Worker Co-operatives

Of the many organizational structures out there, the cooperative is one of the most intriguing to people who are looking for an alternative model that allows for a possibility of:

  • joint ownership
  • community building
  • democratic decision-making/control
  • profit-sharing
  • risk mitigation

Not everyone is meant for sole proprietorship or management, and not unlike the recent increase in the Gig Economy, this is a very attractive model that some say could also contribute to the workplace revolution. That said, this model is also quite rare in North America, where the corporate or sole proprietorship model is standard.

Benefits of the horizontal (as opposed to top-down) structure of worker cooperatives include the fact that workers are able to do what they are best at, have access to joint funds for starting up and infrastructure, collective buying power, shared profits /losses, democratic decision-making, a sense of ownership, and often the ability to innovate and create new markets for the product or service provided that may be more difficult in a top-down organization.

What is a cooperative:

A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”  source: 

Worker cooperatives are organisations managed by the people who work there

The first successful cooperative was the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, established in England in 1844. The Rochdale Pioneers established the ‘Rochdale Principles’ on which they ran their cooperative. This became the basis for the development and growth of the modern cooperative movement.[6] 

Other Related Alternative Models:

While cooperatives have existed in Canada for a very long time, as farmers have traditionally worked together to get a better price for their crops, a worker cooperative, is a cooperative that is owned and self-managed by its workers. This control may be exercised in a number of ways. A cooperative enterprise may mean a firm where every worker-owner participates in decision-making in a democratic fashion, or a cooperative may refer to one in which management is elected by every worker-owner, and it can refer to a situation in which managers are considered, and treated as, workers of the firm.

A worker cooperative has the characteristic that each of its workers own one share, where all shares are owned by the workers themselves, and have one vote in decision-making. The International organisation representing worker cooperatives is CICOPA,    while worker co-ops in Canada are represented by the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation (CWCF). Members of the CWCF are found throughout English Canada.

Helpful links:

Canadian Examples of Worker Cooperatives:

More information and tips on how to start a worker cooperative can be found at


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