Worker Cooperative Creation As Progressive Lawyering? Moving Beyond the One-Person, One-Vote Floor

Source: Gowri J. Krishna, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 34 no. 1, 2013
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Community Economic Development (CED) scholars posit that creating worker cooperatives – businesses owned and managed by their workers – is a progressive approach to CED with 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 connecting worker cooperatives to broader efforts for economic, political, or social 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. Although cooperative corporation laws and cooperative principles set a floor – typically, one person, one vote – that floor alone does not guarantee political activism or broader 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-operative’s identity as a business and that of a values-oriented association of people, the limited scale of cooperatives, the significant resources required to start and maintain them, and concerns over member priorities and retention. Creating worker co-operatives as progressive institutions requires surmounting these challenges and actively prioritizing broader aims when incubating, recruiting for, structuring, governing, and operating cooperatives.