My Introduction to Worker Cooperatives

Yesterday I met with two neighbors, Tom and Emily, who specialize in developing cooperatives, It was a continuation of a conversation we started in a bar, of course. They listened patiently as I tried to outline my rather abstract notion of what kind of coop I wanted to build or work for.

By the end of brunch they had given me several places to start my investigation, some guidance on the legal structures available, and pointers to existing worker coops that worked with technology or had similar ideas. They also helped me plan the next steps, namely developing my ideas some more, and in more concrete terms, and finding other people.

I spent the day following the breadcrumbs they provided, and here are the results:

Definitions of Worker Cooperatives

Tom suggested I contact the Democracy At Work Network, and gave me an idea of what I should have done before I do so.

They define member worker cooperatives by the Oslo Declaration which was written by the CICOPA. The Oslo Declaration refers to the Statement on the Co-operative Identity as defined by the International Cooperative Alliance.

Finding other Worker Coops

Democracy At Work Network

US Federation of Worker Coops

A Model for Thinking about Coop Culture

Within the DAWN reading room, I came across a paper, Does Cooperation Equal Utopia. It is a survey of three worker coops, and includes a quick reading introduction to the authors analytic model, which is based on Edgar Shein's work on organization culture.

In Edgar Schein's model of organizations, the Basic Assumptions are pre-conscious, invisible, or taken for granted, but are also the foundation for the value system and cultural justifications of the work. Presented as examples of such assumptions are:

  • relationships to the environment
  • nature of reality and truth
  • nature of human activity
  • nature of human nature
  • nature of human relationships

While these are the foundation of the organizational culture, they are also enacted and created, or re-enforced over time. They are not static, tho they may be difficult to change.

This makes me ask a few questions:

  • The pre-conscious or invisible nature of them is not permanent. We can investigate them ourselves, learn about the history of them, how we inherited them or formed them, how they change over time.

  • What do we know about how these assumption percolate up into more visible value systems?

  • What do we know about how actions and material conditions of the culture press back down on the basic assumptions.

I suppose these are rather basic questions within the field of organizational culture, but I'm not familiar with the literature. The model also reminds me of the kind of analysis Istvan Meszaros has done in Social Structure and Forms of Consciousness.