Union Cooperatives


Union cooperatives take different forms. Usually, a union cooperative is a business that is owned by a trade union and managed by workers who belong to the union. Workers make all decisions regarding the business, including decisions about pay, hours and conditions of work, profit (or surplus) from the enterprise, and goods or services that are produced. The trade union owns the cooperative on behalf of the workers, but workers are in control. Trade unions have power and resources that individual workers do not have. They can therefore be important to the process of getting cooperatives off the ground by providing start-up capital, networking with local communities and other workers, and so on. In the United States, the United Steel Workers Union is now establishing union cooperatives across the country. Union cooperatives can be established when unionised workers take over their factory or workplace from capitalist ownership. Supported by their union, rank-and-file union members can convert their workplace to a cooperative, particularly where their employer has tried to lay them off or close the workplace down. New Era Windows in Chicago is a good example of this model. An innovative type of union cooperative exists in Victoria, Australia. The Earthworker Cooperative is an organisation made up of members of multiple trade unions who are working together to establish worker-owned businesses based around solar technology. When a worker-owned business is established, a market for its products is guaranteed by union members in other workplaces, who are able to buy them affordably, thereby guaranteeing a future for the cooperative. The union cooperative model shows an alternative model of economic development based around popular democracy, public ownership and workers’ control. Radically different from capitalist economic models, union cooperatives may offer a window to the future.

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