Ask Prof Wolff: Non-profits as Co-ops

A Patron of Economic Update asks: "The descriptions I've seen of worker cooperatives focus almost exclusively on for-profit business models. How could a worker cooperative model apply to government and nonprofit workplaces, where workers don't have a "surplus" to distribute, can't alter public policies established by elected officials, and can't spend public or charitable funds in whatever way they choose? Is there a realistic and accountable way to implement workplace democracy or replace the traditional employer-employee relationship within the constraints of the public and nonprofit sectors?"

This is Professor Richard Wolff's video response.

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Showing 1 comment

  • Susanna Patterson
    commented 2022-01-21 17:32:04 -0500
    I have discussed the idea of a non-profit HOSPITAL cooperative with several healthcare workers and they have fallen in love with the idea. I was inspired by your mention — I believe it was on Economic Update — of a hospital in Germany which is organized as a co-op. Here’s what I wrote on Facebook, along with some of the comments and discussion that ensued:
    Here’s what we have to do: it’s radical and may seem like an impossible dream but it is not. It has been done:
    1. Get a group of healthcare workers together — nurses, housekeeping staff, RTs, PTs, MDs, etc.
    2. Take over one of the many closed/abandoned hospitals.
    3. Figure out some way to get start-up cash.
    4. Operate this as an ACTUAL non-profit co-op. This means that EVERY worker will share ownership and decision-making: setting salaries, prices, what equipment to buy, what supplies to keep in stock, etc.
    (This is POSSIBLE — but certainly not easy. It is, I believe, the ONLY way to SAVE healthcare as an entity that CARES about its PATIENTS (not “customers”) and that CARES about the workers who provide that care. I believe that this would be enormously popular and that communities would welcome such institutions with open arms.)
    “oh my God . I have had this as a dream for about 10 years now. CW Hollenbeck Cyn Goustin Linda Gennaro Ladislaw and anyone else. Let’s talk. Let’s meet. I even have a few places as potentially working for this. I am deadly serious.”
    …and from another healthcare worker:
    “so when do we start…I definitely would be on board with something like this…one of my suggestions would be that any administration would have to be working in the medical field…and it wouldn’t be a permanent position…like 2 or 3 years as president or ceo and you must return to the floor…part of the contract would be no quitting till after at least 1 year under the policies you’ve set…or you must be currently working the floor while administration…🤔 if someone did something like this I definitely would apply…working on my psychiatric NP…psychiatric nurse right now…”
    …and my reply: “there would be NO administrators as such. The workers would be the owners and would make any hiring decisions that the majority of them felt necessary. Those hires would not be part of the ownership and could be dismissed at the will of the majority and might be brought in to fill a temporary need. There would be NO CEO as such.”
    I hope you can help us — point us in the right direction, give us some suggestions. The horrible response to the pandemic (scarcity of PPE and other supplies, the CLOSING of 2 hospitals here in St. Paul, inadequate staffing, overwork and lack of appreciation shown to the workers) has shown us what a train wreck our so-called “healthcare system” is in this country.
    Thank you for your inspiration and help…
    Susanna E Patterson, retired fire department medic and nursing unit volunteer.
    my email address is [email protected]

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