Worker-Owned Companies can Save Capitalism

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We’re all well aware of the harm caused by the box-box retailers on local communities and their international suppliers; indeed, the people hurt the most are the workers. As a result of the pressures of large multinational corporations mixed with poor working conditions an old solution is gaining new traction. Worker-owned corporative corporations help deal with the profit-focused multinationals by empowering workers to be focussed on the economic sustainability of the company. Worker-owned co-ops are brewing in popularity amongst employees and entrepreneurs who don’t want the companies they built to fail.

“We are in a wave of growth right now,”, Hoover says. Worker-owned cooperatives, she says, have undergone several major “waves” over the last 40 years, each fueled by a different goal. In the 1970s, many newly formed cooperatives were tied to people desiring a counter-cultural lifestyle outside of traditional economies, but today, Hoover observes that more co-ops are being formed in response to economic stressors. “People don’t feel secure at their jobs anymore, and having ownership of something gives them security,” Hoover says. And some aging baby boomers implement co-op models as a way to keep their businesses open after retirement — by transferring ownership to employees.

Similar cooperatives have secured comparable benefits for staff. Whereas the state of Oregon’s minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, Blue Scorcher offers a flat wage of around $15 to $16 per hour including tips. At Austin’s Black Star Co-op brewery, employees start at around $12 per hour and receive pay increases after three months to $13.10 per hour — nearly twice the state’s standard minimum wage. Employees can pursue additional raises if they work towards a role on the managerial-level governing body called the Workers Assembly, which comprises roughly half of the brewery staff. In addition to the living wage, Black Star gives all employees paid time off, and staffers, regardless of their leadership role, are also empowered in the decision-making process. “We operate democratically, so there’s no one person making decisions,” says Black Star business team leader Jodi Mozeika.

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Using Food to Better the World

The West End Food Co-op in Toronto is looking to incorporate food production and consumption into bettering their local neighbourhood.

The West End Food Co-op has 500 members so far, including 20 farmers. Dinner expects another 1,500 to sign up by the end of next year. (Membership costs only $5.) Until their first general meeting, there won’t be an operating plan. But, they have some basic ideas of how it will work:

• The kitchen will be used as a mini processing plant for farmers’ excess product, so vegetable farmers can drop off extra bushels of tomatoes and the co-op cooks will stew them into pasta sauce, label them and sell them in the store, for example.

Twice a week, the kitchen will be used for community programming, teaching Parkdale groups how to cook and preserve. In exchange for a break in the rent, the Community Health Centre upstairs expects to hold workshops here.

The prices in the co-op will be more expensive than No Frills, to ensure the farmers make enough to remain on the farm. Since Parkdale is a poorer part of town, the co-op will distribute “co-op bucks” to its community partners, like the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre. The Parkdale Community Health Centre plans to fundraise to buy “co-op bucks” for its clients.

The members will decide what to do with any profit the co-op makes, whether to invest in a new freezer or pay for another community program.

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