When Workers Own & Direct the Workplace – It’s Better Than a Labor Union!

When Workers Own & Direct the Workplace – It’s Better Than a Labor Union!

Unions and worker co-ops

The struggle between capitalist owners and workers never seems to end. But, how would it be different if workers owned and directed the enterprise at which they work? Prof. Richard D. Wolff lays it out…

Labor unions are good for the middle class. Worker owned co-ops are better.

Gaining & Losing Worker Benefits

When labor unions successfully gain worker benefits, business owners retaliate by striving to scale them back. Over time, bit by bit, wealthy corporations may influence government legislation in order to dilute worker benefits and to weaken labor unions.

“Fifty years ago,
nearly a third of U.S. workers belonged to a union.
Today, it’s one in 10.”
50 Years of Shrinking Union Membership, in One Map | NPR

The Labor Movement

Do you like the 40-hour work week and weekends? Do you hate child labor? Thank the labor unions. Check out the dramatic history of the American labor movement in the following video:

When employment conditions get too bad, yet another labor movement will manifest to renew the fight for worker rights. For example, today we have Fight for $15, a growing force that supports higher wages and union rights for underpaid workers. The group says, “It began in 2012 when two hundred fast-food workers walked off the job to demand $15/hr and union rights in New York City.” Correlating with the labor movement revival, retail giant Target recently announced that its minimum worker wage will reach $15/hr by 2020.

And so it goes. Labor is gaining a bit of momentum right now. However, the struggle between owners and employees will never end.

But there is another way.

Enter: The Worker Co-op

How is it different when workers own and direct the workplace? A vicious cycle is broken, and you no longer need labor unions to represent the interests of workers. Economist Prof. Richard D. Wolff lays it out in the video below…

“How can the Labor movement and the Worker Co-op movement help each other in their fight for workplace democracy? Economist Richard Wolff examines.” ~ Richard Wolff Briefly

Building a Strong Democracy

Worker owned and directed co-ops also strengthen national democracy. When people experience the procedures of on-the-job democracy, they become more savvy about the larger political sphere.

Co-op workers are less likely to fall for corporate and political party propaganda in terms of fair wages, worker safety, human rights, and environmental protections. After all, they are accustomed to making decisions that involve such issues and how their workplace intersects with the local community.

While building a profitable enterprise, co-op workers/owners/decision-makers are free to consider options that protect people and their quality-of-life. They can opt for healthy profits, instead of excessive profits, in order to promote the well-being of workers and their community at large.

In short, co-op workers acquire real experience dealing with real choices within a real democratic process. It makes them wise citizens.

Solutions to Problems


Written by
JoAnn Chateau
  • Love this article, JoAnn. There exists a deep hole on the Constitution of the U.S., and that hole is where the clause forbidding the marriage of government and corporations (fascism) should have been. Yes, workers (who create the wealth) realized this in the 30s and 40s and built strong worker unions in order to claim what they rightfully deserved–a living wage, safe working conditions and family friendly benefits. Unions were the the very reason for the rise of a strong middle class.

    (I’m sure I’m not saying anything that you do not already know.)

    But bigger money fought back. A great book that lays out the history of this corporatist counterattack, published recently, is NANCY MacLEAN’s DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Perhaps you’ve already read it and/or mentioned it on this site. I’ve had little time to peruse your articles as I’m currently busy advocating for equal rights (astonishing how many Americans don’t want it) and other progressive causes as well as writing another novel.

    It is clear to me that, sadly, the only way to defeat rabid corporatism (free market capitalism) and the ongoing slide backward to pre worker-union days is to somehow bring conservative and many liberal American workers to understand that the government must be stripped of corporate/private financial influence (remove the financial incentive to run for office). We’ve been propagandized and nurtured for the past century to think that collective ownership—socialism—is tantamount to old Soviet Union style communism instead of an existential expansion democracy, and with the advent of popular, entertainment-laced propaganda networks (thriving under the guise of “free speech) such as Fox “News” and Sinclair, the ideological divide has become a deep and growing chasm.

    And since the rise of the neoconservatives—with their Friedman-Buchanan-Straussian political ideology of a Machiavellian ends justifies the means, a Nietzschean will to power should be one’s primary motivational force, and a Randian Objectivism that says one’s actions are rational only when the actions benefit one’s self interest over the interest of others—and their implementation under Reagan of supply-side economics (the mechanism by which the collective wealth of the working class is being redistributed upward to the already wealthy) the slid into corporatocracy/oligarchy has quickened even more. Now, we have our very own modern day Romanov family (i.e., the Trumps), happily and profitably greasing the slide.

    In any case, I need to research the structure and nature of the employee ownership aspect as well. It seems to me that such a business (of any large size) would still somehow have to protect itself from the rise of political factions within the company—from those who might feel that they should be making more money than anyone else, above and beyond that which was codified by contract. After all, we are still mainly self-interested beings. For most, empathy and justice are not our primary motivating forces. Perhaps building a just and lasting employee ownership system might begin with a concept akin John Rawls, Veil of Ignorance?

    • Thank you, Max, for taking time from your busy schedule to read this post and to submit a truly substantial comment. Agreed, first thing, we must strip corporate/private financial influence from our politics. Trumps as modern day Romanov family: ha, great comparison! In your opinion, may an American “Bolshevik” revolt soon route them out? If you haven’t already read it, economist Richard Wolff comprehensively covers worker owned & directed enterprise in “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.” Unlike Wolff’s sardonic speaking style, the book is dry reading. I recommend it for its substance, and it isn’t too long. Enjoy the The Season!

    • P.S. I just placed a hold at my public library on NANCY MacLEAN’s “DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” Thanks for the recommendation!

  • I can see that any administration would not like the advent of worker owned and directed businesses because they could not control them. However, the only thing preventing this vision from becoming reality is inaction on the part of workers. I love the vision!

  • I liked this vision until I read: “They can opt for healthy profits, instead of excessive profits, in order to promote the well-being of workers and their community at large.” Our current governing party would do whatever it took to prevent the proliferation of any worker co-ops. Thanks JoAnn!

    • Yes, anything that threatens the ease of the status quo will turn into a battle. But improvements are up to the little people, and I am afraid many battles (hopefully nonviolent) are ahead.

JoAnn Chateau

Who’s Writing?

JoAnn Chateau

JoAnn likes progressive politics and loves the canines. She writes fiction about Chester, the Alpha Bichon -- with a dash of humor and a dab of Poli-Sci. Her views and insights are tinted by a former profession in Counseling, Christian theological studies, and training in Library and Information Science. Retired now, JoAnn enjoys the creative life.


Chester is a scruffy little Bichon dog, with a congenial Napoleon Complex, and stars in "The Chester Chronicles." He sometimes reports independent Canine News -- NO corporate treats accepted, NO corporate bias. Woof!

Graffiti Girl

Graffiti Girl (GG) is curator at JoAnnChateau.com. She's progressive to the core, and easily blown away by serendipity and/or good food. (OK, GG is really JoAnn.) GG's posts signal that news or content from another website is a "must-see" and "must-remember."