Worker-Owned Cooperatives

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I can't help but believe that in the future we'll see in the United States and throughout the Western World an increasing trend toward the next logical step: employee ownership. It's a path that befits[1] a free people.
 

Worker-owned cooperatives are a type of cooperative.

Fundamentally, worker-owned cooperatives are about extending democracy into the workplace. In an age of globalization geared to benefit multinational corporations, worker-owned cooperatives can potentially serve as a countervailing force offsetting some of the more destructive aspects of global corporate dominance.

Worker-owned cooperatives are business entities that are owned and controlled by their members, the people who work in them. The two central characteristics of worker-owned cooperatives are:

  1. workers invest in and own the business and
  2. decision-making is democratic, generally adhering to the principle of one worker-one vote.[2]
At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks and big business, the economic crisis and growing inequality in our country, employee ownership offers a real solution for workers and communities. Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work is a new documentary (scheduled for release in fall 2012) that highlights worker-owned enterprises in North America and in Mondragon, Spain. The film couldn’t be more timely, as 2012 has been declared by the U.N. as the International Year of the Cooperative.

Worker-owned and/or worker-managed cooperatives in Portland


Proposed Worker-Owned & Community-Owned Industrial Policy

Which industries could worker-owned cooperatives focus on to affect maximum social change?

  • Media
    • Oregonian/OregonLive replacement
  • Food production
  • Internet infrastructure (community-owned broadband)
  • Healthcare
  • Energy (renewable in particular)
    • Solar panel production and installation
  • Manufacturing
  • Education
  • Transportation
  • Laundry
  • Housing
    • Co-housing


News Articles & Reports

GAR ALPEROVITZ: There has been a change in consciousness that makes this one of the most interesting periods of American history, maybe the most interesting. There's a loss of belief in the corporate system; there's a recognition that something is fundamentally wrong, So there's an opening to a whole different vision of where to go forward.
MICHAEL ALBERT: Markets as an institution, even without private ownership, are one of the worst creations of humanity in its entire history. They warp human development, warp personality, misprice virtually everything. They skew development away from human well-being for most of the population. They violate the ecology. They produce class division. It seems to me that saying these things should be no more controversial than saying we don’t want dictatorship or we don’t want private ownership. No one would say that the fact that we need to experiment, to learn, to listen, implies that we ought to hold in reserve or even jettison our understanding that private ownership and dictatorship are disastrous.
When the workers are the owners.
Members of Occupy Sandy launched the initiative to fill the need for creating jobs for the large number of victims, residents who were left without work after the natural disaster swept through the city on Oct. 29, 2012, impacting various New York neighborhoods.
(Discussion of what's going on with worker-owned cooperatives on Portland Indymedia.)
How manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, and others are doing business the cooperative way.
Workers at the New Era Windows Cooperative are celebrating the grand opening of their new unionized, worker-owned and -operated business. Almost a year to the day after their window factory closed, a group of former workers have launched their own window business without bosses. They successfully raised money to buy the factory collectively and run it democratically.
With Americans' interest in socialism rising, we need to seriously consider alternative designs to the current system, argues Alperovitz, in this practical critique of some known models.
How cooperatives are leading the way to empowered workers and healthy communities.
It's fitting that President Obama in his State of the Union address chose Youngstown, Ohio, as a model for a high-tech manufacturing hub initiative, but it would be even more fitting if he pointed out that Ohio is also the inspirational home for the fast-growing idea that workers should become not just employees but owners of the companies in which they work.
Since the advent of the industrial revolutions there has been a noble experiment both here and abroad of businesses that owned and democratically controlled by their worker/owners. If you know about these types of businesses, you probably think of them as small and local. For the most part that’s true here in the US. However, if we look across the Atlantic we find a very different story.
A bold new threat to the economic status quo brings on a press blackout.
Portland’s community of worker-owned and co-operative bike stores, like Citybikes in Buckman, are striving to make Portland a city where anyone can ride a bike, and where everyone should feel like they can be a cyclist.
The United Steelworkers, Mondragon, and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center Announce a New Union Cooperative Model to Reinsert Worker Equity Back into the U.S. Economy
On July 2, 2012, in a step that more and more companies have been taking, Chelsea Green joined the ranks of companies turning ownership over to their employees in a new business model.
Gar Alperovitz, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, discusses his books "Making a Place For Community," and "America Beyond Capitalism." Topics include worker-owned cooperatives, grassroots democracy and alternatives to corporate-controlled capitalism.
The Tenderloin Today Project is currently working to create an employee-owned company, where employees will earn somewhere around $25 per hour. This company will be owned and operated by the Tenderloin resident-employees and will provide the additional benefit of teaching workers how to run a company.
Business Matters explores the history of the worker owned cooperatives in the US. This podcast features interviews with several worker-cooperative success stories and a financial collective that provides funding for these type of businesses. Also reports on a recent remarkable development that links the Mondragon folks and a large US union in a novel experiment.

