Worker co-ops: business without bosses


#1

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#2

Workers cannot do this without access to the patent rights. Exclusive patent rights give companies the market power to outsource and offshore from established labor pools with zero consequences. Entrepreneurs in emerging markets used to be able to skirt the law and help those markets develop, and entrepreneurs in the developed world could actually create a new firm to compete in the market, rather than just selling out their new idea. Now labor and entrepreneurs in both the developed and developing nations are at the mercy of the large entities who create less and less and own more and more. Fit into the marketing plan or fit nowhere at all.


#3

[Co-ops] may diffuse energy that could make a bigger impact on ordinary workers' lives if it were devoted to systemic fixes.

Can there be a more systemic fix than workers controlling the means of production? If workplace-democracy (co-ops) were the norm and private tyrannies the exception, then democratization of the western world would have taken its biggest leap forward since women's suffrage.


#4

Fire the bosses!


#5

As long as co-ops are recognised as a means towards workplace democracy and not the end.


#6

And it undermines the 'boss is allow right' trop you sometimes hear batted around.


#7

Co-ops have pretty much become the norm here in Nelson, BC. I think in part, it's because Nelson is such a small community, that the kinds of businesses people want to see operate, might not otherwise be viable, or likely to happen unless people took things into their own hands.

So far I think we have a co-op market, farmer market, bakery, radio station, cinema, art gallery, bike maker space, and a few others that don't come to mind.


#8

Do you mean consumer cooperatives (where consumers own and manage the business whose products/services they consume) or worker owned cooperatives (where employees own and manage the business)? Consumer cooperatives can still treat employees like shite, outsource and/or be solely profit driven if they want to, though in practice they're generally nicer to the employees.

Edit: I suppose these two aren't mutually exclusive, though I suspect most cooperatives tend to one type or the other.


#9

For most businesses, patents are "intellectual property", and worker coops can buy or license them if they have to, just like they can buy or rent the buildings and other capital equipment that their business needs.

It's different if you're trying to run a business based on foreign technology that prices its patents based on a more expensive market, but typically in an outsourcing market, the foreign company is going to hire a local company to do its cheap labor instead of direct-hiring local employees, so they could just as well hire a worker-owned coop instead of a stockholder-owned labor contractor.


#10

I don't think "systemic" means what you think it means. These stories are few and far-between. If this became an organized, systemic movement it would probably be crushed with military force.


#11

Surprising in a good way to see you post this, Cory. Worker co-ops are the best way to empower people to take ownership in their work and create a democratic economy - not to mention eliminate the exploitation of their surplus value by the bosses.


#12

Yes, although odd to hear that coming from a "true tory." wink


#13

I think you're right. There are a number of different types of co-op. And here in Nelson there are many species of co-op, from consumer owned (grocery store) to worker owned (bakery) to community owned (radio station).

And then there are the social enterprises (like our cinema), which are not co-ops, but operate in a similar spirit, maximizing profit for the benefit of community goals verse individual or shareholder enrichment.


#14

Aren't these currently called Partnerships?
And we know for a fact that communism doesn't work, i.e. the USSR
Co-ops can really only work on a limited scale, the bigger it gets the more difficult it is to coordinate. It would be difficult to have it grow into a multi-state, even multi-city company. Cant imagine a global company.
And is it supposed to be an equally shared company? Everyone being paid the same? From a newly hired assistant to a craftsman with 20 years experience?


#15

A huge worker cooperative exists in Spain called Mondragon. If you want to learn how it works, check out this link : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation
Its rather inspiring. From the wiki:
"The Mondragon system is one of four case studies analyzed in Capital and the Debt Trap, which summarized evidence claiming that cooperatives tend to last longer and are less susceptible to perverse incentives and other problems of organizational governance than more traditionally managed organization."


#16

No, actually, they can't. That would defeat the purpose for the IP holder, which closes down its operation to take their workers' knowledge to a different labor market. To say that workers can just license the IP they already have in their heads is incorrect, if not disingenuous.


#17

Too late - Facebook has now bought all of them. ALL OF THEM


#18

Bringing democracy to workplaces is obviously a commie plot to impurify our bodily fluids. (Besides which, as everybody knows, you can't bring democracy anywhere without bombing it first.)


#19

Partnerships can have employees that do not own the business so they are quite different from worker owned coops. Think law firms.

WOCs aren't communist per se, although the spirit is there. As for communism not working, I'll offer up Marinaleda, Spain as a counterargument - though it is still early days. One could just as easily offer up the United States as evidence that capitalism doesn't work. It depends on how one defines success I guess. All societies crumble to dust eventually.

Co-ops have only been tried on a limited scale - and many a global company based on the current corporate model has failed. But do WOCs need to work on a larger scale? Is there anything specific about a WOC that makes it inherently impossible to operate at a large scale? They can still delegate decision making, but they have something which seems lacking in the leadership of large corporations, which is accountability. I don't see why the prevailing corporate structure is an inherently better way of managing, say, 5000 employees than a WOC would be, especially given advances in technology and a highly educated workforce.

I don't think there is anything that strictly says employees in a WOC need to be paid the same, but I believe the ownership would be equal. And I doubt the top earner would take home 7000 times more than the lowest earner. Profits, presumably, would be shared equally among employees or re-invested in the company. Nobody is saying that WOCs are foolproof, but that's an awfully high standard to have.


#20

It would be difficult to have it grow into a multi-state, even multi-city company. Can't imagine a global company.

What a bleak picture of a dystopian future do you paint: one where small, local companies generally triumph over corporate multinationals. Perish the thought!