In the 1990s, my friends and I started a lot of different kinds of collective projects together. Over the course of a decade, we founded a whole range of different types of collectives, cooperatives and communes. We were committed young libertarian socialists, and we saw our experiments in collectivism both as a way to live out our ideals in our daily lives, and also as a way to sow the seeds of a new and better world. We believed that we were building a more sustainable economy and a fairer society with each collective we started.
We did all sorts of stuff. We ran a bookstore, an artist/performance space, organized weekly free meals, opened squats, and founded a string of living collectives, a couple of which are still going, but in all that time, I was never involved in starting a worker-owned business with my friends, and I am not entirely sure why. Our bookstore and our performance space were real businesses, with rent and taxes, licences and paperwork, but always staffed by volunteers. I was never involved in a group that actually made the leap into full worker ownership. I wish I had been. I am ever more convinced that worker ownership is the best path to a democratic economy and to social justice — I am ever more convinced that worker-ownership is the future.
Over the years, I have continued to be keenly interested in collectives and cooperatives. I currently work as an academic; I study language and community development, but I have never lost my interest in collective organizations. And I remain bothered by the question, why didn’t I try to set up a worker-owned business with my friends back in the 90s? We had many of the skills; we were setting up businesses anyway; we definitely could have used the work; it seems so obvious now, so why didn’t we go for it? I think that part of the answer is that, at the time, I just didn’t know enough about worker-ownership and founding a worker-owned business seemed so daunting. I didn’t know how you might start.
So this question stuck with me and ultimately became the genesis of this blog. My personal question evolved into a more general question: how do you start a worker-owned business? In this blog, I want to try to answer that question. I want to explore the theory and practice of worker-ownership, and in particular, I want to examine one important facet of the ecology of a worker-owned economy: socialist entrepreneurship. What motivates some folk to initiate new worker-owned businesses? What are some of the challenges they face and how do they succeed?
I hope to answer this question here by reviewing the literature on the subject, and also by interviewing successful socialist entrepreneurs and learning about their experiences. The more I read and speak to folk involved in worker-ownership, the more amazing examples of successful cooperative businesses I find. The new world really is already alive in the shell of the old. The international cooperative economy is huge and growing. With this blog, I hope to inspire folk who may be thinking about starting new worker-owned businesses, and to discuss the practical side of designing and founding a thriving cooperative, so that new socialist entrepreneurs have the best chance of succeeding.