Why are Worker Cooperatives So Rare?

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Why are Worker Cooperatives So Rare?

liberalprogressivedemocrat's picture
liberalprogress...
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Apr. 20, 2010 6:28 pm

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Accepting the idea is a shift from western culture which has its root in Monarchy. We all imagine ourselves kings and queens someday. So we're willing to be surfs while we wait.

Common_Man_Jason's picture
Common_Man_Jason
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

I believe you will find that monarchy in western culture was never universally absolute, and what was absolute was relatively short lived. The position of serf is related to feudalism, not monarchy, and other cultures had more intense and longer periods of absolute monarchy. Examples could include the Inca, Aztecs, African tribes, and Chinese emperors.

Successful organizations, especially business organizations are only as successful as the quality of their management. I suspect in a cooperative situation we have strong personalities withou training or talent. That is probably why you find successful employee owned bulinesses professionally mangaged.

wmstoll's picture
wmstoll
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May. 12, 2010 12:31 pm

There's another problem with worker organizations up against corporations and that is their legal status with their 'legal rights' as Thom Hartmann documents fairly well in his book, Unequal Protection, out in its second edition (which I'm reading again now). Corporations have the legal status of personhood with all sorts of rights of personhood--unions nor any organization of workers has the same rights....

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Kerry
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Unions are incorporated, why wouldn't they enjoy all the rights and privileges of legal incorporated status would offer?

I've been watching for the corporate money to flood into the CA governors race. Admittedly, I don't watch much local TV, but when I do I see union sponsered negative ads against Whitman, and no corporate ads.

wmstoll's picture
wmstoll
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May. 12, 2010 12:31 pm

I have only worked with a few first hand, so my response is mostly anecdotal. Democray in its purest form does not work. Just reference the old saying:"What happens when 4 wolves and a lamb get together and vote for what to have for dinner." Now add in the other old sayings, Too many Chiefs..., Too many cooks..., etc. The one and only worker coop that is strong and successful in my neck of the woods, has a management strategy based on the pig's quote:"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."

In other words, strong management is required. If a natural leader is able to take the reigns by proxy vote, the coop grows strong. If the coop allows rule by committee, it will fail.

Paleo-con
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm
Quote wmstoll:

Successful organizations, especially business organizations are only as successful as the quality of their management. I suspect in a cooperative situation we have strong personalities withou training or talent. That is probably why you find successful employee owned businesses professionally managed.

Worker ownership and professional management are not mutually exclusive. Additionally, management does not imply hierarchy, and is done best in the lack of one.

Being a worker and being an owner are just two very different hats to wear. Even in the traditional corporate structure, if the owner or owners don't have the talent to run a business, it fails. No difference here, accept that the people found with the talent, also become owners.

Common_Man_Jason's picture
Common_Man_Jason
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

I belong to a coffee plantation co op in Hawaii where every worker has an equal voting share in the running of the company. A beginning worker earns $65,000 a year so turn over is rare. The "CEO" makes two times that. Peer pressure keeps other workers from getting too greedy. It works great.

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Poo tee weet
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May. 7, 2010 4:17 pm

People tend to forget that hired, talented management personnel...are workers. They work for a salary.

The monastery functions just fine...with the owner/workers making all the decisions. There is enough talent within the pool to give input into decision-making that is pretty wise.

We aren't fools. Most workers aren't. I don't dictate construction practices to the monk in charge of construction. He doesn't dictate policy in the operation of our plant nursery business....and the council consisting of all monk-workers sometimes comes up with some pretty good ideas outside of their individual expertise.. Two heads are better than one?

. The "leader".,. the chief executive known as an Abbot, ...coordinates worker/owner council decisions...he doesn't dictate them. It functions in the manner of a co-op. Each worker/owner has an equal voting share.

Probably financing has something to do with limited co-ops...and the pervasive idea that you are either an owner or a worker....not both unless you're a self-employed entrepreneur. That takes initial capital. The majority of workers live from paycheck to paycheck. They don't have the start-up capital nor the access to it.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"..

polycarp2
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Good point Poly. I think people wanting to close the conversation on this subject often hear labor-owned instead of worker-owned. Not what it means at all. Even in large corporations, the CEO is often just a worker with no ownership stake.

In a worker-owned company, nothing is different. People do what their talents allow them to do, that's it.

