Cooperative worker/owner discussion

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Reasons for joining:

  • Love co-ops, lots of disatisfying hierarchical experiences in tech.
  • 2 decades in intentional communities, all residential, none tech. Coached tech co-ops in Oakland. Blown away by what it takes to keep it going.
  • Bookstore/community space in Bushwick Brooklyn. Started as for-profit space where profits are rare. Investing back in community. For-profit heavily taxed regardless. Exploring co-op options. Interested in learning from other teams. Communities where it's hard for everyone to be considered a "worker" or "owner".
  • Collectiva and SF. Non-profits, social justice spaces, nice words but still hierarchies in contradiction to mission. Dream of co-op consulting business for advocacy work. "Social justice" still unwilling to let go of old power. How to start and sustain.
  • Alt communities for farming. Lurking in co-op space. No games co-ops, not many tech. Some web dev and Euro white male co-ops, but trying to find more divers cooperators in tech.
  • Tech co-op with presenter closing down. Saying hello. Co-ops are critical stage in crushing extractive capitalism. Applause for attempts to pull it off.

Start with definitions:

Cooperative is...

  • Joint ownership over a project. Consumer co-ops buying a service together. Structure of decision making -- collective and democratic. Consensus means different things for different co-ops. Every co-op can define for themselves. One voice one vote. Everyone's voice gets heard. Joint ownership, both project(s) and business. Mutual support.

Worker cooperative is...

  • Workers joined in a shared project. Worker democracy.

All co-ops are different

"Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice" Jessica Gordon Nembhard

Balancing business, consensus, purpose

Workers deciding what "a good job" is.

What are the aspects that make up "a good job" for you?:

  • Living wage, healthy outside-work life. Personal and professional values. Stability, security, sustainability, agency. Cooperation and individual decision making balance. Purpose and goals. Autonomy and collaboration in balance.

Example: workers have their own projects, but talk as a group about them periodically. Work directly with client about what they want.

Cooperatives make decisions differently. Hard to decide sometimes, also can be liberating. 40 hour unthinking work week can be "easier". Cooperation and autonomy takes work and thought. Health insurance, benefits, sustainable living. Doing something enjoyable and challenging. Opportunity for growth.

Why would anyone want to be in a worker co-op?:

  • worker-member control
  • egalitarian ethos
  • labor hires capital
  • members share the profits
  • social concerns are balanced with pursuit of profit
  • self-reliance and local community development
  • job creation
  • satisfying work
  • democratic limits on managerial power
  • limited size

Collaborative processing around identifying the "sandbox" for the collaboration.

Discovered non-profit world, took much better than corporate world, work to make a difference. Opportunity for worker cooperative, role in decisionmaking, expanding collaboration and co-decision making.

Communities support like this event. Co-ops communities are even more important than "traditional" business forms. Finances responsibility can be distributed or rotated.

Principles and values of work and community. No make-work or face-only B.S. jobs.

Satisfying work?

Limited size -- one of first cooperatives in the US was in Milling. They were successful, decided to sell shares and grow. Sellling shares to right people is important. Sold too many shares, lost majority, driven to capitalist instead of cooperative direction. Develop capacity in a co-op for workers, not necessarily always grow business. Facilitation, note taking, etc. shared responsibility. Meetings about differnt models of consensus and communication. Learning *how to collaborate* better constantly. Sustainability in a culture > growth.

Job creation and new ways of working within communities, including non-profits. Framework to create new spaces within other business responsibilities. Sustainable growth not just make-work.

Can define governance within co-op, not necessarily depending on legal status. Undocumented workers can work within that structure without "legal payroll" issues. Can change the definition of what an "owner" is. In U.S. it's actually easier to have undocumented "foreign nationals" to be co-owners than employees, legally. Coops, C-Corps, and B-Corps can give "shares" to anyone they want.

Different measures of success:

  • Work-life balance. Well being, not overwork.
  • Satisfaction, satisfying work, client satisfaction, impact.
  • Community, environment, alternative metrics -- not just paying customers or profits.
  • Democratic limits on managerial power, shared power, accountability.
  • Forced to live under capitalism shouldn't mean giving up everything for money.
  • Anti-capitalist uses of money? Zapatistas emphasized relationships & exchange.
  • Every co-op can determine alternative internal structure. Committees, assignments, specialties, etc. can all be structured with different forms of consensus. Participatory structure.
  • Satisfying to align with principles and values.
  • Metric: board member engagement, diversity, time with development, collaborations with staff.
  • Metric: employer donation matching with affiliated employers.
  • Sponsored or lent volunteer time from employees?

Worker democracy > authoritarian hierarchy.