Starting Worker-Owned Cooperative Enterprises

Collective Action for Distributing Surplus: Democratizing ownership, management, wage setting, and surplus distribution

In worker-owned cooperatives the workers are the owners and they collectively make decisions about survival payments (i.e. their wages) and how to distribute their surplus. Many cooperatives commit to distributing a set proportion of their surplus to communitiy or environmental initiatives or to the development and support of other cooperatives.

Many businesses start life as cooperatives, including:

The Mondragon Corporation, a network of cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. It was initiatied in the 1956 and today has over 250 companies and almost 100,000 workers

Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, which was founded in 1973 and today has almost 16,000 owner-members.

Sometimes capitalist-owned enterprises transition to worker-owned cooperatives or cooperatives start in response to the closure of capitalist-owned enterprises. Examples include:

Collective Copies in western Massachusetts (in the US)

Dignity Returns in Thailand, a clothing manufacturing cooperative formed in 2003 by around 40 former employees of the Bed and Bath company

FaSinPat ceramics factory in Argentina, which the workers occupied in 2001 when they were threatened with massive redunancies. In 2012 the factory was officially handed over to the worker-owners (even though they had been operating the factory for 11 years)

Goulburn Valley Food Cooperative formed in 2011 as a result of the closure of the Heinz tomato-processing factory in Girgarre, Victoria (Australia)

Soria Moria Hotel in Cambodia.

Overall, the role of cooperatives tends to be underplayed. Yet according to the Global300 Report of 2011, published by the International Co-operative Alliance, the world’s largest 300 cooperatives generated, in 2008, revenue which is comparable to the GDP of the world’s ninth largest economy.  The contribution of cooperatives to people’s well-being was recognised in 2012 by the UN through the International Year of Cooperatives.