The Resource Center of the Americas suspended operations Aug. 16 as a result of financial insolvency, halting the organization’s 25-year run as a premier anti-globalization activist group, watchdog and resource both in the Twin Cities and nationwide.
The group’s board of directors announced the decision on the same day operations ceased, citing “continuing and insurmountable financial challenges.”
Although the decision was abrupt, board spokesperson Barb Kucera called it “the culmination of a lot of different factors that came together over the last five years.”
Once a network of loosely affiliated volunteers and organizations, the Resource Center had grown in recent years to include a bookstore, a restaurant and a stable of full-time staffers responsible for community outreach, education and programming.
The Resource Center was scheduled to begin a slate of fall classes in the coming weeks, but a slow summer fundraising cycle jeopardized the organization’s ability to fulfill its financial commitments to staff and creditors.
“There was not one bright spot in the entire budget,” Kucera said. “We’ve had a big downturn in what we’ve been able to generate this summer in revenues, both from things like the bookstore – which is down 30 percent over where we were last year in sales – and in grants from foundations.
“We didn’t want to start classes and then have to cut off in the middle of classes. We didn’t want to jeopardize the pay and benefits of our staff either.”
Resource Center employees, members of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild, received the full severance packages guaranteed by their contract, Kucera added.
Although the Resource Center has closed, the non-profit organization behind it still exists. Kucera said the board of directors will continue to meet, working with members, past partners and affiliated organizations on ways it can continue the organization’s mission and programming.
Board members are calling it a return to the Resource Center’s “volunteer roots.”
“We’re calling on members and key constituent groups that work with the Resource Center, and we’re going to invite them in to figure out what we become,” Kucera said. “This is up to the members ultimately to decide.”
The Resource Center likely will sell its building at 3019 Minnehaha Ave., a donation to the organization in the late 1990s. That could present an opportunity for rebirth, Kucera said.
“If we sell the building, we would have some money left, and that might be the opportunity to start something else that would carry on the Resource Center mission.”
Leaving a void
Founded by volunteers near the University of Minnesota campus in 1982, the Resource Center of the Americas informed the local labor movement on issues like human rights, globalization and development.
Larry Weiss, the Resource Center’s labor, globalization and human rights project coordinator from 1991 to 2004, tied the organization’s rise in the 1990s to the labor movement’s emerging awareness of what trade pacts like NAFTA could mean for union members.
“In the early ‘90s, we focused almost immediately on NAFTA, which was then coming down the pike,” Weiss said. “We started working at that time with a group of individuals, some labor union officers, and began creating a coalition of organizations out of that.”
That coalition began working hard to cultivate cross-border solidarity among workers. With the Resource Center’s coordination, local activists visited factories in Mexico and Guatemala, and the organization sponsored Latin American labor leaders’ appearances before labor conventions in Minnesota.
“We had a significant impact in helping to build a grassroots, grasstops understanding within the labor movement here of our brothers and sisters’ conditions,” Weiss said.
“People didn’t have too hard a time understanding that one of the main meanings of NAFTA was that our jobs were being sent away, but they didn’t necessarily understand at that time that the people on the other side of this thing were getting screwed too.”
The Resource Center also became a voice for immigrant rights in Minnesota. Its award-winning programs and services have included the Centro de Derechos Laborales (Worker Rights Center), Penny Lernoux library and the Bookstore of the Americas.
“It’s an organization that combines education and activism,” said Kucera, a member since 1991. “There’s nothing like the Resource Center anywhere else in the country.”
Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly. Barb Kucera, the board member quoted in this article, is also the editor of Workday Minnesota.