As a side note, you'll notice I avoid the term employee-owned. It's an oxymoron, as employee implies employer, and in this case there isn't one.

Common_Man_Jason's picture
Common_Man_Jason
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

The answer to your question is one word "Capitalist". As long as they control the money system,they will always be "Boss/King".

tayl44's picture
tayl44
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

I believe that you will find, that since the 60's CEOs have a stake in the success of the corporation in the form of common stock as part of their compenstation.

It is an employee owned company, not a worker owned company. I'm either an employee or a 1099 contractor, which would also be a worker.

wmstoll's picture
wmstoll
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May. 12, 2010 12:31 pm

One man.

One vote.

What else would you have?

One-dictator, one-vote? One king, one-vote? One-Hitler, one-vote? What is your alternative to freedom? Trust a stranger to help you? Good luck on that.

kwikfix
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Apr. 9, 2010 12:51 pm
Quote liberalprogressivedemocrat:

Why are Worker Cooperatives So Rare?

They're rare because Marxism can't transcend a basic flaw in human nature. Marx said from each according to his ability and to each according to his need. What that failed to take into account was that only a minority have a hell of a lot of ability, while the vast majority have one hell of a lot of need.

This can't help but precurse resentment and eventual hierarchy. It usually happens when those providing most of the ability and the lion's share of the labor (because they're harder and better workers) run up against political correctness in the form of minor producers' and non-producers' expecting to be regarded as overall equals in the enterprise at hand, merely because they're "worker-owners," just like the high producers. They think they should have the same share of profits from the co-op's yield as those who contributed the most ability and work, and will argue that things aren't really equal if they don't get them. More often than not, the genuinely poor producers/contributors believe they're being picked on when whatever management that does exist tries to get them going, so they whine accordingly.

Worker committees doing peer evaluations often don't work well either, because inevitably, cults of personality tend to spring up. Those doing the peer evaluations often "gang up" on people they simply don't like and give them bad evaluations just to get rid of them, even when evaluees may not be performing badly. Conversely, somebody who's popular with everybody may very well get an undeservedly high evaluation based only on his/her popularity, rather than actual job performance.

Solutions? Worker co-ops will always be dysfunctional, for reasons outlined above (not that traditional management structures aren't usually somewhat dysfunctional as well). The only real solutions are good Union contracts and decent labor laws to protect workers. But there has to be a separate and, unfortunately, authoritarian management cadre, empowered to set standards, hire, fire, and evaluate, as long as it's prohibited from tyranny by laws and contracts. The problem right now is that weak and non-existent labor laws and weak and gutted Unions allow unenlightened management to run amok, as it has since Reaganomics became the order of the day.

Ulysses's picture
Ulysses
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Uly,

Worker coops exist and are successful. The issues and challenges they face are no bigger or smaller that any other type of company.

Here are the examples I shared in the other thread, just to demonstrate this subject matter isn't a hypothetical conversation.

http://www.chroma.com/

http://www.equalexchange.coop/

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/

http://www.carris.com

http://www.pizzagalli.com

http://www.gardeners.com

http://www.davey.com

http://www.usworker.coop/about/memberlist

They are rare only because they are different and require a different mindset. It is a rapidly growing movement right now, and that's because American culture is rapidly changing right now. People are waking up and realizing they've been robbed and taking back what is rightfully theirs.

Common_Man_Jason's picture
Common_Man_Jason
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Poly, it looks like one of those occasions where we agree. The only difference is that you said it a lot more elegantly then me.

My personal experience is limited. Out of the small number I have worked with, all but one has failed. They run a very sucessful tree removal service with many more than eight employees. The business cards says they are a certified 100% employee owned business, but I don't claim to know what that means or who does the certification.

Their business model runs exactly like you discribed. The tree surgens don't tell the accountants how to keep the books, the truck mechanics don't tell the sales department how to market, etc. Even with one person, one vote in place, there still seems to cooperative restraint on how to implement those votes.

Paleo-con
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

.A woman I know who operates a restaurant probably shouldn't be elected to a management position in a co-op resaurant. She over-buys and throws out nearly as much food as she sells. If she remains in business for another year, I'll be surprised.

Her employees get it. Maybe if they had a "vote", the restaurant might have a chance to succeed. A co-op needs at least one who gets profit/loss and can manage accordingly.

