The Idea of the Project

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 succeeding.

Tim Armstrong

3 Responses to The Idea of the Project

  1. George Pór says:

    Tim, may we re-publish the Mondragon book review, with due creidit, at http://www.enliveningedge.org/ ?

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