Democracy in the workplace | Boulder Weekly

Dave Anderson contributed this piece to the Boulder Weekly after a local community wealth building conference:

Can democracy just consist of voting at the ballot box when we spend much of our time living under a dictatorship at the workplace? Increasingly, Americans are saying no. Under the radar, many are creating collective, cooperative kinds of economic institutions that aren’t your usual capitalist top-down enterprise. About 13 million Americans are in companies with some form of worker ownership. At least 40 percent of American society — 130 million people — are involved in co-ops and credit unions.

These developments were the subject of the second annual “Community Wealth Building” conference on Sept. 27 at the Anschutz Medical Campus of the University of Colorado in Aurora. Host committee members included The Denver Foundation, Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Co-Operate Colorado and the Anschutz Community Campus Partnership.

Some 250 people attended from a variety of ethnic and social movement backgrounds. Translation was provided by mobile devices for Spanish and Maay Maay (a Somali Bantu language) speakers. Audience members were encouraged to raise their hands if they didn’t understand the terminology and just say “literacy moment.”

The highlight of the conference was a presentation by Michael Peck, the North American delegate for Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC) in Spain’s Basque country. It is a 60-year-old experiment in economic democracy consisting of some 120 worker-owned cooperatives involving nearly 100,000 workers and aligned with another 130 allied coops in the region. It was founded by a Catholic priest when Spain was a fascist dictatorship in a severely impoverished area devastated by the country’s civil war.

The MCC co-ops are ruled by “one worker, one share, one vote” and no one outside MCC holds any shares. Twenty percent of worker-owners can fire a boss. Those in management roles are appointed for a four-year term and must be a worker-owner within the cooperative. Worker-owners are protected, in their role as non-supervisory employees, by a union committee that negotiates a collective bargaining agreement with management.

Read the entire piece, Democracy in the workplace.