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Democracy At Work
March 26, 2014 9:39 PM   Subscribe

Who Needs A Boss? "Historically, worker co-ops have held the most appeal when things seem most perilous for laborers. The present is no exception." The New York Times examines the worker co-operative as a model that supports job security and eliminates inequality.
posted by deliciae (43 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's the book I used to send prisoners that asked for books on entrepreneurship or employment when I was still volunteering at the place that sent prisoners books that asked for them.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:00 PM on March 26


Lefties Gar Alperovitz and Richard Wolff (quoted in the article) promote co-ops (etc.) left and right. See:

democracyatwork.info

America Beyond Capitalism

What Then Must We Do?

While I certainly am not opposed to the idea of co-ops in principle, and there are plenty of implementation issues with them, personally I fail to see how they're going to be the vehicle of revolutionary change. I mean, yeah, a co-op bakery is better than a capitalist bakery for its workers, and probably for society.

But this co-op argument is very reminiscent of another debate that took place more than one hundred years ago between Eduard Bernstein and Rosa Luxemberg. Bernstein was a big promoter of co-ops and thought that they and other developments eliminated the need for a socialist seizure of power -- co-ops, etc. would allow a gradualist movement into socialism. Luxemberg and the orthodox Marxists vehemently objected, arguing that co-ops were merely an "attack made on the twigs of the capitalist tree."

Maybe I'm missing something, but modern co-op promotion seems like a rehash of Bernstein's position, and one that is still very vulnerable to Luxemburg's critique.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:06 PM on March 26 [12 favorites]


Alperovitz in the NYT previously viz. co-ops:

The Legacy of the Boomer Boss

Worker-Owners of America, Unite!

Also, Alperovitz and Wolff on the Blue previously.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:23 PM on March 26


Hierarchy gets shit done. It also dicks people over.

Non-hierarchy gets you stuck in a co-op meeting for five hours every Sunday, trying to resist the urge to rip people's fingers off every time they do "jazz hands".

Surely there's a happy medium somewhere.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:44 PM on March 26 [17 favorites]


Neat article, thanks!

An IT firm I worked for turned itself into a co-op. Not only did it work out well, the transition was credited with saving the firm during the recession... because it saved the large expense of paying a CEO.

My personal guess is that just as we now think absolute monarchy is a bafflingly stupid way to run a country, we'll eventually think that absolutist executives are a stupid way to run a company.

The big obstacle is that the people co-ops will get rid of are also the people who make the big decisions. Executives love to fire people, but not themselves. (The company I mentioned took advantage of the CEO's retirement.)
posted by zompist at 10:49 PM on March 26 [9 favorites]


Surely there's a happy medium somewhere.

I like this one:

The oft-proposed remedy for this state of affairs is redistribution — namely, taxing the rich to benefit the poor. Piketty, in fact, proposes a global tax, one that can’t be avoided by private jet.

This is a fantasy non-starter:

…In contrast to those Band-Aids, worker co-ops require no politically unpalatable dictates. And by placing workers’ needs ahead of profits, they address the root cause of economic disparity. “If you don’t want inequality,” says Richard Wolff, the author of “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism,” “don’t distribute income unequally in the first place.”

The problem with insisting that workers be owners is that just because someone is good at baking, it doesn't make them good at investment. If the business goes under, it's one thing to lose your job, but it's a whole other thing to lose your savings (or loan if you're younger and had to borrow against your share) as well.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:51 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Executives love to fire people, but not themselves.

No one likes to fire people.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:52 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I beg to differ esprit de l'escalier. See Albert "Chainsaw" Dunlap of Sunbeam infamy.

More to compost's point, only in the incestuous and nepotistic world of high finance and the C-suite, is failure rewarded. Proles on the other hand, are shown the door in the harsh "meritocracy" of "capitalism."
posted by robotmonkeys at 11:41 PM on March 26 [6 favorites]


The Rosa Luxemberg critique seems a lot like the traditional Marxist critique of co-ops, expressed in "Critique of the Gotha Programme". The theory was that in a capitalist system, competition would inevitably lower the wages of all workers: despite their best intentions, co-ops would be forced into lowering wages to poverty levels or close down.

However, I don't think that's a powerful critique today. The shift from Labour theories of value to Marginalist theories of value suggests theoretically that that race to the bottom might not happen. The evidence seems to be that the tendency is for the rate of profit to rise, not fall as many Marxists expected. If so, co-ops should be able to capture that profit for the workers, and keep doing so in the long term.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:16 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


The problem with insisting that workers be owners is that just because someone is good at baking, it doesn't make them good at investment.

But surely this is true of any entrepreneurial venture? And it doesn't seem like there is anything intrinsic to a co-op that would preclude hiring someone with some specialized knowledge, whether that's in investment or in running a particular piece of equipment. Indeed, from the article: "Another persistent critique is that workers don’t have enough experience to make good management decisions. Some co-ops solve this problem just as other businesses do, by buying expertise they don’t already have."
posted by en forme de poire at 12:21 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


I've always thought Mondragon is a cool name. (It's the huge co-op in Spain mentioned in the article, with 80K workers and revenue of about 14.081 billion € (in 2012).)

One small wing of it, Fagor, got wiped out what with the Spanish economy, but the rest seems to be doing ok.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:28 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


But surely this is true of any entrepreneurial venture? And it doesn't seem like there is anything intrinsic to a co-op that would preclude hiring someone with some specialized knowledge, whether that's in investment or in running a particular piece of equipment.

Yes, exactly. And what will you pay this outside person with specialized investment knowledge? A part of your profits. This person is called a shareholder. What you're describing is selling part of your company, which is fine once you have a company.

The real problem is starting the company in the first place. You want the workers to be part owners, which means that they have to invest their capital. That's fine if you have money and you're willing to take the chance. What if you either don't have capital, or have a family and can't tolerate the risk. What if you're 20 years old and have no idea whether a business venture is a good idea? How do you start a co-op then?

If you're thinking, get a loan, then the bank is your "manager" and the bank can fire the lot of you.

The whole problem comes back to allocating resources. You need to have capital to own things, including businesses.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:36 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


It's seemed to me for a long time that there exists a "best of both worlds" version of a combination of Marxism and competitive capitalism. The workers should own the companies they're a part of, and these companies should compete on the open market. There's no Soviet-style central, planned economy -- it's just companies-owned-by-their-workers doing their best. Similarly, there's no virtual king/aristocracy (a.k.a. CEO/executives) within any single company. Everyone has an ownership stake in how the company performs, and everyone has a place at the decision-making table. But because we're just talking about individual companies and not a whole planned economy, open-market competition still drives innovation and efficiency.

The hard/unrealistic part of this vision is getting there. As esprit de l'escalier pointed out, you have to have a ton of capital and be willing to take serious risk with it in order to become a significant stakeholder in a company. Somehow, it should be possible to collectivize that capital/risk among the workers, but it's hard to imagine a system or agent that could accomplish/administer this collectivization-of-capital-and-risk not being just as vulnerable to corruption as the very systems we're unhappy with now.

All that said, I do certainly hope we see more and more worker-owned co-ops making it big. It's just hard for me to see how this kind of thing could ever be anything more than a boutique/niche thing that happens in an incredibly weird economy like that of the SF Bay Area. I genuinely hope I'm wrong to be so pessimistic.
posted by treepour at 1:07 AM on March 27


Yes, exactly. And what will you pay this outside person with specialized investment knowledge? A part of your profits. This person is called a shareholder. What you're describing is selling part of your company, which is fine once you have a company.

There are quite a few ways to structure a coop. Usually shareholders are known as members. They act like shareholders, but they each only have one share. You can see how that changes the dynamics.

The members can hire an employee with specialized skills at an hourly rate like any other corporation.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:35 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]


The real problem is starting the company in the first place. You want the workers to be part owners, which means that they have to invest their capital. That's fine if you have money and you're willing to take the chance. What if you either don't have capital, or have a family and can't tolerate the risk. What if you're 20 years old and have no idea whether a business venture is a good idea? How do you start a co-op then?

No - ideally, you want the workers to be full owners that both own the business and work at it. Co-ops are co-ops because of how they are owned, not because of how they operate. Without a viable business, you don'[t have a co-op either. If someone can't take the chance or the risk or has no money at all, unfortunately they don't have the means to start a cooperatively owned or any other kind of business. But those circumstances are not a deficiency of the cooperative model.

If you are 20 and don't know how to start a co-op, there are lots of organizations that will help you do that, like the US Federation of Worker Coops or Cooperation Texas or WAGES or the Center for Workplace Democracy (full disclosure: I am a board member for CWD.) One of the cooperative principles is cooperation among co-ops, and there are many orgs out there that take that to heart.

And if you are starting a co-op, yes, you need to figure out how to come up with the capital to do that. Members will come up with a large portion of it, but there are funding sources that are not commercial banks like The Working World or Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund. Sometimes you get grants and sometimes you take out straight up loans, but these are funders who work exclusively with co-ops and are invested in seeing them succeed.
posted by deliciae at 1:45 AM on March 27 [8 favorites]


Yes, exactly. And what will you pay this outside person with specialized investment knowledge? A part of your profits. This person is called a shareholder. What you're describing is selling part of your company, which is fine once you have a company.

There are quite a few ways to structure a coop. Usually shareholders are known as members. They act like shareholders, but they each only have one share. You can see how that changes the dynamics.

The members can hire an employee with specialized skills at an hourly rate like any other corporation.


That's fine, but the person that you cannot "hire" is the one who funds your company. Who buys the land and equipment? Who pays for the goods that you will sell? That person is the "owner" and for him to take a chance with his money, he will want most of the profits.

Of course you can collectivize ownership, but then each worker has to bring in their own capital. What I am saying is that many people don't have that kind of money lying around and even if they do, putting all of their money into their job might not be a smart business decision.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:46 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


No - ideally, you want the workers to be full owners that both own the business and work at it… Sometimes you get grants and sometimes you take out straight up loans, but these are funders who work exclusively with co-ops and are invested in seeing them succeed.

Right, you want them to be full owners, but if they're taking loans, then they're not really full owners are they?

Anyway, I'm all for co-ops. I think there some people are more motivated by upside and this can be a good idea for them. I don't think it's a good idea for most people in general to have their savings tied up at work. Besides being extremely stressful for some people, it can also put them and their families at risk.

(If you're imagining someone who is jointly a full owner of a successful company without tying up her savings at work, then you're imagining someone who's very rich.)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:53 AM on March 27


If you are 20 and don't know how to start a co-op, there are lots of organizations that will help you do that…

What I was saying was that if you're 20, you probably don't know anything about business. You are going to buy a share of a bakery or a restaurant and it will fail and you (or your family) is out a lot of money. People who invest in companies have a lot of experience investing in companies and seeing which fail and which don't. Yes, they take a lot of profits, but they take the risk. What would you say to your child who asks to borrow $50k for a share of a business or else he's going to the bank to get it?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:57 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


esprit de l'escalier, this reminds me of the proverbial aeronautical engineer arguing that a bumblebee can't actually fly.

Right, you want them to be full owners, but if they're taking loans, then they're not really full owners are they?

Then the coop pays off the loan from the banker, credit union, cooperative development fund, etc. and it's all good right? Is there a deeper basis to your argument here that that I'm not seeing?
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:10 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Right, you want them to be full owners, but if they're taking loans, then they're not really full owners are they?

If they are taking loans, they are still full owners in the same way that the owner of esprit de l'escalier's awesome privately owned business still owns the business if a loan is taken out. You have to pay it back, of course, but as long as you are doing that, the bank is not the owner of your business, just an entity you owe money to as a cost of doing business. Same thing for a cooperatively owned business. Co-ops have all the same business expenses as any other kind of business: payroll, taxes, loan repayments, suppliers, accountants, lawyers, whatever.

What I was saying was that if you're 20, you probably don't know anything about business. You are going to buy a share of a bakery or a restaurant and it will fail and you (or your family) is out a lot of money. People who invest in companies have a lot of experience investing in companies and seeing which fail and which don't. Yes, they take a lot of profits, but they take the risk. What would you say to your child who asks to borrow $50k for a share of a business or else he's going to the bank to get it?

Personally, I wouldn't give my imaginary 20 year old $50K to start with, because my family is not in the asset class where that amount is available to risk. But if they wanted to start the business anyway, I would expect them to hustle and figure out how to do it. And if they mess up, they will have to figure out how to handle that - you're an adult at age 20. I'm still not seeing how this is a problem of co-ops, though.
posted by deliciae at 2:25 AM on March 27 [10 favorites]


I think co-ops are potentially at least as good as conventional enterprises (they don't have to have unconventional management arrangements), but they tend to get driven out, not so much by survival of the fittest as by by a Gresham's Law (bad money drives out good) kind of thing.

It is diffciult to get a good co-op started unless you have a philanthropic capitalist like John Lewis to get it all together and then give it away. And once going, the co-op is vulnerable to shitheads like the carpet-baggers who nearly eradicated the British non-profit building societies once they found out they could sell off these socially useful and successful enterprises into conventional shareholder ownership and each walk away with a miniscule cash profit right now!!!
posted by Segundus at 3:31 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


All management jobs consist of a collection of small tasks, like scheduling, demand predicting, hiring, payroll, etc., that remain largely unrelated. We should replace as many such small tasks as possible with software, like automating scheduling through collaborative software.

In this way, coops strike a "happy medium" by avoiding most time wasting "jazz hands" meeting entirely, MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch, the software provides a constrained format that avoids all the drama, slow talkers, etc.

Also, companies can employ similar tools to grow larger without as much hierarchical management. We observe this with software developers now where tools like version control and bug trackers keep authority over the developer's daily activities resting with the developer. As a result, we've developed models where software development has much more limited boss roles, ala tech lead and project manager.

We'll soon eliminate more cruddy low-wage jobs through automation, which absolutely makes the world a better place, but.. Ideally, we should focus on eliminating the control jobs that create inequality, like management, administration, finance, advertising, etc. too.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:35 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


No one likes to fire people.

Have you renamed the stock market to 'no one' because investors love the hell out of firing people. Hell they would probably reward a company for laying off more employees than they actually have if it were possible. I imagine it would be an innovative program called something like 'constrained excellence' or 'overclocking the future'.
posted by srboisvert at 4:58 AM on March 27 [9 favorites]


worker co-ops require no politically unpalatable dictates

Assuming you're all about the same age, same family state and income level. That's no knock on co-ops and I think much of the work we do can and should be organized that way. As a web developer, I've seen a number of people come together in small groups to form companies "organically", finding each other on Twitter and getting together after realizing they not only compliment one another but get along well. I don't think the trick to co-ops is knowing about investing in addition to your skill. It's managing relationships.

As what will hopefully be a short example, my wife and I started a business with another couple and one other friend a few years back. It's still going really well as far as we know. But we're not there anymore because it wasn't worth the inter-personal strife. We kicked ass and worked incredibly hard for a couple of years and when we stopped and looked up we realized we were constantly fighting with each other and we were fighting because after two years the other three people had gotten used to us kicking ass and just kept dialing back and doing less because we would always pick up the slack. When we walked away and left our investment dollars with them along with two years of labor, they were furious. The problem with starting a co-op is everyone puts on their best face at the start. And everyone is happy to look at blueprints of the future. I want to know who's going to clean the grease trap a year after the kitchen is built.

Have you renamed the stock market to 'no one' because investors love the hell out of firing people.

There have been a couple of responses to esprit de l'escalier but none of them took what I understood his point to be: no one likes doing that face-to-face. You can mention all sorts of corporate ax men and "Fred the Shred"s but those people, like the investors you mention, did that to faceless non-entities. They cut line items from balance sheets, not livelihoods from people they know. At our old business I got to be the hammer with every vendor because I was capable of having tough conversations and being direct. At some point I believe our co-owners thought I enjoyed the task (not that they cared), but I never did. It sucks, but it has to be done. The general problem is finding people who accept the dirty work and can handle it. And then addressing the Free Rider problem.
posted by yerfatma at 7:28 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Re: endless meetings:

Efficient, effective, and democratic collective decision-making is a skill. It's a skill that many people don't get trained in, nor much practice with, since most of our institutions don't actually use democratic collective decision-making. We go through grade school with a boss telling us what to do. We go through university or trade school with a boss telling us what to do. Most people spend much of their lives at work with a boss telling them what to do. Our major experience with "democracy" is voting, which, given the withering away of the caucus system, does not actually involve getting together with our fellow citizens and working things out to make some decisions collectively and democratically (instead, we've been turned into political consumers, making a choice between a small number of options that someone else has decided to make available to us). It shouldn't be terribly surprising that many people are unpracticed and not particularly good at this skill.

But if we think of it as a skill to be learned, like accounting or scheduling or other skills that worker-owners may have workshops to help themselves develop, then it's easy enough to acquire. I've attended meetings where we debated exact wording of documents among six or eight people in a democratic, everyone participates sort of way - oh dread, no? - that went efficiently, were super productive, and were quite fun and interesting. Everyone present had good facilitation and consensus-building skills, and stayed on task (in part because we were voluntarily associating to work on a task that we all felt was worthwhile, not annoying busywork like a standard, hierarchically structured work meeting might be).

Comparing apples to apples, I find organizations run democratically by people who have the proper skills to be far more engaging and pleasant to be involved with than organizations run hierarchically by people who have the proper skills, though in general any situation where people have the proper skill set to accomplish it tends to be less frustrating than situations where people are trying to do things that they don't have the proper skill set for. Likewise, I find that the organizations that I've been involved in that make decisions democratically, and where people have the proper skill set to do so, make far better, more robust, and ultimately more efficient (though it's slower to start) decisions than those run hierarchically.

But having the necessary skill set makes a difference. An introductory book on this topic that I'd recommend is Breaking Robert's Rules by Susskind and Cruikshank.
posted by eviemath at 7:59 AM on March 27 [14 favorites]


Most of this conversation seems to be about whether or not co-ops can operate as effectively as non-cooperative businesses. Few of the things are being brought up, however, are particular to co-ops. Other businesses can have poor management and have too many meetings; co-ops can be run very hierarchically and have few meetings.

Within walking distance of me is a co-op bookstore, a co-operative credit union, a co-operative retail store, and a co-operative grocery that sells beer and food from co-operative producers in the area, and several co-operative housing units. They all seem to be doing well; the ones I was involved in managed millions of dollars in investments and all had different management/business practices. Sure, the beer producers might have consensus meetings (and I'm just guessing), but the retailer doesn't.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:39 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Like eviemath says, business and democracy are comprised of learnable skills. Because we have so many co-ops in the area, those skills are circulating in the community. Some of these co-ops have been open for 20, 30, 40 years so we have a trained workforce who can train others.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:50 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Non-hierarchy gets you stuck in a co-op meeting for five hours every Sunday, trying to resist the urge to rip people's fingers off every time they do "jazz hands".

The problem with insisting that workers be owners is that just because someone is good at baking, it doesn't make them good at investment.


These all demonstrate an interesting assumption that…I wouldn't say it's the heart of the problem, but it's definitely, like, the lungs or liver or something else vital--which is that the relationship between management and labor has become (has been pushed to be) antagonistic.

People who maintain the overhead of a company--managers, accountants, HR, etc.--are workers. They are doing a kind of labor that requires certain skills. Their wages are much, much closer to those of the people they manage than owners or executives. There's no reason why, in setting up a worker's co-op, you wouldn't choose someone to be the one doing the day-to-day work of settling interpersonal disputes, directing the division of responsibilities for certain projects, etc., or someone else to manage investments and payroll. The difference is that instead of being accountable to ownership--an ownership that will play management and non-management workers off of each other at any opportunity, because each are equally disposable from their perspective--they are accountable to their fellow workers.
posted by kagredon at 9:01 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Hierarchy gets shit done. It also dicks people over.

And this is exactly the problem with hierarchy: the "hidden" costs of its supposed efficiency and practicality. Dicking people (not to mention the environment) over ends up creating all sorts of problems later on down the line that cause all manner of heartache and damage and disfunctionality to sociey and the world. But that doesn't get taken into account - only that Thing A got done in 10 minutes.

Hierarchy, like capitalism, is only efficient when you accept the conditions it has already pre-determined. It doesn't "get shit done" without creating a lot more shit to clean up later.
posted by jammy at 9:15 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


“A person’s life is an accumulation of time – just one hour is equivalent to a person’s life. Employees provide their precious hours of life to the company, so we have to use it effectively, otherwise, we are wasting their life.” - Eiji Toyoda (via a comment here)
posted by jeffburdges at 9:59 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


As far as needing people with other skills, "co-op" doesn't mean "everyone does the same work". The bakery can have one of the people with accounting skills do the books for $24/hr instead of making dough for $24/hr, right? There's this assumption that you can't find people with certain skill sets unless you pay them way more than everyone else. That's somewhat true, but instead of "people will always want the job that pays more" the truth is more like "people will always want the job that pays more, given that all the available jobs are emotionally empty and meaningless and involve working for a company you don't really believe in." Plenty of people would sacrifice some income in return for being part of a supportive group and a chance at a slice of profits. How much? I don't know.

Also no one has really mentioned that at least some consumers place a value on the ethics of the organizations from which they buy. So just by being a co-op you may be improving business prospects.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:51 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


No one likes to fire people.

Have you renamed the stock market to 'no one' because investors love the hell out of firing people. Hell they would probably reward a company for laying off more employees than they actually have if it were possible. I imagine it would be an innovative program called something like 'constrained excellence' or 'overclocking the future'.


No one enjoys firing people. People fire people as a matter of business. Of course people invest in companies that make good business decisions which can mean hiring people or firing people.

I also think you knew that I was reeling in zompist's ridiculous hyperbole, and I don't think it's polite to pretend to be obtuse.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:01 PM on March 27


Comparing apples to apples, I find organizations run democratically by people who have the proper skills to be far more engaging and pleasant to be involved with than organizations run hierarchically by people who have the proper skills, though in general any situation where people have the proper skill set to accomplish it tends to be less frustrating than situations where people are trying to do things that they don't have the proper skill set for. Likewise, I find that the organizations that I've been involved in that make decisions democratically, and where people have the proper skill set to do so, make far better, more robust, and ultimately more efficient (though it's slower to start) decisions than those run hierarchically.


This isn't at all my experience. Meetings run "democratically" focus on building consensus. That's great when you can easily have consensus, but it can be difficult and time-consuming to do. A good organization puts good leaders in charge, which means that usually good decisions are made quickly.

Another advantage is that when something goes wrong, there is someone in charge to take the take the blame. In a democratic system, whom do you remove when there's problem?

There's a reason why "democratic companies" haven't taken off.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:12 PM on March 27


Few of the things are being brought up, however, are particular to co-ops.

Jazz hands? :)
posted by deliciae at 6:55 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Esprit de l'escalier, you assert Meetings run "democratically" focus on building consensus. That may have been so in [jazz hands] 1975, but it's just not true now.

Consensus decision making works when all involved have a high commitment to a common good upon whose dimensions they all agree. This explains its durability in the Society of Friends (Quakers), where it's a matter of religious faith. Very few organizations can rely on that level of commitment, and so they use other decision-making techniques.

I speak as someone who's been a member of and employee at a coop restaurant, lived in coop housing, worked at a coop garage, currently preferentially shop at coop supermarkets, preferentially travel my town in a coop cab company, and I'm probably forgetting one. I helped design a successful "modified consensus" decision making model in 1977.

One reason I believe coops are democratic is the leveling result of one-member, one-vote power structure, as opposed to the one-share, one-vote of shareholding corporations. Every worker at the cab coop, for example, has one vote to select executive committee members who run the day-to-day. Executive committee members select a GM. GM and exec comm members can be subject to recall.
posted by Jesse the K at 4:49 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


What's a "modified consensus decision making model"?

One reason I believe coops are democratic is the leveling result of one-member, one-vote power structure, as opposed to the one-share, one-vote of shareholding corporations. Every worker at the cab coop, for example, has one vote to select executive committee members who run the day-to-day. Executive committee members select a GM. GM and exec comm members can be subject to recall.

Both co-ops and corporations are one share, one vote. The difference is that co-ops force workers to own shares, which I am pointing out isn't always in their best interest.

You might also want to consider that if you've been preferentially selecting co-ops, that co-ops aren't inherently more ethical than a family-run business, or a single owner business, or a corporation — that is, that your selectivity might really be misguided charity.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:47 PM on March 29


There are interesting "democratic companies" around, esprit de l'escalier. At one friend's employer they elect the CEO, etc. because the owners trusts his employees to choose management wisely.

We need democratic decision-making that frees us from all the corrupt abusive "skills" that thrive in hierarchical decision-making, so declaring that "democratic collective decision-making is a skill" worries me too, eviemath.

We need codification that reduces the social manipulation skills required to operate organizations. In particular, there are many opportunities to mediated decision-making with a combination of software and openly explained ideology, ala wikipedia.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:10 PM on March 31


Some other Alperovitz-affiliated websites:

pluralistcommonwealth.org

community-wealth.org

democracycollaborative.org
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:28 AM on April 1


How it Feels to Be an Engineer in the Corporate World
posted by jeffburdges at 2:45 PM on April 1


A good organization puts good leaders in charge, which means that usually good decisions are made quickly.

Why is this quality - "made quickly" - desirable? What conditions exist to make this desirable?

Another advantage is that when something goes wrong, there is someone in charge to take the take the blame.

Why is this quality - "someone in charge to take the take the blame" - desirable? What conditions exist to make this desirable?
posted by jammy at 4:52 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


Both co-ops and corporations are one share, one vote. The difference is that co-ops force workers to own shares, which I am pointing out isn't always in their best interest.

This is not true.
posted by jammy at 4:54 PM on April 1


Both co-ops and corporations are one share, one vote. The difference is that co-ops force workers to own shares, which I am pointing out isn't always in their best interest.

This is not true.


Did you read the article? We're talking about co-ops where the members are all part owners:
In a worker co-op, the workers own the business and decide what to do with the profits (as opposed to consumer co-ops, which are typically stores owned by members who shop at a discount).
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:25 PM on April 1


David Graeber: Caring too much. That's the curse of the working classes. Why has the basic logic of austerity been accepted by everyone? Because solidarity has come to be viewed as a scourge

More about Graeber: David "Debt" Graeber evicted, implicates NYPD intelligence, claims revenge-harassment for OWS participation
posted by homunculus at 1:14 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


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