The Worker-Owned Model

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By Dave Anderson

Faced with mounting economic and environmental crises driven by unrestrained capitalism, many people around the world are turning to cooperative enterprise as an answer to social ills. In America, 130 million are members of some kind of cooperative and 13 million work in an employee-owned company.

A cooperative is a one-person, one-vote, member-owned and -controlled economic institution or business. In the United States, we have agricultural coops, insurance co-ops, food co-ops, housing co-ops,healthcare co-ops, artist co-ops, electrical co-ops, credit unions and many more. Large retail coops include REI, the outdoor clothing and supply company, and ACE, the hardware-purchasing cooperative.

These institutions are seen as part of a “community wealth building”or “solidarity economy” movement which includes municipally-owned utilities and internet as well as community land trusts.

In Boulder, we have Namaste Solar, a worker-owned cooperative foundedin 2005. There is Colorado Recovery, a Boulder company which providescomprehensive services to adults with serious mental illness. A fewyears ago, the owner, the late Dr. Richard Warner, was about toretire, and he decided to sell the firm to his employees because hefelt that they were committed to the vision of the company.

An ownership plan was crafted that made it possible for workers withquite different income levels to become owners. In December 2014, 16employees became co-owners and by mid-2016 the employees will own 100percent of the voting rights of the company. (See Cat Johnson’s article “Why a Healthcare Entrepreneur is Selling His Business to Employees”)

As Bernie Sanders has said, democracy should be extended into the workplace. He points out that worker-owners have a commitment to thesuccess of a company, that they feel they are “a part of the system;they ąre not just a cog in the machine.”

Vermont is a leader in developing cooperative enterprises. That is basically the result of hard work by Sanders and his progressivecoalition when he was mayor of Burlington. Peter Dreirer and Pierre Claval note:

“Thanks to the enduring influence of the progressive climate thatSanders and his allies helped to create in Burlington, the city’s largest housing development is now resident-owned, its largest supermarket is a consumer-owned cooperative, one of its largest private employers is worker-owned, and most of its people-oriented waterfront is publicly owned. Its publicly-owned utility, the Burlington Electric Department, recently announced that Burlington is the first American city of any decent size to run entirely on renewable electricity.”

In a Politico piece, Ben Schreckinger says that “many of the radicalsolutions” Sanders created in the 1980s such as “free arts and culturefor the masses, local-first economic development, wresting money fromrich nonprofits, and, most shockingly, communal land for affordablehousing -- have become mainstays of the American municipal governance playbook.”

He says: “Early in Sanders’ tenure, his treasurer discovered $200,000 in the city’s coffers and the mayor determined to plow it into a bold initiative. Inspired by the garden cities of England, Israeli kibbutzim and Indian communes set up by the followers of Gandhi, heproposed to buy land and hold it in a communal trust for affordable housing, while the housing itself would be owned by occupants.”

In 1984, the Burlington Community Land Trust became one of the firstaffordable housing trusts on the planet, and the very first to receivemunicipal funding. Today, there are over 250 such trusts in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Boston and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Most of them receive some kind of government funding.

Sanders recently introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress toencourage worker ownership. Under one bill, the U.S. Department ofLabor would provide funding to states to establish and expand employeeownership centers. These centers would provide training and technicalsupport for programs promoting employee ownership and participationthroughout the nation. This legislation is inspired by the success ofthe Vermont Employee Ownership Center. A second bill would create aU.S. Employee Ownership Bank to provide loans to help workers purchase businesses.

Workers in such an enterprise get decent pay, benefits and dignity onthe job. It is a solution to off-shoring. A worker-owned firm has anincentive to respect the surrounding community and the environment. After all, that is where the worker-owners live.

Are such enterprises little islands of the future? Is another world possible? (Boulder DSA held a panel discussion on “Bernie 2016 — An alternative to global capitalism: Colorado cooperatives and other types of employee
owned enterprises” in November.)

Dave Anderson is a member of Colorado DSA. This article was originally published in the Boulder Weekly 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 9 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.