Sustainable jobs start at the local level

By Martha Kemble — This Thanksgiving, with family and friends around our table feasting on scrumptious dishes prepared specially for the celebration, I got into it with my niece’s husband. I didn’t want to, and tried to avoid the inevitable confrontation, but when he asked me directly if I was one of “those” who thought the end of days was upon us because of Trump’s election, it was on.

Once started, I felt a perverse desire to delve into his perception of reality in a masochistic attempt to understand his world view. As I mustered all my listening skills and breathing techniques to keep cool and remain non-confrontational and non-preachy, our conversation deescalated as we started asking each other the deeper, core questions of belief and morality. That led us to discussion of intention and action as we each answered the question, “What is your responsibility to your community and the world?”

I accept my responsibility to my community as using my energy and skills to best support those who are affected adversely most as our social safety net continues to be defunded and dismantled. For so many, the capitalist job market with living-wage jobs is not accessible.

I have learned through my experience as a worker/owner at Union Cab of Madison Cab Cooperative and through my worker cooperative development work around the country that organizing workplaces as worker cooperatives is a viable opportunity for creating living wage jobs for those shut out of traditional workplaces.

City backing for co-ops

The City of Madison agrees. This past summer, the Common Council passed a five-year $3 million worker cooperative development initiative targeted to serve low-wage workers and marginalized communities. I joined a group of cooperative developers, union organizers, various community-based organizations and lenders to respond to the city’s RFP to design and implement a program for creating worker cooperatives within the City of Madison.

Our coalition (MCDC or Madison Cooperative Development Coalition) just signed the contract with the City, and our work will now being. For a full description of MCDC’s history and process, see Laura Schlachter’s essay on the UW Center for Cooperative’s website: “MCDC MILESTONE REFLECTIONS: CITY OF MADISON GRANT WRITING PROCESS.”

There is a lot more worker cooperative action happening in Madison. MadWorC (, Madison’s peer network for Madison worker cooperatives, is holding its 2017 Kickoff Event on December 14 at Brocach on the Square, in the upstairs meeting room from 8–11pm. We have rewritten our Bylaws to now include individual memberships, for those who support the worker cooperative movement as individuals, not just worker cooperatives.

Please join us if you are interested in learning more about our local worker cooperative environment. MadWorC will play an important role, one of the partners in MCDC, as providing peer support, as well as education and training, to cooperatives in development and start-ups.

MadWorC is also investigating the opportunity of becoming a regional chapter for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives ( This connection would tie Madison to the national worker cooperative movement and help strengthen our local worker cooperative ecosystem.

In these coming days, months and years, we must continue to engage each other and act with intention. I will be working towards helping folks create humane workplace with living wages. What will you be doing?