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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Co-ops Need Leaders, Too

I frequently encounter a notion, among those drawn to cooperatives, that a cooperative should be an amorphous, faceless collective in which old-world skills and norms of leadership can be discarded. How does this work out for them? Not well.

Usually one of two entirely predictable things happens as a result — and generally both. One is a tyranny of structurelessness in which there are leaders who claim not to be leaders and therefore can’t be held accountable. Another is that nobody takes serious responsibility for anything, because there is no incentive or recognition for doing so; as soon as the most par-for-the-course challenge arises, everyone throws up their hands and walks away.

I won’t name names, but we know who we are. I’ve been guilty of practicing both of these myself.

One of the things that I gradually have come to realize, especially while writing Everything for Everyone, is that the co-op tradition is full of amazing leaders. Their stories are too little-known, even among cooperators, perhaps because of the story we tell ourselves that leaders aren’t needed here. But you can’t get far in the history without encountering remarkable examples.

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