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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/18/15

Bernie Sanders Proposes To Boost Worker-Ownership Of Companies

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Conor Lynch explains at Salon in, "The radical Bernie Sanders idea that could reclaim America for the 99 percent," that short of a badly-needed re-engineering of our system, worker co-ops might be a model for getting past the terrible working situation where companies squeeze everyone and unions are not succeeding in fixing things:

"This is where worker co-ops, which could be a major and crucial part of future worker movements, come in. After 40 years of crumbling unions, we can say quite honestly that the 20th century union movement, while it helped pave the way for basic worker rights within capitalism, was only a temporary solution. A capitalist must always look for ways to better exploit labor, or cease to be a capitalist -- Marx called this the 'coercive laws of competition.' As long as we operate within this system (where the very few own capital), worker gains can only be temporary, before they are lost to technology or cheap labor overseas.

"Worker co-ops could provide a new platform for future workers movements. Last year, Sanders introduced a bill that would provide states with funding from the Department of Labor to 'establish and expand employee ownership centers,' which would 'provide training and technical support for programs promoting employee ownership and participation throughout the country.' Another bill would create a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to 'provide loans to help workers purchase businesses through an employee stock ownership plan or a worker-owned cooperative.'"

At AlterNet, Zaid Jilani also writes about Sanders' plan, in "Bernie Sanders' Campaign Issues Truly Extraordinary Campaign Plank":

"Today, there are 11,000 worker-owned companies in America, and there are up to 120 million Americans who are involved in some form of co-op if you include credit unions in the tally. By endorsing their expansion, Sanders is proving that his differences with his opponents are not just in style but in substance -- providing an alternative to the top-down corporations that run our economy."

Jilani provides the example about Spain's Mondragon corporation, which describes itself as "one of the leading Spanish business groups, integrated by autonomous and independent cooperatives with production subsidiaries and corporate offices in 41 countries and sales in more than 150." Mondragon has 74,000 employees and almost 12 billion Euros in total revenue. Jilani writes:

"Within the various units of the corporation, workers decide on the direction of production for the company as well as what to do with the profits. While CEO-to-worker pay ratios in the United States have reached over 300-to-1, in Mondragon the cooperative model ensures that in most of its operations, 'the ratio of compensation between top executives and the lowest-paid members is between three to one and six to one.'"

Why should our system be designed to work only for the already wealthy and encourage business models that squeeze workers, customers, communities, the environment and our country? It is time to take a serious look at the ways our government could work for We the People by helping us to start and buy out companies and otherwise invest in worker-owned businesses.

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