This Is Why I Love Madison

by zunguzungu

You may have read this in the AP’s article about the protests in Wisconsin:

Nearby, nearly two dozen cabs blocked a major intersection near the Capitol. The driver of the lead cab leaned out of the window and played a trumpet, while others attempted to honk their car horns in sync with a chant from pro-labor protesters: “This is what democracy looks like.”

“One of the reasons the company decided to support the protesters is because the members of this company started off striking their employer for better wages and that employer . . . refused to allow them to bargain collectively,” said John McNamara, the marketing director of Union Cab.

But the article doesn’t quite tell you what this actually means. Union Cab is a worker-owned coop, one that began when a group of drivers were not allowed to unionize:

Since day one, we have operated as a democratic workplace with one member/one vote. A board of directors consisting of an elected group of drivers, mechanics and dispatchers governs Union Cab. We believe that our structure helps customers have a voice at all levels of our organization. In celebration of the Cooperative Movement, we encourage you to visit the area’s cooperatives and see the Cooperative difference for yourself.

Union Cab was founded in 1979 by a group of drivers, dispatchers and mechanics after a failed labor struggle against Checker Cab. The history of Union Cab began almost ten years before our first fare during the early 1970’s when economic and social conditions in Madison were in a state of constant change. The same movement that created the Teacher’s Assistant Association, Memorial Union Labor Organization, WORT-FM and the food coops (Mifflin St and Willy St) created the environment for Union Cab.

It’s almost as if another world were possible. Berkeley’s Cheeseboard collective has flourished since 1971 — spawning offshoot after offshoot — but people could always be like, “Well, Berkeley, of course it could happen there” (I’m going to get my morning coffee here, in Oakland). Union Cab, however, is a worker owned cab company in Wisconsin that has existed as long as I’ve been alive. My aunt has worked for them for a year, by the way, to give this the personal touch; in the economic downturn, she had to take on something more stable after her prior employment dried up.

From Union Cab’s page on cooperatives:

On December 21, 1843 a small group of men and women joined together to open the Rochdale Pioneer Society. This became the first “modern-era” cooperative in the English speaking world.  The cooperative was based on simple principles: provide quality goods and services at a reasonable price and provide a decent place of employment.

Since then, cooperatives have blossomed to include every aspect of human enterprise. Today, the cooperative model includes financial institutions and insurance (credit unions and mutual’s), consumer cooperatives, producer cooperatives, housing cooperatives, and worker cooperatives. While the services and goods provided by cooperatives and credit unions are as divergent as the people using and providing them, all cooperatives and credit unions are bound by a single identity.

Simply put. Cooperatives are democratically controlled enterprises. They operate on the basis of “one-member, one-vote” instead of “one share, one vote.

The United States Federation of Worker Coops. And follow Union Cab on twitter!