The Worker Co-op Movement in 2040: Revisited

Ten years ago, when I was blogging much more regularly, I wrote a series on envisioning the worker co-op movement in 2040. You can read them here. As the Co-op Decade comes to a conclusion over the next couple of weeks, where should the co-op movement in general and the worker co-op movement in particular set its sights?

There is an effort by the Democracy Collaborative to create 50 million worker-owners by 2050. However, this includes worker co-ops (ownership and control of the means of production) as one of several tools. ESOPs will likely be the major driver. As I mentioned in my initial post on this topic in 2010, I will be 76 years old in 2040 and likely not working (although I hope that I am still engaged and writing about co-ops).

I imagined, in 2010, a goal of tripling the number of worker co-ops each decade (I’m nothing if not an optimist). It is always hard to count the number of co-ops in existence, and I am hopeful to see better statistics in this area soon. Olympia definitely met that goal, but on the whole, I am guessing that worker co-ops increased by 50% over the last 10 years, which is still an achievement. I am hoping that the efforts to secure new generations of ownership through the co-op model increase the rate of worker co-op development, and maybe with some of the new plans for capitalization it will ramp up the pace.

I also suggested this crazy (but I think attainable goal):

  • Worker co-operatives will exist in each of the top 150 MSAs in the United States.
  • Worker Co-operatives will account for between 0.5% and 5% of the GDP for the each MSA
  • Worker Co-operatives will be part of the planning documents for the regional and municipal planning departments in at least 1/2 of the top 150 MSA and in all of the MSA’s in which co-ops already existed in 2010.

Although perhaps it would be smarter (and more attainable) to include the Combined Statistical Area that would include a lot more communities such as Olympia and Port Townsend that otherwise would not register high enough as their own MSA. As you might have guessed, I’m still really into “SMART” goals.

Capturing and reporting this data would be, in my opinion, much more valuable than the annual report trumpeting the top 100 co-ops in the country based on revenue. This data would point directly to local community impact. It would help us learn from successful communities and where to put resources more effectively.

I also argued about making cooperatives part of the electoral discussion and we did that in Madison in 2011. It paid off for co-ops and Madison joined the select cities that see worker co-ops as a pathway towards a resilient local economy.

I am glad to see it happening at the presidential level in 2020 and hope that more local and statewide elections start seeing co-op development as a real (and non-partisan) campaign topic. Building local economies through cooperatives is a efficient use of tax payer dollars compared to corporate tax breaks that create a race to the bottom in the attempt to lure “job creators” to the community. Policy makers should create the jobs that will never leave through a worker co-op.

We should all be working to help 50 by 50 meet its goal and to help as many of those organizations either be worker co-ops or democratically worker-controlled as well as worker-owned organizations.

I close with a quote from Don José María Arizmendiarrieta: “The future is never as uncertain as it is believed to be and is more conditioned than may seem to us, not as much for what we lose our interest in as for what we try to adopt and improve according to our taste.” We build the road as we travel and the first step of achieving our goals is to state them.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-op in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the late, great Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle for Sociocracy for All. He has taught on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College and Presidio Graduate School.
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