Table of Coop Brum and Sol Cafe Positions

Purpose: to highlight different positions and perceptions and help mutual understanding.

Heya, I feel this chart is really unfair. Whose perspective is this being written from? If I were to edit either column, it would only be from my personal opinion and not any sort of collective consensus.

It’s extremely opinionated as it is now and I think super divisive.


This is not solidarity.

or abstract ideas about what autonomy is or what the ideologies of people involved are.

I don’t see how I can suggest edits in good faith without it becoming more oppositional than it already is.

Hey Leo.

The Sol Cafe ppl all got the opportunity to collaborate on their column before I posted it here, so I guess that one attempted to be as a group perspective, and I believe we got collective consensus for it.

As I say in the intro, the Coop Brum column is my understanding from half a meeting, minutes and a few other sources including your post. And as I said in the intro, I may be wrong, and, “Obviously it will not represent everyone in each camp, but aims to reflect how the positions diverge for some people.”

I’m hoping Coop Brum people can help it reflect their views better. If you want to add personal opinions, you can stick them in and label them as yours.

To be honest, I was mainly motivated to create it so that I could convey the Sol Cafe’s positions to Coop Brum. If Coop Brum wants to spend time working out its collective position to communicate back to us, great, especially for areas you feel misunderstood. But fine if that’s not a priority.

Sorry if you find it divisive. I had the complete opposite intention.


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I understand! Thanks.

I have some feelings about this which I will go over here to save editing the original doc - I think it is valuable as a record of how CB appears to people who have come to see themselves as external to it.

Who it’s for
[CB is] For its members and the community. Conceptualising it as being for ‘vulnerable’ people creates a two-tier system where some people are ‘helping’ others. This is not solidarity.

I think this is a pretty reasonable assessment. I might be wrong @Leo but the way I understand the last sentence is “the CB consensus is that such a two-tier system wouldn’t be solidarity”. This is essentially a principle of mutual aid organising which we have emphasised by, for instance, affirming participation rather than volunteering, attempting to encourage meal recipient involvement with the newsletter, etc. If the document is actually saying that what CB does isn’t solidarity then I can’t imagine where this comes from. @Rachel_B perhaps you could clarify which is correct?

FWIW I don’t think that this…

[SC is] For those who most need it. Underserved communities of refugees, asylum seekers, POC, LGBTIQ+, people fleeing unstable situations, people with precarious or no housing, people with little or no English, and anyone at some intersections of these will be proactively targeted.

… is too far from what CB has been doing in practice apart from the fact that organisationally we have always rejected the opinion that these ‘communities’ are ‘out there’ and separate from the people making up organisation. There are differences and even some contradictions but on the whole we have interests in common because that’s what it means to be a class. People from some of these marginalised groups have been involved in CB from the start although you wouldn’t have thought it from this document.

If I was being picky I’d say that no-one objects to people ‘helping’ other people. The disagreement is about the difference between a group of people using their own resources, efforts and initiative to overcome the difficulties that they themselves (and others) are experiencing - ie. mutual aid - and a group of people using the resources of charity and the state to help a separate group of people - ie. service provision. No-one is ignorant of the fact that even in mutual aid organisations there are disparities of ability to help and of need for that help (if only there were a slogan to express this idea)

Values and politics
[CB is] Revolutionary communist. Strongly anti-state with a strong critique of NGOs.
Emphasis on democratic.

A weird overreach. CB has never been an ideological organisation. There are dozens of revolutionary communist organisations that one could go and join but CB was set up because there was an urgent need for a mutual aid organisation. Of course, it is a political organisation if you think that people organising to satisfy their own needs autonomously of the state (etc) is a political act, which I do. The critique of the state and NGOs follows from the material fact that they have been at best an ambivalent force in our lives and often actively useless or harmful. I’m not opposed to the possibility of CB taking a political line (we modelled it partly on Cooperation Jackson which has done so) but I think this point is making the organisation seem more subcultural and extremist than it truly is, based on inferences of the political opinions of some organisers.

Obviously I disagree with the implication that if the SC is

Grassroots …
Emphasis on care and support. Valuing individuals. Empowering people

then CB is the opposite somehow. Or the implication that democracy conflicts with these values.

The ‘original expectations’ bit is interesting. The SC assessment (that it would be organisationally separate from, but partly funded by CB) makes sense as a retrospective revision but it is clear from the original discussions in in July 2020 that this was never the case. The understanding was always that the Solidarity Kitchen was turning into the Solidarity Cafe, with a different funding and labour model.

As I recall there were few updates on how things were going for many months, and when the proposal came in March 2021 it now ambiguously referred to ‘building on’ the success of the SK but definitely without clarifying that it would be a separate project. The title of the proposal was ‘From Solidarity Kitchen to Solidarity Cafe’ after all. And why would you make a proposal to an organisation to run a project, if that project wasn’t intended to be part of the organisation at all? This is very confusing.

To some extent the business plan was more up front about the independent aspirations of the project by this point. But it was claimed time and time again that the legal form and the business plan were designed to qualify for funding, rather than to split from the organisation. The independent aspirations are now clear enough but a lot of confusion would have been saved if these aspirations were clear from the beginning. Since the original plans were actually totally contrary I think you should understand where some of the disappointment has come from. It’s sad to contribute resources and time to a group project and later on find it refigured as the independent project of a few individuals.

