Along with a couple of my co-founders of a worker cooperative developing an indoor playground and cafe, I am currently taking a course entitled “Small Business: The Fundamentals” through our local small business development council. As part of the 20-hour course, the instructors go over the types of legal entities an entrepreneur should consider utilizing for her/his business. There are really only six different basic legal structures to a business of which I am aware: sole proprietor, partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), C corporation, S corporation, and cooperative, so it’s extremely unfortunate that the cooperative model isn’t even discussed in a so-called “Fundamentals” business class.
Since our local small business development council doesn’t see enough value in worker cooperatives to spend 5 minutes of the 20-hour course discussing them, why did we decide to pursue this business structure from the very beginning?
Speaking purely for myself, I had many reasons. At the time it was first suggested during our early planning discussions, I had only a passing familiarity with what worker cooperatives were (primarily from being a regular listener to Democracy Now!). I knew that worker cooperatives involved profit sharing and democratic management, and I knew that I philosophically agreed with those principals. I also knew that, with our business model, being a worker cooperative made good business sense.
Our business will rely very heavily on the passion, skills, and longevity of our workers. This is not necessarily true for all business models (especially those whose entire “competitive advantage” is based on being cheaper than “the other guy” – an absolutely horrid concept in my opinion, but that’s the basis of much of our economic system). Being a worker cooperative will allow us to attract and retain great people. It’s that simple.
There are numerous other reasons we initially and ultimately decided to found our business as a worker cooperative. But for me, it really came down to something very simple and very personal.
I have never been a particularly positive person (according to our business “Fundamentals” course, entrepreneurs are supposed to be ultra-positive personality types, so I guess I’m already breaking the rules). From a young age, I was aware of the tremendous suffering and injustice in the world, and it has always bothered me at a very personal level. When my first son was born, I had a real crisis about all this. How could I raise a child into this world that could be so horrible and which had made me so very sad so much of the time? I am quite literally incapable of describing in words just how much I love my children, and I have continued to struggle with these questions throughout their lives so far.
For me, starting a worker cooperative wasn’t just good business sense. It was a way to prove to my children – and to myself – that a better world is possible. It’s not all suffering and injustice. A better world is possible, and we can make it so.