A case for worker-owned

By Nancy Churchill

Picture this: a giant retailer raking in billions in profits a year from thousands of locations worldwide approaches City Hall to locate a new mega-store just outside of town. Negotiations require flattening a large stand of trees for the parking lot, and a 10-year tax holiday just for locating in your town. Negotiations don’t include admitting that they will hire locals at lower wages than surrounding retailers are paying, import cheap goods made in foreign sweat shops, and sell them below cost long enough to put local competitors out of business.

After that they will raise prices and move workers to part-time, lowering their take-home and preventing them from qualifying for benefits. Don’t worry, though; if workers have trouble feeding their families on those low wages, the mega-store will send them memos on how to qualify for government assistance like food stamps.

That’s the extractive model our country has been putting up with for decades. And it’s been sucking resources out of communities to the obscene benefit of only a handful of owners.

There is an alternative: the worker-owned model, wherein workers own and manage a business jointly, and share in its profits. This helps grow local economies instead of sucking the wealth out of them.

“[W]orker-owned co-ops are unique because employees own 100 percent of the business, so they have a voice in how it’s run,” noted Melissa Hoover and Beadsie Woo (“To jumpstart US job market, turn workers into owners,” Christian Science Monitor (csmonitor.com), 1/11/10).

“After all,” Hoover and Woo point out, “public confidence in corporations, banks, and the larger financial system is at low ebb, while unemployment is at its highest level in 25 years. Homeownership, historically a reliable way to build equity, has been rocked by foreclosures. People are looking for other ways to do business and save money.”

Publix, the fastest-growing grocery chain in America, is a shining example of a worker-owned company. It is not only more profitable than its competitors, with better prices, but it provides “the most satisfying customer experience” [http://usuncut.com/news/publix-walmarts-biggest-nightmare/].

So what if your community were to channel resources it might have used on that extractive mega-store to, instead, set up an incubator that will educate people and help them develop local worker-owned businesses?

Because worker-ownership not only builds equity for workers, it also builds equity within communities. Local business owners have long been pillars of the community, strengthening local values and promoting civic engagement. Why not give all workers a stake in their community by investing in them? The greater the stake, the greater the value to the community.

Learn more at the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives Democracy at Work Institute (http://usworker.coop), which promises “We can help you leverage the power of worker cooperatives to create real impact in your community.”

Don’t tell anyone this really is socialistic. And democratic. Because it’s also capitalism at its finest – the optimum economic model for a struggling community!

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