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Steelworkers Consider Worker-Run Co-ops

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The Steelworkers announced a plan October 30 [1] to create worker co-operatives in North America, which overturn the traditional workplace division between workers and bosses by having worker-owners make most decisions on a “one worker, one vote” basis.

Steelworkers Consider Worker-Run Co-ops

By Andrew McLeod
Labor Notes
November 13, 2009

The Steelworkers announced a plan October 30 [1] to create worker co-operatives in North America, which overturn the traditional workplace division between workers and bosses by having worker-owners make most decisions on a “one worker, one vote” basis.

The coops will be created in partnership with the Mondragon co-operatives [2] in Spain, a 60-year-old network of worker-run businesses.

Days after the announcement, coop developers Andrew McLeod and Lisa Stolarski sat down with Rob Witherall, who is coordinating the new program for the Steelworkers. Here’s an edited version of their conversation, excerpted from the original on McLeod’s blog, Cooperate and No One Gets Hurt [3].

Q: How did this agreement unfold?

A: We had a lot of interest in worker ownership in the past. We’ve done a lot of work with Employee Stock Ownership Plans. We thought of doing some type of coops, both here and in Canada. Our ESOP experience soured us. By the time we were offered the opportunity to buy the shares the company was so financially strapped that it had a very small chance of success. Those that did succeed were usually bought out by some other investor, and even earning those shares didn’t actually translate to any accountability to the workers or worker input. It really didn’t change the nature of work in a lot of cases. (see more about that here [4]).

Mondragon has an interest in a North American presence and we have interest in developing a union worker-owner coop model that works, because we are in situations where that’s going to be more beneficial in the long run for our existing members, or a way to build our membership.

Q: How did the partnership develop?

A: Ultimately our agreement was pretty basic and broad. We figured it was better to start with something that was broad and fairly simple and figure out where to go from there, rather than try to figure out all the details at first.

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