After spending so many nine-to-fives having my soul sucked out of me, I wanted to know what it was like—psychologically—to work under a radically different kind of structure. At some point in my research, I was told to go to downtown Richmond, California, just across the BART station, to speak with the co-owner of Rich City Rides, a cooperatively owned and run bicycle and skate shop.
“You know, it was something about it being Independence Day,” Najari Smith explained to me, shaking his head and smiling. “I’m stuck working on Independence Day, on a Sunday, and it’s like 10 o’clock at night…and I’m still trying to finish up a project for the company. So I just took a pause and went to go see the fireworks. After that I said, ‘You know, something’s got to change.’” As we sat in a back room of the bike and skate co-op he’s now a co-owner of, Najari, whom I had just met about 15 minutes ago, opened up to me about his life story.
The example set by Rich City Rides — and many other worker cooperatives — demonstrates that workplaces can be structured in a way that is healthy for both the communities around them and the individuals within them. The business provides meaningful work to three young men (Najari, Josue and Taye) who were up against a capitalist economic system that would have preferred to extract value from their labor or profit from their incarceration. “One thing I feel cooperatives do is they give the value of an individual’s labor back to that individual,” Najari explained. “And I like coming to work. That’s a big difference. The other worker-owners and I talk about how the business is doing, and we celebrate when we have a month that’s better than the same month last year. Everything is transparent. We know exactly where all of the money is going. We make all of our decisions collectively. It’s a total — it’s not even a 180 from any corporate jobs or any other jobs that I’ve ever worked. It’s totally a different world. It’s the new economy I want to see.”
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