Worker co-ops: business without bosses

I like Rochdale coops as a form of business organization (and was previously a member of the Park Slope Food Coop, a consumer-owned coop, as well as of the Stevens Cooperative School, a parent-owned coop). One difficulty with the model is the problem of raising capital; as a cooperative, you inherently cannot sell equity. Loans are feasible, but that generally works only if you have an existing, on-going business; it’s very hard to fund a start-up with loans. So you need to tap your initial membership for whatever capital you need, which is problematic if the needed capital is large. Though I note that food coops are now spreading across Brooklyn, because of the success of the Park Slope one.

Note also that some quite large American businesses are coops, though not worker-owned ones; Land o’Lakes Butter is a farmer-owned coop, and Ace Hardware is owned by its member stores.

“On the other hand, this may be an argument against [worker co-ops], since they may diffuse energy that could make a bigger impact on ordinary workers’ lives if it were devoted to systemic fixes.”

An economy made of entirely worker co-ops sounds like a systemic fix to me. But it could cause problems for people who want to make money from their established wealth without doing any actual work to earn it, i.e. capitalists.


Lots of good changes have been crushed or resisted by military force. That doesn’t mean they were bad ideas or couldn’t be systemic changes.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.


Marxism was only one communist viewpoint which itself diverged into other viewpoints. Leninism was the most successful at suppressing other forms of communism, but its failures beyond that cannot be reasonably seen as a failure of communism as a whole


Did you read the linked article? In the US worker owned co-ops do tend to be small. And I would certainly think it’s easier if you stay below Dunbar’s number. But the article almost mentioned a WOC in Europe with 60k employees. Not sure how that works in practice, but apparently they found a way.


Time for some Utah Philips.

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If you believe that the USSR (or the PRC) was communist, you are mistaken. I know that sounds like a No True Scotsman argument, but in this case there is very clear evidence that these were just authoritarian autocracies cloaked in the trappings of communist ideology with no intention of ever putting it into practice.


It may be an idiosyncratic interpretation, but I interpreted Adam Smith’s seminal work on the division of labour to be about workers’ coops, for all that it gave capital the means to destroy the guilds.


Have a look at this: a brilliant book on why collaboration is better for business and the human race than the model currently so vigorously peddled by the neo-liberal conspiracy. Margaret Heffernan’s book is full of real examples of real BIG businesses / run as co-operatives, owned by their employees.

They don’t want you to know but there are real alternatives out there to the business model which so spectacularly failed in 2008. Did you know that Ocean Spray has been run as a cooperative since 1930s (p 230) and there are many others…


One industry I could see benefiting greatly from the co-op model would be restaurants.

I presume that there would be more diversity, less trickle-down animosity, workers would have more say when it comes to refusing service to problem customers, and there might be far less spit in your food.


Sure, but is the way to total worker ownership and control trying to rebuild from the ground up in a hostile environment (co-ops), or seizing more and more power from bosses at conventional firms? Several generations worth of wealth/infrastructure/capital, all of it made by workers, is now owned by capitalists. We shouldn’t just let them continue to own and control that. Unions are a way of taking back that wealth. Of course unions and coops can work hand in hand, as the IWW label Cory used shows.


Sure if Coca Cola shuts down a factory and lays off a bunch of workers those employees can’t suddenly open a factory and start producing Co-Op branded Coca Cola; but they can make cola. They just have to change the formula enough that it is not Coke. The same is true of essentially any business.

If you need a building and a given landowner won’t rent to you, you can go to another. If you need access to a patent, nope. Fuck you, don’t compete with your betters.

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One example of a total income-sharing, communally-owned group of businesses. In the U.S., even!

In addition to my Like, you score 100 points and three gold stars.

:100: :sunny: :sunny: :sunny:

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