  If our governments can solidify financial assistance for SMEs in communities like Durham Region, then our proposed post-COVID-19 co-operative strategic plan will re-organize more meaningful jobs and match entrepreneurs and workers’ capabilities with sustainable work We will also seek to offer more enhanced skill, reskill and upskill opportunities that will guarantee a democratized workplace.  Together, we can transform the world of work with a collaborative inspired, people-centered economy where there is teamwork, autonomy, job rotation, participatory governance, financial resilience and, most of all, economic democracy and a deep sense of well-being.


Other contacts for Margaret Chadee: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/margaretsatiechadee


Resources


Brilliant, L. (2020, May 11). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bj0GR34XWc


Dufresne, T. (2020, April 8). Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/from-climate-change-to-pandemics-we-can-fix-this-mess-together-argues-philosopher-1.5526117


Gaztambide-Fernandez, R. (2020, April 13). What is solidarity? During coronavirus and always, it’s more than ‘we’re all in this together’. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from The Conversation: https://www.oise.utoronto.ca/oise/News/2020/What_is_solidarity_during_coronavirus.html


Macpherson, C. (1985). Prospects of Economic and Industrial Democracy. Oxford University Press.


Schweickart, D. (2015). Economic Democracy. Retrieved from https://thenextsystem.org/economic-democracy


Vieta, M. (2020). Workers' Self-Management in Argentina. Leiden: Brill,


Webb, T., & Cheney, G. (2014). Worker owned and governed co-operatives and the wider co-operative movement. 64-88.


Wolff, R. (2017, June 28). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynbgMKclWWc&t=3420s


Wolff, R. (2017, June 28). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynbgMKclWWc


Wolff, R. (2020, June 12). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZPPTWSGMZU


Wolff, R. (2020, June 9). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpdOAl4_roU


Wolff, R. (2020, May 11). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXwkhq3C7xQ&feature=emb_rel_end


Wolff, R. (2020, May 28). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj-zFgxCUnY


Wolff, R., & West, C. (2015, July 28). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zYAH-BZZTs