The monastery's Economikos founded one of the countries most successful corporations. His input carries a lot of weight. If such an individual exists within a co-op, he'd probably be selected to function in the same manner. Not likely workers would select a 3rd grade drop-out for a management position when their own company and incomes are at stake...just because he or she has a winning personality.. ..

Our Economikos is a grump...and is highly respected for what he knows. He gets less grumpy every year...perhaps a winning personality will ultimately prevail...and he wasn't elected because of it.

Our Abbot is a whiz of a co-ordinator with spiritual insights that he can assist new monks in developing. . Great Abbot. He too, was elected to the right job.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

polycarp2
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm
Quote Common_Man_Jason:

Uly,

Worker coops exist and are successful. The issues and challenges they face are no bigger or smaller that any other type of company.

Here are the examples I shared in the other thread, just to demonstrate this subject matter isn't a hypothetical conversation.

http://www.chroma.com/

http://www.equalexchange.coop/

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/

http://www.carris.com

http://www.pizzagalli.com

http://www.gardeners.com

http://www.davey.com

http://www.usworker.coop/about/memberlist

They are rare only because they are different and require a different mindset. It is a rapidly growing movement right now, and that's because American culture is rapidly changing right now. People are waking up and realizing they've been robbed and taking back what is rightfully theirs.

I remain skeptical. I can't see how any of this obviates the problems I've outlined. Outsourcing and exportation of jobs have, indeed, caused sea changes in the overall workforce economy. Mostly, people are left with nothing but going out and hustling work, in competition with other people, as service business providers. I can't see this morphing into co-ops. I think it'll just end up with everybody owning/running their own small service businesses as independent contractors. Especially in an economy wherein poverty looms, money will never go out of style, and workers' desperation for money will not be conducive to their banding together in co-ops. I think that's pleasantly wishful thinking.

Ulysses's picture
Ulysses
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

By the way, as Thom Hartmann's book, Unequal Protection, will explain, the only organization that gets 'personhood rights' is the corporation. I guess 'incorporated workers' would be such a corporation, but worker unions are not....

Here's what Thom says about this in one part of his book:

In the 1996 election cycle in the United States, 96 percent of Americans didn't make any direct contribution whatsoever to a politician or political party, and fewer than one-quarter of 1 percent of Americans gave more than $200. By contrast, each of America's top 500 corporations gave over a half-million dollars to the Democrats and Republicans during the decade preceding the 1996 election.

In the 1998 election cycle, which was not even a presidential election year, those corporations contributed $660 million to candidates, while the last remaining organized groups that represent workers--unions, which are not considered persons in the United States and most other countries--were able to pony up only $60 million in campaign contributions raised from their members.

Unions have to operate under the same types of rules and laws that corporations did before 1886, and, in fact, additional restrictions have been placed on them since then. So-called "paycheck protection" legislation is being promoted by corporate lobbyists that would essentially criminalize union contributions to candidates. Unions can't claim free speech the way corporations can because they're not persons like corporations are. And, increasingly, in corporate-controlled nations around the world, unions are being deemed illegal, political, or even labeled as terrorist organizations and ferociously stamped out.

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Kerry
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

As all can see,some capitalists are still trying to stop a very good idea with nothing better and nitpicking.

tayl44's picture
tayl44
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Ulysses wrote: "Especially in an economy wherein poverty looms, money will never go out of style, and workers' desperation for money will not be conducive to their banding together in co-ops. I think that's pleasantly wishful thinking."

---------

Well, if the worker co-ops forming in Boliva and Venezuela are an example...that isn't so.. Workers in Argentina have successfully taken over and operated companies that outsourced production.

A difference is, their governments whole-heartedly support that with advisory assistance, access to capital . and laws making it rather easy to do. Ours doesn't.

Americans have yet to get...that how this country functions doesn't reflect how things function in the entire world. Not all countries are becoming dysfunctional basket cases..

Another way to go, as an adjunct, is co-operative networking among small businesses. Some examples of that are given at the Yes! magazine site.under the auspices of David Korten.

http://www.yesmagazine.org/

Retired Monk "Ideology is a disease"....

polycarp2
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

The best coop movements rise out of poverty.

Common_Man_Jason's picture
Common_Man_Jason
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm
Quote Common_Man_Jason:

The best coop movements rise out of poverty.