Resources, General

Brief explanations of different kinds of cooperatives.
Networking and educating the Portland cooperative community to seed and catalyze mutual support, public outreach, and advocacy projects that strengthen the local cooperative economy.
A map of the 300+ worker cooperatives in the U.S., and some other movement organizations.
Map of the Worker Cooperatives in the United States - Portland
"News from the frontlines of economic solidarity and grassroots globalization-from-below."
GEO Resource Library
Features news, guides and other resources.
The United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives is a national grassroots membership organization of and for worker cooperatives, democratic workplaces, and organizations that support the growth and development of worker cooperatives.
The mission of the Democracy at Work Institute is to promote the worker cooperative model by sharing skills among existing cooperatives, providing practical support in the form of training resources and referrals to those interested in starting worker cooperatives, and educating the public about the need for and benefits of worker-ownership and workplace democracy.
CoopZone provides Canadians with resources and consultants to help develop co-operatives.
CooperationWorks! is the Center of Excellence for cooperative business development.
"Fostering critical thinking and understanding about cooperatives."
The Ohio Employee Ownership Center, a non-profit outreach center of Kent State University, supports the development of business across Ohio and around the world by its efforts that are proven to save jobs, create wealth, and grow the economy. The OEOC's work rests on a simple philosophy: broader ownership of productive assets is a good thing for employees, communities, and our country.
Cultivate.Coop is an online hub for pooling knowledge and resources on cooperatives. It is a space to collect free information for those interested in cooperatives and where people can build useful educational tools for the co-op community.
Overview: This Curriculum on Cooperatives for Graduate Schools is designed for students in professional graduate schools (though the material could easily be adapted to other venues, including undergraduate school).
To strengthen all retail food cooperatives by creating community and promoting the sharing and development of resources among members.
The Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives or NoBAWC (pronounced "no boss") is a grassroots organization of democratic workplaces dedicated to building workplace democracy in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.
For nearly one hundred years, NCBA’s mission has remained the same: To develop, advance and protect cooperative business.
"Economics for people, not profits."
Books
(Also see Democracy At Work | A social movement for economic democracy.)
Employee Ownership
An Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is an employee benefit plan which makes the employees of a company owners of stock in that company.
The National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) is a private, nonprofit membership and research organization that serves as the leading source of accurate, unbiased information on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), equity compensation plans, and ownership culture.

The Mondragon Model

1956-2012: The Mondragón Co-operative Experiencie
Interesting links in the field of Co-operativism
Excerpt from Chapter 11 from, “The Organization of the Future,” published by the Peter F. Drucker Foundation.
The Mondragón Cooperative Corporation, or MCC, is often considered the most successful example of worker-owned enterprise in the world. Taking its name from the small town in the Basque Country of Spain where it was founded, the MCC’s reach now extends across Spain, Europe and the globe. Its highly integrated network of cooperative businesses competes successfully with conventional corporate rivals both locally and worldwide.
Books
Videos
At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks and big business, and growing inequity in our country, employee ownership offers a real solution for workers and communities. Shift Change is a new documentary (premiering in October, 2012) that highlights worker-owned enterprises in North America and in Mondragon, Spain.
Film trailer: Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work
More links to resources from Shift Change here.
UT professor George Cheney presents “Practical Lessons for a New Economy from the 55-year History of the Mondragón Cooperatives in Basque Country, Spain.”
The MONDRAGON Corporation is a corporation and federation of worker cooperatives based in the Euskadi. Founded in the town of Mondragón in 1956, its origin is linked to the activity of a modest technical college and a small workshop producing paraffin heaters. Currently it is the seventh largest Spanish company in terms of asset turnover and the leading business group in the Basque Country. At the end of 2010 it was providing employment for 83,859 people working in 256 companies in four areas of activity: Finance, Industry, Retail and Knowledge. The MONDRAGON Co-operatives operate in accordance with a business model based on People and the Sovereignty of Labour, which has made it possible to develop highly participative companies rooted in solidarity, with a strong social dimension but without neglecting business excellence. The Co-operatives are owned by their worker-members and power is based on the principle of one person, one vote.
Praxis Peace Institute Founding Director, Georgia Kelly, discusses the unique collaborative business model of the Mondragon Cooperatives located in the Basque country of Spain. Founded in 1955, Mondragon now encompasses 264 businesses and employs more than 100,000 worker-owners. It is a highly successful cooperative model with over 50 years of proven success. They have established research centers, bank and credit unions, a university, youth cooperatives, and small to large businesses. This presentation will cover the ethics and vision of Mondragón as well as unique success stories that are an inspiration to those seeking alternatives to business-as-usual. The goal of the Mondragón Cooperatives is to create community through economic relationships and to transform society through conscious economic practices.
Reports
The northern Spanish town is dominated by its eponymous €15bn corporation that controls over 100 smaller co-ops
More reports from Yes! Magazine on cooperatives here.
Why are we told a broken system that creates vast inequality is the only choice? Spain's amazing co-op is living proof otherwise

The Evergreen Cooperatives

The Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, Ohio are pioneering innovative models of job creation, wealth building, and sustainability. Evergreen’s employee-owned, for-profit companies are based locally and hire locally. They create meaningful green jobs and keep precious financial resources within the Greater University Circle neighborhoods. Worker-owners at Evergreen earn a living wage and build equity in the firms as owners of the business.
The Evergreen Cooperatives are a connected group of worker-owned cooperatives in Cleveland, Ohio. They are committed to local, worker-owned job creation; sustainable, green and democratic workplaces; and community economic development.

Cuba & Worker-Owned Cooperatives

The Cuban government is placing high priority on the development of worker-owned-and-managed firms and has recently passed a law intended to launch an experimental cadre of 200 such firms. Under the law, workers - rather than government bureaucrats or elite boards of directors - will democratically run the businesses, set their own competitive prices, determine wages and salaries and decide what to do with the profits they generate. In other words, Cuba's new worker cooperatives will operate pretty much along the same lines as their successful cousins in the capitalist world, including Spain's Mondragon Cooperative Corporation.
Fidel Castro's admission that Cuba isn't working doesn't mean a change to capitalism – far from it
Cubans have already been forging an alternative socio-economic reality for decades now. For instance, we can think of how they revolutionized their agricultural sector during and after the Special Period, making Cuba the first nation to adopt a predominantly organic farming sector rooted in agricultural co-ops and the notion of subsidiarity (i.e., economic activity with a strong focus on the local and managed by local people).

See Also

References