You’ve reached the activism portion of today’s show. Now that you’re informed and angry, here’s what you can do about it. Today’s activism: Starting and supporting worker co-ops.
We think we believe in democracy and yet most of us spend eight hours — or, if we’re realistic, more than that — working under a dictatorship. Sure, thanks to the labor movement we have some loosely guarded rights and guarantees, but working for a business or a corporation, or even just a small business owner, essentially means serving at their pleasure.
Unless you’re part of a worker co-op.
Worker co-ops have been around basically forever, but just don’t get the kind of attention they should because our corporate media banks on the capitalist system we’re all beholden to. They give all the rights and power to the actual human beings who provide the labor and thus create the wealth. Novel concept: you build it, you benefit from it.
The US Federation of Worker Cooperatives describe co-ops as “business entities that are owned and controlled by their members, the people who work in them.” They have two central characteristics: "(1) worker-members invest in and own the business together, and it distributes surplus to them and (2) decision-making is democratic, adhering to the general principle of one member-one vote.”
Sounds great, right? If it sounds complicated to join or start, remember it’s an entire system we’re trying to bring down, here. A little work is going to be involved and luckily you don’t have to figure it out or do it on your own.
The Democracy at Work Institute was created by the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives to help build co-ops especially in economically and socially marginalized communities by providing support, strategy, and relationship building.
Their website — Institute.USWorker.coop — has resources for start-ups including frequently asked questions, 101-level presentations, questions to ask before meeting with legal counsel, guidelines, financing fundamentals, studies, and step-by-step guides. For those interested in joining rather than starting a coop, their home page also links to a searchable list of existing worker coops by state and industry and has a form for submitting additions to their database. You can find childcare, bakeries, breweries, massage centers, landscaping companies, eco-cleaners — almost any business you can think of is being run by workers in some part of the country.
California has a bill worth supporting in the state legislature right now that would make worker coops easier to start and run. The "CA Worker Cooperative Act,” AB 816, clarifies existing law and broadens protections while creating more visibility for worker coops and providing a framework for developing new coops in the state. With nearly 40 million residents — more than 10% of the total U.S. population — and a variety of industries including many that traditionally disempower workers like agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing, California is a great testing ground for this legislation. If it can be successful there, it not only helps a whole lot of people, it can become model legislation for other states and possibly the federal government.
You can sign the petition to support AB 816 at TheSELC.org under their "About Us, Advocacy" tab — or just click the link in the segment notes.
If we’re going to change the system, we need to build working grassroots examples of alternatives. So, support the legislation in California and use the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives listing of worker-owned business to support the ones in your area.
Get involved with The Democracy at Work Institute, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives
Use the collaborative legal resource e-library created by the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) and the Green-Collar Communities Clinic (GC3) Co-opLaw.org
Attend one of the conferences with the National Center For Employee Ownership
Read the full bill: "AB-816 Cooperative corporations: worker cooperatives”
Hear the segment in context:
Episode #914 "Looking for something better (Capitalism)"
Written by BOTL social media/activism director Katie Klabusich