Do Not Start Your Own Business

There is a Better Way – Worker Cooperatives

1200px-Harvesting_beans_(5762966966)Are you the one who appears on TV as the most successful entrepreneur of the year? Are you the 30-year old giving advice on how to live a work free life? Perhaps you are pitching your new revolutionary mousetrap on Shark Tank.

Perhaps you are of another sort, the one who started a business, the one who did everything they told you to do. Maybe you worked 16-hour days, never took a vacation and lost your family in pursuit of success – and still failed.

For decades, high school students have yielded to pressure from parents and guidance counselors to get into college educations for which they were ill prepared or had little interest. The result is disturbing. For those who can find  jobs, they end up miserable in a cubicle fighting to pay off student loans while the faucet is dripping and the cabinet door is hanging on one hinge because nobody knows how to fix it.

A stack of magazines are dedicated to entrepreneurship. Owning your own business is the best way to become rich, they say. And it is, but it is the exception, not the rule. Millions scrape by struggling and sacrificing. For most, the dream remains a fantasy.

Clearly, for the vast majority of us, being employed in a job that suits us is the best option. The paychecks arrive fairly regularly. We can mostly balance life and work. Of course, we may have to deal with an unreasonable boss or risk getting fired at a moment’s notice, but most of the time, it works just fine.

What if there was an even better way, a way that would let you do what you do best, gives you a reasonable paycheck and control over who is in charge? It sounds like Utopia, doesn’t it? Yet around 7,000 people live it every day in the United States, hundreds of thousands worldwide. How do they do it? They form worker cooperatives.

Worker cooperatives are companies that are 100% owned and controlled by their employees. In other words, they are both employees and owners at the same time. They govern their workplace democratically and share all of the profit. They also share the burden of running a business. Everyone who has tried knows how daunting that is. By joining together, pooling their talents, they get done what they could not do individually. Worker owned companies have better job satisfaction and higher productivity. They are more resilient to downturns.

Small businesses are the backbone of communities across the nation. When big giant corporations move in, their profits go to shareholders who live somewhere else. Small business owners, on the other hand, tend to spend their money in the local economy supporting other small businesses. All pay taxes locally to provide the services we all want. Therefore, communities struggling with poverty, closed businesses and job loss, young people moving away never to return, should consider supporting worker ownership. That can be done in two ways:

  1. Support young people who want to pursue a career in the trades. Give them the education they need to become the best plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, accountants, paralegals and salespeople they can be. Give them the support they need to start businesses together, pooling their talents for success.
  2. Encourage aging business owners to transition to employee ownership instead of selling to larger competitors or closing all together.

The worker-owner concept is not a new one. It has been around for ages. We do know how it works. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. It has all been done before. All we have to do is learn from those who did it and adapt it to the new economic reality.

Putting Democracy to Work: A Practical Guide for Starting and Managing Worker-Owned Businesses

By far the most comprehensive book about starting a worker cooperative.

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