Regarding the decision-making section, it’s a parody of democratic centralism to suggest that anyone would want CB members to have to vote on every SC decision. Of course decisions should always be made at the lowest possible level, which means SC organisers making all the operational decisions themselves. The expectation was simply that major decisions such as whether or not to post photos of risky and illegal gatherings on social media, or whether to change the name of the project, would be taken at a level appropriate to their importance.

Knowing what some people contributing to SC have been through, the claim to make decisions by consensus is weak. Unfortunately this behaviour is commonplace in organisations that fetishise consensus as it’s the only way to get things done. People either have to be bullied into standing aside, or they have to be forced out.

A note on autonomy. It’s totally understandable that you have the CB ‘position’ as autonomy = autonomy from the state because that was how it was expressed in a recent meeting. However autonomy is much more than just that - it’s also about people having the ability to influence change themselves, in their own lives. People are autonomous not just of the state, but of other external structures which are imposed on them. This doesn’t mean that there can’t be self-organised institutions and structure. Autonomous organisations still exist within a society of responsibility to others. The SC understanding of autonomy is more about do-ocracy, which is fine as it goes but has obvious problems which are already becoming clear.

[SC] Finds the Marxist definition of class offensive and politically problematic because it doesn’t recognise the massive disparity in confidence, opportunities and resources available to those from marginalised backgrounds.

Regarding class I would be interested to know the SC consensus on what a Marxist idea of class actually is, since it is hard to see how someone could be offended by basing a class structure on relations of production. (I can see how people might think this is insufficient, but offensive?) It’s a caricature of even the most economistic interpretation of class to suggest that it ignores the disparities of power and privilege within classes.

Also how pedentic to assume that a working class person cannot own a house.

I can’t imagine the context in which anyone could possibly imagine that owning or not owning a house alone determines class. It’s almost as silly as suggesting that going to meetings makes you ‘middle class’.

[CB thinks] Solidarity Café is stronger as part of Coop Brum. Better decisions are made with more heads.

While basically right, I think this slightly misses the point - it’s not that better decisions are made with more heads per se, although it certainly helps as you acknowledge elsewhere (“The more informed choices are heard the clearer the decisions”). But it definitely is a principle of democracy that people should have a say in the decisions that affect them. This doesn’t mean that everyone in an organisation has to vote on every decision that is made. But for instance, if the SC is to be a part of CB then it just can’t go doing things which contradict the organisation’s principles, or making any other decisions which would change the direction of the whole organisation.

But in reality these decisions are few and far between. Many decisions are simply not that important, and the burden of many other decisions can be reduced by mandating people to take decisions within their area of expertise. Remember that we were delivering the best part of a thousand meals a week with no need for more than half hour meetings on a Sunday. We had structures and processes to eliminate the need for them. There are some complicated decisions which are laborious and time consuming to make but they really are rare.

[CB thinks] A small number of people have dominated and acted undemocratically, taking decisions that were not accountable to CB membership.

The project could have been a great flagship project for CB, helping coop principles and values reach a wider audience and making CB stronger. It is an upsetting wasted opportunity.

The way control of the project has been taken away from CB membership by a small number of people is a bit like ‘carpet bagging’, ie when social assets become controlled privately.

This basically seems about right to me. The carpetbagging claim is perhaps quite strong, but is it ‘a bit like’ it? It think it is.

However initially it was not properly understood [by SC] that this meant people with no involvement in the project were given decision making power over it.

Why was the organisation voluntarily given decision making power over whether to do the project in March, and why were further proposals drafted to give the organisation more decision-making powers in May, if this idea was so offensive from the very outset? If an independent organisation had been wanted from the start then it would have been much easier to just ‘get on and do it’

[SC has a] Perception that class, gender and whiteness impact the politics of CB.

I’m reluctant to get into this but it seems that this perception rests on a deficient definition of class and a offensive idea of gender that I urge you to seriously consider.

The white majority of active voices in an organisation in a very diverse city is a real problem. We can work on this by recognising and acting on the fact that white supremacism is the historical product of colonial capitalism. We won’t get anywhere if we go on as if it is the contemporary product of having agendas and formal meetings as you’ve suggested elsewhere, and perhaps I’ll comment further on that there when I have the energy.

Perhaps this ambiguous perspective on racial justice is why the SC business plan says a lot about providing ‘support’, ‘connection’ and ‘inclusion’ to ‘marginalised communities’ but not much about empowerment and liberation. To reiterate, we all understand that there is a certain language you have to speak to get funding and that’s just life, but it’s regrettable that this seems to be the route the cafe is going down operationally as well.

I still think all of this is helpful and I’m glad you’ve taken the time to put it together; even though I’ve disagreed a lot I think perception is as important as reality in practice so it’s helpful to see how CB is seen.

Thanks for taking the time on this. Really useful, and lots to ponder.

@Leo - Ben got it right about what I meant with “this is not solidarity”. Sorry that wasn’t clear. And as Ben said, that bit about autonomy came from a meeting.

“I heard it in a meeting” was also the source of the ‘revolutionary communist’ comment, and also because that’s my perception of Plan C, and there’s lots of overlap. Sorry about overeaching, and thanks for clarifying.

I wasn’t suggesting that SC and CB were opposites in terms of values, just that there was a different emphasis.

No idea where this comment came from or what it means.

That’s me responding to the small stuff, and I might prefer to respond to the bigger stuff around how SC started, definitions of class, and participation of marginalised ppl elsewhere. I also want to acknowledge this bit:

And I’m interested in hearing more about ppl’s negative experiences trying to get involved.