In a traditional hierarchical company, workers have no influence on the day-to-day business routine and have no share in the corporation’s profit pie. As a result, the workers can be apathetic toward the company, as they do not feel like a part of the organization. The everyday working experience is just another clocking in and clocking out, collecting the hour’s wages. On the other hand, in a worker-owned and worker-controlled business firm such as a cooperative, employees have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process and be a part of the company’s success. The cooperative organization is the depiction of capitalism with a human face, a hybrid economic model between socialism and capitalism. Although operatives have the characteristic of a philanthropic based organization, in structure most cooperatives are a for-profit organization, owned and run by the people who actually work in the organization. In this type of business, each worker, from production worker to top management, gets one vote in the major decision-making process. Both the lower level employees and administration staff earn an equal share of income, disposing of the requirement for any government-set minimum wage. In addition, workers participate in a voting process and group discussion to secure their business interests and ensure a healthy monetary position for the cooperative from which they earn their fortune. Therefore, cooperatives tend to encourage long-haul and stable employment with a better working environment and better income.
The study of the cooperative movement is gaining public attention when it comes to economic inequality issues. One the most cited cases studied in this matter is that of the Mondragón Cooperative Cooperation (MCC) located in the Basque Country of Spain. Mondragón is a prime example of how a cooperative structure can provide goods and services to society while at the same time creating wealth for the community. Mondragón co-ops have turned a formerly depressed area of the Basque Country in Spain into a thriving community, producing, among other things, computer chips, high-tech machinery, and large appliances. As Mondragón and most cooperative organizations tend to reinvest some of their corporate earnings back into the local community, they tend to favor sustainable business models that generate local employment and promote entrepreneurship. While embracing free market principles, Mondragón energizes its employees to strive for proficiency, quality control, and productivity so that their organization competes successfully in the commercial world. Following labor union standards, the Mondragón cooperative also tends to allow its employees to sort out and arrange their working environment, sensible working hours, and reasonable pay. The Mondragón business methodology decentralizes forces within the managerial structure and in this manner reduces the possibility of corruption and corporate espionage. The superiority of Mondragón cooperative models in resolving the antagonism between labor and capital has inspired others to embrace the cooperative as a model for community development in lower income regions.
Mondragón Style Cooperatives in America
One of the pioneers of an alternative business model in America, based on the highly successful Mondragón cooperative, is the Evergreen Cooperative in the Cleveland, Ohio. The Evergreen Cooperative was initiated in 2008 as a result of a joint venture among Cleveland-based organizations Including the Cleveland Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, the University of Maryland College Park, Case Western Reserve University, and the City of Cleveland. The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative is attempting to create occupations with livable wages in six neighborhoods with an average income per household below $18,500. This region is also known as the Greater University Circle (GUC).
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