On 15th October, 2016, members of a UK workers’ coop launched a fundraising campaign to support the opening of a women-run worker’s coop in Rojava. To date it has raised just over €4,000, and there are 11 days left to reach the stated target of €17,500. We had a chat with Sean from Birmingham Bike Foundry, to find out how this project came about.
You are raising money to support a women’s bakery cooperative to open in Kobanî. How did this fundraising project come about?
We are attempting to raise £15k for a women’s bakery cooperative in Rojava, in partnership with the organisation Re-Build and Kongreya Star (the umbrella organisation of the entire women’s movement in Rojava).
Members of our coop in Birmingham first got involved in Kurdish solidarity organising after we put on a Kurdish film night, through our union the IWW. The film night ended up being very well attended by a group of Kurds from the local area. We have also been closely related to some of the work going on nationally, with the Plan C Rojava Solidarity Cluster and also attending the March 6th Stop War On Kurds demonstration. Through the links we developed, we learnt more about the revolution in Rojava, attended demonstrations and local Newroz (Kurdish New Year) celebrations. We wanted to work with the local community as a coop and provided two modules of a six-week English class through the union to those wanting to develop their English skills for dealing with the asylum process, workplace issues, and adjusting to life in the UK.
Our cooperative is part of the national federation of cooperatives Radical Routes and as such we were keen to interact with the struggle in Rojava in a tangible way through the cooperative structures we were involved in. Radical Routes cooperatives all have a commitment towards working towards social change and when our coops in Birmingham arranged for an information session given by the Nottingham Kurdish Solidarity group at the Radical Routes gathering in Nottingham earlier this year, it became clear that there was a willingness amongst the coop community in the UK to support the democratic confederal model in Rojava. From there we asked our links in the Kurdish community for an organisation in the UK which would be able to put us in touch with the cooperative structures in Rojava. We were put in touch with an organisation called re-build, and once we had met with them and fully explained the type of project we were interested in working with, they set about trying to find the relevant contacts in Rojava.
How was this specific coop chosen?
We wanted to work with a workers’ coop like ourselves, as we believe in workers’ control, autonomy and self-management – principles which are central to the democratic confederal model being enacted in Rojava. Re-build were in contact with Kongreya Star, the women’s federation in Rojava, and they asked them if there were any projects which needed support and were in line with the criteria we laid out. Although there have been significant positive changes in the way things are run in the region since the revolution, not all support is useful. It is important for those in the West thinking about solidarity to be aware of the organisations and factors which determine how the resources and support are spent. One of the most inspiring things for those of us who have been learning about Rojava has been the empowerment of the women’s movement in what is traditionally an incredibly patriarchal society. The fact that the project proposed to us attempted to tackle some of these issues of financial dependence on men through self-management of work in a cooperative was something that we were keen to support.
Who are the women involved in this coop, and what will the money go towards?
The women involved in setting up the coop are from Kongreya star, and as we have been working with Re-build we haven’t had direct contact with them. We did receive a number of videos from the women where they explained the goals of the cooperative and the reason that it was being started as a project of Kongreya Star. The video with those clips in is available here:
The costs will cover an estimated €6,000 for the dough machines, freezers and fridges and kitchen equipment. Rent and salary for the first three months are estimated at around €5,000 and we are adding some leeway as inflation can be unpredictable due to the economic blockade by Turkey and surrounding states. Any extra money raised will go towards other worker cooperative projects in the region – or to similar projects being started by Kurdish refugees in the diaspora.
On your fundraising page you say, “We think it is important that the cooperative movement in the UK stands in solidarity with the people of Rojava” – Why?
In a time where the political centre is collapsing and there has been a swing towards neo-fascist politics in the USA and Europe, and widespread migrant scapegoating, cooperatives in the UK need to be clear on what their stance on international solidarity is. The last time the world faced a fascist threat on a large scale, cooperatives were pivotally involved in providing support to the international brigades engaged in the battle against Franco’s fascists and disseminating information amongst the working classes in the UK.
Syria is currently a melting pot of political factions, external forces and powers at play. However, what is clear to us is that the attempt of implementing the democratic confederal model in Rojava is something that we see as very closely aligning with the cooperative principles. The resistance of the Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG/YPJ against the forces of ISIS are also a key part of the resistance against fascist ideology and is crucial to preventing the barbaric acts being carried out. The breaking of the siege of Kobanê was a key point in the battle against ISIS and for that reason it is very fitting that the bakery co-operative is planned to be set up there.
‘Resist Fascism, Build Co-operation’ is the slogan of the fundraiser – and we see coops not as just static businesses there to benefit their members, they should do that of course, but if they are to follow the cooperative principles, they should actively be seeking to benefit the wider community both locally and internationally to fight against reactionary ideas. We don’t see this fundraiser as purely charitable, but rather something that is about raising the idea and principles of cooperation and the situation in Syria to a wider section of people in the UK.
Have any other groups, coops, or other organisations been involved in this process? Who made your very beautiful eye-catching logo, for example?
Our logo was drawn by Ceinwen, who has been living in Radical Routes coop houses for many years. The inspiration for the logo came from some photos of guerrillas climbing a mountain taken by photographer Joey L. We have also had an absolutely gorgeous three-colour screen print made on some lovely thick poster paper for us by Mission Print in Digbeth, Birmingham. It’s incredibly beautiful and we’ve already got a copy framed and hanging up on our wall. People can get their hands on one by donating to the fundraiser on the coopfunding website.
Aside from donating to this fundraiser, how can people support the coops and the wider revolution in Rojava?
First and foremost, we should state that providing practical solidarity in such a way that it challenges capitalism and supports the situation half a world away is super difficult and confusing. However, we would say that making contact with Kurds locally and attempting to support the organising work they are already probably engaged in is a very good start. This blog has some worthwhile points to take on board when thinking about solidarity work.
A second point of supporting the fundraiser is to raise awareness publicly – especially by going along to meetings of larger cooperatives, like retail cooperatives, and raising the issues talked about in this blog to the other members there. The role that the retail coop movement played in the 1930’s, fundraising for ambulances and supplies for the international brigades fighting Franco, is often forgotten. Much of that militancy has been lost, but the only way we can get there is by challenging these cooperatives to stay true to their principles and support projects like this.
What happens if you don’t reach your fundraising target?
Whatever they get will be useful. We are also appealing to larger coops, for whom it might take time to make a decision about donating, to still consider donating after the deadline. We will ensure that all the funds raised are made available to the bakery.
Anything else you would like to tell people?
Here is a link to a video we’ve put together explaining what our co-op has being doing to support the fundraiser and how other co-operatives can help out too: