Today is a big day. Today, Louder Than Ten Industries Inc. hands over operations to Louder Than Ten Workers’ Cooperative. That means Abby, Rachel, and I are equal partners. It also means new employees have the opportunity to purchase a stake and join us as an equal partner. We know this might sound like a questionable decision to many of you—especially to owners and consultants in our industry. We’re here to tell you that aside from being a more equitable and moral way of doing business, it’s also more practical, sustainable, productive, and financially secure. We’re gonna tell you why.
In a region of 5 million people, there are 4000 co-operative businesses, that employ 250,000 people – just under a quarter of the entire workforce. The co-op movement in ER goes back to the mid 19th century, with roots in the workers’ mutual aid societies, and many of the early ones are still strong today. It wasn’t a reaction to capitalism. The co-op movement developed alongside capitalism. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit, but also a propensity to do things together – creating associations, unions, co-ops, credit unions etc. There’s joint purchasing and lobbying, collective bargaining etc. There’s a sense that ‘we have to solve problems together’ rather than as individuals.
The longest-ever factory in Italian history is taking place in Florence where the 300 workers are now making progress at turning it into a worker-owned non-profit that would pay the employees and produce products that would benefit the community. Should the workers succeed, it could provide an inspiration for others. For three years workers at the former automotive parts factory, GKN Florence, were in limbo. According to Investigative Reporting Project Italy, in 2018 GKN was purchased by the British hedge fund Melrose, which went about enacting its motto of “buy, improve, sell.”
Mt. Airy, Ohio - Katie McGoron founded Shine Nurture Center — a childcare and preschool in Mt. Airy, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati — in 2015. She envisioned a small, closely knit childcare center where kids would play outside and eat healthy food. That’s exactly what she built over the last seven years. But when she decided to go back to school and start a new phase of her life, she did something unexpected. Rather than sell her business to the highest bidder, she sold it to five of her workers, turning it into a worker cooperative. The transition process concluded last month when ownership was officially transferred from McGoron to Shine workers, thanks in large part to the help of Co-op Cincy.
On your first day working at Taharka Brothers, a majority-Black-owned ice cream maker in Baltimore, you can join the flavor committee and help create flavors like the limited holiday edition Sweet Potato Crumble. Or you can join the social justice committee and vet local organizations to support through ice cream sales, like the Baltimore Action Legal Team. If none of those are to your liking, there are other committees you can join. If you work there for at least 15 months and earn top marks on your most recent performance review, you can become a part-owner of Taharka Brothers, and have not just a say but also a final vote on major business decisions and policies like those performance reviews.
On this week’s show, Professor Wolff explains that in countries where the government is respected and empowered, such as New Zealand, Taiwan and Cuba, among others, the COVID-19 pandemic has been effectively contained. Alternately, where the government is demonized, disrespected and distrusted, such as in the UK and the US, the pandemic has been devastating. Prof. Wolff argues that a rational economy includes both private businesses (regulated by the government to different degrees) and state-owned and operated enterprises, depending on which performs best to meet the needs of society. Moreover, besides the question who owns certain enterprises, the way in which they are internally organized (hierarchically or horizontally / worker-owned) is equally important.
While we have no way to know yet the full extent of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, by all accounts it could be as bad — if not far worse — than the 2008 crash. In fact, in terms of unemployment alone, the numbers are already staggering: more than 33 million jobs have been lost so far in the U.S. during the coronavirus shutdowns, compared to the roughly 8.6 million lost in the Great Recession. Following that crisis, many working people turned to the worker cooperative model as a way to build economic resiliency and stability for themselves. In the decade after 2008, the number of worker-owned cooperatives in the United States nearly doubled, increasing from 350 to 600. I know, because I am a member of one of those cooperatives that formed: The TESA Collective, which creates tools and games for social change.