Worker Cooperatives


A worker cooperative is a business that is owned and managed by the people who work in it. In a worker cooperative, workers collectively determine how much they will be paid, what their hours and conditions of work will be, what goods they will produce or services they will offer, how their enterprise will impact the natural environment and and how the local community will be affected. When the people who control the enterprise come from the surrounding community, the likelihood of environmental destruction is reduced, as are exorbitant prices, and so on. Workers also have collective ownership over any profit (or ‘surplus’) from their enterprise. This surplus is usually distributed among workers as equity, but can also be donated back into the community, or reinvested into the enterprise in the form of lower prices, better quality products, better conditions of work, and so on. Worker cooperatives are different from capitalist enterprises, where all profit is kept by a ‘boss’, or by wealthy shareholders. Cooperatives also differ in that decision-making is collective and democratic. In a capitalist enterprise, the boss makes all the decisions, usually in his or her own interest. In the case of a capitalist corporation, decisions are usually made by head offices that are far removed from workers and communities, resulting in low pay and conditions for workers, as well as community and environmental degradation in the interests of private profit. Worker cooperatives have existed since the emergence of industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century. Today, they are growing in number and influence around the world. As the effects of deindustrialisation and recession result in workplace closures, lay-offs, and mass unemployment, workers are taking matters in their own hands by forming worker cooperatives. In almost all cases (particularly in the US and Australia), worker cooperatives are turning to ecologically sustainable practices to minimise the human toll on the climate and the environment. For the crisis facing people and the planet, worker cooperatives offer an important solution.

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