Worker Cooperative Creation as Progressive Lawyering? Moving Beyond the One-Person, One-Vote Floor
45 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2012 Last revised: 26 Apr 2013
Date Written: April 22, 2013
Community Economic Development (CED) scholars posit that creating worker cooperatives, businesses owned and managed by their workers, is a progressive approach to CED that has the potential to go beyond job creation and spur grassroots political activism. Yet many workers’ rights organizations and workers’ rights advocates, especially those serving low-wage immigrant workers, struggle with how to connect worker cooperatives to broader efforts for change. This Article argues that forming a worker cooperative that acts as a change agent requires more than simply structuring the business as a worker cooperative. Cooperative corporation laws and cooperative principles set a floor — typically, one person, one vote — but that floor alone does not guarantee political activism or broader economic, political or social change; collective organization does not inherently lead to collective action. Worker cooperatives face challenges in connecting to broader movements and serving as more than job-creation vehicles. These challenges include the inherent tension between a co-op’s identity as a business and that of a values-oriented association of people, the limited scale of cooperatives, the resources required to start and maintain them and member priorities and retention. Creating worker co-ops as progressive institutions requires surmounting these challenges and actively prioritizing broader aims when incubating, recruiting for, structuring, governing and operating cooperatives.
Keywords: worker cooperatives, CED, community and economic development, progressive, lawyering, cooperatives, collectives, domestic work, domestic workers
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