Unemployed? Broke? How to Start a Co-op

Own the Change: Building Economic Democracy One Worker at a Time

GritTV (2015)

Film Review

Own the Change is a documentary about how to start a worker cooperative. The inability of the global economy to provide a living wage for millions of Americans has prompted a surge in the formation of cooperatives, where workers own and run their own business and share equally in the profits. I expect this will be an extremely inspiring film for people of any age who are unemployed or earning a wage that is too low to survive on. The biggest problem in starting a coop, as with any small business is start-up funding. Most new coops rely on individual members’ savings for capital, as major banks no longer offer small business loans. Members with no upfront cash can contribute their buy-in as a payroll deduction. Sometimes new coops can access grants and low interest loans from non-profit groups and government agencies. Crowdsourcing* is another increasingly common option. The second most difficult aspect of coop formation is learning to make decisions collectively. Democracy is a foreign concept to most people. Many are more comfortable with someone in authority telling them what to do. It takes practice to learn how to make decisions by consensus. As one coop member explains in the film, a good coop uses horizontal (equal) decision making at the board level to make basic operating decisions. Vertical decision making works better in the field, where people with technical knowledge and skill need to be in charge of how the work product is delivered. The most inspiring coop depicted in the documentary is a Bellingham Washington cooperative started by caregivers fed up with their extremely low pay and lack of input into working conditions. For people thinking of starting a coop, the best place to start is the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, a national grassroots organization for worker cooperative businesses. Their website is a fantastic source of legal and business advice, including funding options: https://www.usworker.coop/ *Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G1-SYMatNc

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