About Co-ops

"By democratizing workplaces, worker co-ops can give shape to a real, daily democracy on a society-wide basis." - Richard Wolff

We believe cooperatives (and specifically worker co-ops) are a critical component to realizing a more sustainable, equitable, and democratic future. Read more to learn why. 


What is a cooperative?  

A co-op is a business that is owned and self-managed by its members with the principle of “one person, one vote.” There is no boss, CEO, or Board of Directors who can make decisions by themselves and for their own personal benefit. Co-ops are people-centered, and are driven to create sustainable enterprises and long-term stability for all involved in them.

The values that form the base of any cooperative are self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. The management structures and day-to-day operations are designed according to the needs and desires of the co-op members and can vary greatly.

There are many types of cooperatives:

  • Worker Co-op: A business that is owned and controlled by the workers, who together decide the business operations, strategic directions, profit distributions, etc.
    Examples: Equal Exchange, Cooperative Home Care Associates

  • Consumer Co-op: Owned by members who direct the co-op to purchase the goods or services they need, ensuring better availability, and more. This model is often seen in groceries, electrical distribution, childcare, banking, and housing.
    Examples: UW Credit Union, REI

  • Producer Co-op: Producers of a product band together to have a greater market share. Members are usually businesses themselves, not individuals, and such co-ops are often seen in agriculture.
    Examples: Dairy Farmers of America, Ocean Spray

  • Purchasing Co-op: Purchasers of a product band together to improve their purchasing power. Members are usually businesses themselves, not individuals.
    Examples: ACE Hardware, Independent Pharmacy Cooperative

  • Multi-Stakeholder Co-op: Owned and controlled by a mix of members and workers.
    Examples: Weaver Street Market, Boisaco Inc.

Cooperatives are not a new idea. Today, the International Cooperative Association’s research shows that “at least 12% of humanity is a cooperator of any of the 3 million cooperatives on earth.”

Read more about the history of cooperatives.
Co-op History

Learn how to start working cooperatively.
Co-op Resources

Why are worker co-ops important?

In this age of growing economic inequality, communities need methods of self-empowerment. Democracy at Work advocates for such a solution: worker cooperatives — that is, businesses owned and operated democratically by their employees. 

Cooperatives are guided by principles of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. This foundation is rooted in a history of economic cooperation spanning thousands of years across the globe (by American First Nations, early African populations and more), and is currently captured in 7 Cooperative Principles, identified by the International Cooperative Alliance.

Virginie Perotin, a professor at Leeds University, found in her research that worker cooperatives are more productive, efficient, and stable than conventional businesses. It’s easy to understand why. When workers have a say in the business they work in, they are more invested and innovative. When given the choice, workers will self-invest in the business rather than paying high salaries for a select few. They will take collective pay cuts instead of making layoffs in an economic downturn. They will not vote to offshore their own jobs, or to pollute their own communities. By democratizing the workplace, the business will make choices that are for the benefit of the many, not the few. 

This people-centered approach is transformative for both individuals and communities as a whole. For individuals, it can mean fulfillment and purpose, power to form their identity, financial and job security, as well as wealth-building opportunities. It enables them not just to stand up and fight for their rights but to build and shape their rights in policy and practice. It gives them regular experience with the workings of democracy, educating them to be stronger participants in political democracy outside the workplace as well. 

All of these benefits provide direct support for communities. Co-ops foster a commitment to one’s community, and an attention to the health of the surrounding environment. They contribute to social cohesion, and enable sustainable responses to global and local challenges. Facing the realities of rampaging inequality and disastrous effects of climate change, these benefits become necessities.

By democratizing the workplace, we can move past the exploitative, hierarchical economic systems of slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. By democratizing the workplace, we can achieve the failed goal of many socialist and communist systems as well. With direct democracy, in the place where we spend most of our waking hours, we can achieve liberty, equity, and community.



Ready to learn more but don't know where to start?
Our shows and podcasts often explore how worker co-operatives are part of a systemic solution.
Co-ops in d@w Media


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