Worker Cooperatives


I have a bunch of hippie friends who dream of a world where people participate in worker cooperatives.

From Wikipedia:

A worker cooperative is a cooperative self-managed by its workers. This control may be exercised in a number of ways. A cooperative enterprise may mean a firm where every worker-owner participates in decision making in a democratic fashion, or it may refer to one in which managers and administration is elected by every worker-owner, and finally it can refer to a situation in which managers are considered, and treated as, workers of the firm. In traditional forms of worker cooperative, all shares are held by the workforce with no outside or consumer owners, and each member has one voting share. In practice, control by worker-owners may be exercised through individual, collective or majority ownership by the workforce, or the retention of individual, collective or majority voting rights (exercised on a one-member one-vote basis). A worker cooperative, therefore, has the characteristic that the majority of its workforce own shares, and the majority of shares are owned by the workforce.

This is not a model that sits well with many American capitalists. Many of us value merit, independence and ownership. And many business professionals still have this Reaganistic notion that if you increase the value and profit margin within an organization, income trickles down to workers.

(We know that last part isn’t true. Wealth pools at the top.)

Not that Marxist economic theories will solve all of your problems, but worker cooperatives might catch on a little more as smaller and more disruptive technology companies start to emerge. And I think more HR professionals should stop saying that it’s “important to have a seat at the table” and “know the business” and learn more about the many divergent economic theories related to “work” such as worker democracy and labor-managed firms.

(Note: you won’t learn about this in a SHRM course.)

I always tell my friends in HR that you can only install so many ping-pong tables and hand out so many shares of worthless stock options before your employees get smart and realize that they are still the workers. Why give out crowd-sourced praise when you could give your employees a chance to create a legacy?

Real ownership, democracy and decision-making authority could change your workforce from good to great. It’s worth exploring.

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