Worker-Owned Cooperatives: The Work We Do is the Solution

From grocery stores and bakeries to bike shops and day care centers, worker-owned cooperatives are gaining popularity across the country. Unlike the profit-at-any-cost capitalist model, co-ops put people and the community first, and are democratically run and collectively-owned, allowing all workers to participate and benefit equally.

Press play to listen to Your Call with Rose Aguilar: “Worker-Owned Cooperatives: The Work We Do is the Solution”:

Press play to listen to Your Call with Rose Aguilar: “Worker-Owned Cooperatives: The Work We Do is the Solution”:

According to Go.Coop, “more often than you probably realize, co-ops play a vital part of your everyday life.” More than 47,000 co-ops in the U.S. serve 130 million people or 43 percent of the population. There are more than 3,000 farmer-owned cooperatives in the U.S. Almost 10,000 credit unions provide financial services to approximately 84 million members. Nearly 1,000 rural electric co-ops operate more than half of the nation’s electric distribution lines and provide electricity to more than 37 million people. Food co-ops have been innovators in the areas of unit pricing, consumer protection, organic and bulk foods, and nutritional labeling. More than 50,000 families in the U.S. use cooperative day care centers, giving co-ops a crucial role in the care of children.

The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives hosted their national conference in Berkeley, California later this week. Their motto is, “The Work We Do is the Solution.” Their website says, “As we looked around at our crumbling economy, our damaged planet, our laid-off friends and family, our disempowered citizenry, our communities that have been abandoned by industry, and all the challenges we face in this year 2010, it occurred to us that the work we do is the solution. It’s that simple. Worker cooperatives can be economic engines that generate the surplus we need to tackle the big problems. They can create jobs that offer opportunities for meaningful personal and professional growth. They can build community power and shared wealth. They can choose to conduct business in a restorative and sustainable way. They can create a powerful values-based and principled framework for making decisions about work, industry, and the economy.”

On Your Call, we continue our Agenda for a New Economy series by talking about the rise and success of co-ops. How are they faring in the recession? What solutions do co-ops offer for today’s recession/depression? If they gain even more popularity, could they transform the economy and the way we think it should work?


Dan Thomases is a founding member and worker/owner at Box Dog Bikes, a full service bicycle shop in San Francisco’s Mission district. For the past two years, the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s reader’s choice poll has rated Box Dog Bikes as the “best bike mechanics” in San Francisco. Dan serves on the Board of Directors of the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives, a group that is dedicated to building workplace democracy in the Bay Area and beyond. Dan also organizes a Bay Area peer resource group for cooperative businesses.

John Kusakabe has been a worker/owner at Arizmendi Bakery since its inception 13 years ago. Arizmendi is a worker-owned cooperative bakery and pizza shop located in four Bay Area locations. A fifth bakery is scheduled to open soon.

Hilary Abell is Executive Director of Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES). For 15 years, WAGES has worked with low-income immigrant Latinas to launch green business co-ops. Hilary is on the board of Home Green Home, a worker-owned natural cleaning cooperative with three Bay Area locations. Women worker/owners with Home Green Home have seen their family incomes increase by 70 percent.

Click here to find co-ops in your area.

Rose Aguilar is the host of “Your Call,” a daily call-in radio show on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and on KUSP 88.9 FM in Santa Cruz. She is author of “Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey Into the Heartland.”