That certainly seems to be the case in Latin America. where they are encouraged......outside of the right wing countries.

American farm co-ops began from the same cause....poverty brought about by financier based agricultural price manipulations..

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

polycarp2
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Poly and Jason,you`re responding to a "disease ideology". They have nothing to stand on.

tayl44's picture
tayl44
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

France has already accomplished the same positive ends for workers by allowing a syndicalist economy, which right-wing French politicians have always tried to break up. It entails privately owned businesses all being strong enough to stick up for one another, even when they are in non-competing industries. So, the end result is the same as if there was a national, non-industry-specifice workers' Union, which wouldn't tolerate employers or the government treating any one member unjustly. Traditionally in France, if any such abuses occur, ALL businesses who support the syndicalist economy model simply shut down ALL commerce, period. When the dispute is resolved, society recommences. I don't know if this has been weakened by Sarcosi or not; I don't closely follow French affairs. I do know Sarcosi has supported some reactionary reforms. The syndicalist economy has always benefited French workers in the past.

Ulysses's picture
Ulysses
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

I don't see how that benefits French workers.

Big Oil sticking up for Big Health Ins., and Finance sticking up for Big Ag is a defacto thing in the U.S. The only time they disagree is on how government should be run when one steps on the toes of another. Syndicalism resembles corporate governance, doesn't it?

Not quite the same thing as a work-owned workplace.(which would bring another set of problems).

Ever notice that every solution to a problem carries within it another problem not immediately obvious? Life is more interesting when you solve one and move onto another rather than being hung up in the same old problem for an entire lifespan.

Some problems are fun., like..:"what shall I have for dinner?". That creates the problem of the dirty dishes, the problem of keeping soap in the house to wash them... and how to pay for the dinner. It's a problem- solving event repeated daily. Simple problems. Some are biggies.

We have to begin looking at and solving the biggies. One of those problems is a lack of economic democracy. Participatory Economics. Worker-ownership addresses that....and removes spending 8 hours a day within dictatorships that are expanding their empires to include government..

Worker owned enterprises don't function in the manner of a dictatorship. They are democratic in nature.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

polycarp2
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Poly,"The Syndicate" is another name for the "Mafia",right? Problems are when intentions come up wrong,How can one have problems in solutions? Is going to the bathroom a problem of life? Solution problems are fun! Any problems from economic democracy will be fun.

tayl44's picture
tayl44
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

A non-mafia syndicalism, sound like it could work.I would still rather see a workers-own system.What is the mafia these days,the "Federal Reserve".

tayl44's picture
tayl44
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm
Quote liberalprogressivedemocrat:

Why are Worker Cooperatives So Rare?

That's a good question. Why do YOU think they're so rare?

rbs's picture
rbs
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm
Quote polycarp2:

I don't see how that benefits French workers.

Big Oil sticking up for Big Health Ins., and Finance sticking up for Big Ag is a defacto thing in the U.S. The only time they disagree is on how government should be run when one steps on the toes of another. Syndicalism resembles corporate governance, doesn't it?

Not quite the same thing as a work-owned workplace.(which would bring another set of problems).

Ever notice that every solution to a problem carries within it another problem not immediately obvious? Life is more interesting when you solve one and move onto another rather than being hung up in the same old problem for an entire lifespan.

Some problems are fun., like..:"what shall I have for dinner?". That creates the problem of the dirty dishes, the problem of keeping soap in the house to wash them... and how to pay for the dinner. It's a problem- solving event repeated daily. Simple problems. Some are biggies.

We have to begin looking at and solving the biggies. One of those problems is a lack of economic democracy. Participatory Economics. Worker-ownership addresses that....and removes spending 8 hours a day within dictatorships that are expanding their empires to include government..

Worker owned enterprises don't function in the manner of a dictatorship. They are democratic in nature.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

Syndicalism does NOT resemble corporate governance. Syndicalism is the antithesis of corporate governance because the syndicate is the overall aggregate of workers. It's BECAUSE of the nationwide syndicate of workers that the government and large employers cannot run over them. And no, it's not "the Mafia" (whatever the hell that is these days), either.

Ulysses's picture
Ulysses
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

I will be all for "Syndicalism",if it can protect the workers rights/benefits in this Depression.The Federal Reserve is the "New Mafia".

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tayl44
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

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