What is to be done? Rough ideas for coop brum activities during the COVID-19 pandemic

We can use this thread to post ideas on what we would like to see Cooperation Birmingham do during the COVID-19 Pandemic. They can be super rough and pie in the sky. I’ll start off.

Solidarity kitchen and distribution centre

This is outlined here: https://cooperationbirmingham.org.uk/solidarity-in-separation-we-need-to-be-ready/

It would need to be linked up with distribution networks all around the city. We’ve already reached out to some people. We need to make a list of all allied projects.

Benefits support

Advice line for people on Universal Credit, ESA etc.

Workers support

Advice line for people having problems with work related to the pandemic, need to self isolate. Linked to unions.

Housing support

Advice line for housing related issues. There is an active ACORN renters union branch in brum that many of us are members of.


Media organisation

Brum has a severe lack of media organisations that aren’t kind of crap. We should possibly consider making weekly or daily podcasts with news about what is going on with brum. There is https://brumradio.com/

Recreational activities

If there is a total lockdown, people will be isolated and we should perhaps provide free educational and physical activities via live streams/YouTube channel. This could be yoga, strength trainings, feminist learning, books clubs, arts performances, discussions etc.

Rough organisational structure idea

Structure

We operative as a cooperative. Here are some resources to learn more about what that means. If we need a legal structure, we can use this https://seedsforchange.org.uk/association_constitution.doc. This is what we used for the red gym project and it allows you to get a bank account like the gym one we are currently using for coop brum.

Decision making

We make decisions by majority voting with bit of consensus discussion thrown in (people can discuss and change their vote). Voting would take place on this forum using the poll feature. Any user on this forum can vote. Here’s an example below:

Can cats have a little salami?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Needs more discussion

0 voters

Guidelines

We need a set of guideline that govern how we organise and how we treat each other. We can probably nick a lot of this stuff from other organisations such as unions and other organisations.

Coordinating volunteers

I have seen other groups coordinating volunteers in a more systemic way. For example in Portland, USA, they have two forms. It’s possible we should do this.

One for volunteers looking to help and one for people needing help:

However this does require a lot of volunteers willing to follow up on all those queries.

Birmingham Community Solidarity spreadsheet

Our sister org have made a spreadsheet. We could direct people to that:

SMS and Phone trees

Another thing I think is useful is SMS and Phone tree lists where people can respond to any task that needs doing. It’s good to bear in mind that some people don’t have smart phones or even internet. This is more likely if they are poor/vulnerable or old.

I (obviously) think that organising ourselves as a cooperative is the way to go, and down the line our proper legal structure will represent that, rather than the ad-hoc arrangement that we currently have.

I also think that there is no conflict between the principles of cooperation and the fact that since we’re in a rapidly changing, high stakes situation at the moment we need a structure that allows for quick execution. This means to some extent abrogating the reliance on consensus of all members as a condition for any action. I know you weren’t suggesting that (in fact I don’t think anyone is) but it is the default position for a lot of cooperators and totally incompatible with the current situation.

I suppose I envisage mass assemblies done once or twice daiy with Zoom / other conference call options. These could be mostly informational. Assemblies will have to give flexible mandates to executive cells who are responsible for carrying out tasks according to their own initiative (eg. cooking, distribution). Where we need single people in what amount to authority positions (spokespeople for instance) these should be elected and recallable, and ideally rotating as well. We can follow the example of the YPG by having two people of different genders for each authority position. Cells could also elect delegates to a central executive body if there is a need for coordinated decision making beyond the assemblies.

I don’t want to give the impression of going OTT but I think the relevant inspirations for organisation in crisis situations will come from libertarian military organisations that have similarly high stake needs to combine genuine democratic principles with quick execution. I’m thinking the YPG/YPJ, Zapatistas, CNT-FAI, the Makhnovshchyna…

Perhaps this will turn into a permanent crisis of capitalism in which case future organising will be hard to pre-plan, but it’s more likely that the health crisis will pass and leave us with business as usual under a severely depressed economy. That will mean restructuring Cooperation Birmingham back to the kind of organisation we had in mind when we came up with the idea.

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The only other thing I have to add is the subject of political demands, which are as important as what we actually do ourselves. This shouldn’t give the impression of being reliant on state action but rather using the state as a lever to alleviate the current hardship.

Our initial statement calls for:

When we stop the world stops with us (Social Distancing)

Corona Basic Income

Support for small businesses instead of banks and corporations

Proper measures for overcrowded vulnerable institutions

Rent relief

To add to this I think we also should be thinking about the sick pay demands unions are making, as a slightly different demand to CBI and not really our wheelhouse but still important. Related to that, what we are shooting for is arguably a general strike for health.

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