Rodrigo Bacus, Staff Attorney
Community Development Project
How did you get into this work? Why did you get into this work?
I graduated from law school in 2016 and wanted to work with cooperatives and community organizations. This is how I was connected with CDP and their worker cooperative work through Brian Glick, of the CED clinic in Fordham Law, and Hillary Exter, of the Public Interest Resource Center. I started working at CDP in the same year with the Capacity Building team.
I was drawn to immigrant-led worker coop work to support migrant workers in combating conditions of labor exploitation that may arise when corporations take advantage of migrant workers who are escaping conditions of poverty, joblessness, and landlessness by supporting their leadership in a solidarity economy that seeks to end such conditions. The cycle of forced migration and labor exploitation in places like the Philippines can only end if we address the issue head on through movement work while we foster alternatives like the solidarity economy. I experienced that system of forced migration myself as a child of a working immigrant who then migrated later on to reunite with family and face the same obstacles when it came to work.
What does ‘solidarity economy’ mean to you?
I see the solidarity economy as an alternative to a currently degrading system that is upholding inequalities, pushing forward climate change, and perpetuates the oppression and exploitation of people.
What are the biggest challenges you face in this work?
In terms of the legal work, the main challenge has been fitting the aspirations, values, principles, mission, and futures of the solidarity economy and the worker cooperatives we work with to the limited framework of the legal entity forms. There has been a lot of work towards that and ongoing efforts to improve alignment between the law and efforts to support cooperatives.
Why do you think it is important for cooperatives to help other cooperatives?
Mutual support and mutual aid is one of the tenets of cooperatives. If cooperatives did not have an explicit purpose to support other cooperatives and movement work then we would hardly scratch the surface in creating an alternative to our current system. A good example of this is Khao’na Kitchen, a food justice cooperative. Their members play active roles in organizations such as the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines and GABRIELA USA. The coop itself supports community organizations such as the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON). The value they create is directly tied to helping movements and fostering a new system for all of us.
What is your ‘theory of change’?
The communities directly impacted by systems of oppression should lead in their dismantling. Workers play a particularly important role in leading because they experience acute forms of labor exploitation and also because their style and environment of work demonstrates how collective labor and collective action can create fundamental breakthroughs in systems change.
What are some of your current projects?
We work with a growing number of worker-owned and immigrant-led cooperatives in many industries particularly at the moment of the cooperative starting up. We have been noticing that cooperatives also need support to sustain their work and are now planning to explicitly offer sustained workshops to support cooperative development after formation. We have done a few so far that includes topics such as: tax compliance, know your rights training, leadership development, and conflict resolution.
Where can we find more information about the work you are doing in the future? What is the best way for people to get involved and support your work?
Please visit our website cdp.urbanjustice.org. We also have a specific page that talks about the Capacity Building team and our work.