What do you hate most about your job?
The pay. The patronizing air among the higher-ups. The powerlessness day in and day out. The bureaucratic red tape. The vacuum into which your creative ideas disappear. The politics, double standards, threats, innuendos and misinformation. The discrimination. Executive bonuses during staff layoffs, reduced time, & pay cuts. No say as the plans, handed down to you, change with the wind. The environmental and social responsibility is tweeted lip service for PR and website hits. The known, harmful side-effects of the new product line. The cooked books. The anonymous absentee owners. Your life, friends, wife/husband, children -- drifting ever further away.
What if it could all be different?
Work like you always dreamed it could be... But you’d have to work hard, take total responsibility, fulfill hundreds of continuing educational credits, train tirelessly in communication, mediation and conflict resolution, step up and see your creative ideas through to completion, open your heart to your coworkers, work as a team, take strong stances on your beliefs, values and morals.
Imagine working in a medium sized firm where staff size is capped at 500 to ensure everyone can know each other personally. Each member owns an equal share in the company. Profits are shared equally. Top managers only make 4 x’s what the lowest paid worker makes. Everyone has an equal voice that is heard on every decision that concerns you, made within a transparent one member-one vote structure. Creative input is actively sought and rewarded. Changes are taken in stride as everyone is consulted when dire economic conditions call for prudent decision making.
What is a Cooperative Enterprise?
This structure, though pretty atypical for the vast majority of jobs and workplaces in the so-called developed and developing countries of the world, has many successful models often times out competing their top-down corporate counterparts in the global marketplace. Democratic governance is commonly are practiced in Cooperative Enterprises around the world from Italy to Japan to India, from Canada to South America. Arguably the most prominent and successful is the Mondragon Cooperative Model located in the Basque States of Spain.
Cooperatives, co-ops for short, are an organization or group of organizations-- for profit or not, that willingly choose to associate together in the spirit of common cause, as well as self-interest for our immediate needs. They could be service or product based factories, housing, credit unions/public banking, agricultural, you name it.
Idealism meets pragmatic
This is where the rubber hits the road. Cooperatives walk a tightrope, balancing economic realities with their social mission; product development with community values; and hard work with profound moral principles. Furthermore, they embody these values by building them into their organizational structure and decision making. Practicing their values of democracy, mutual self-help and care, makes it that much more tangible and real. I firmly believe that a true democracy at the national level depends on our daily practicing of democratic decision making and honing the 1000 subtle skills required to make democracy work from workplace to home to town hall. Workplace democracy is one of those places we practice under real life circumstances and daily pressures.
What I am most curious about is how one modality plays a complementary role to the other. The strengths in one compensates for the weak areas. What the corporate top-down model neglects in relating to people as humans, the humanistic model neglects in building competitive advantage and market penetration. And how both models can suppress entrepreneurial ingenuity. We need both. Neither is better-than, neither will ever become obsolete. We can take the good, leave the bad and learn the lessons each offer. This blending approach can not be quickly dismissed and marginalized, because we are both right and have something greater to discover together.