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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Co-op Restaurants: Pipe Dream or Practical Solution?

Interest in cooperative business models tends to swell in the wake of social revolutions and financial crises. The Great Depression and New Deal era gave rise to democratically run bartering systems like the Unemployed Cooperative Relief Organization. The countercultural attitudes of the mid-20th-century civil rights and anti-war movements birthed worker-run auto repair shops as well as natural and gourmet food stores like The Cheese Board Collective in San Francisco, whose two original owners, inspired by their time spent on an Israeli kibbutz, decided in 1971 to sell their business to their six employees to create a worker-owned cooperative. In the decade following the Great Recession, the number of verified worker-owned cooperatives in the United States swelled between 2013 and 2019, from around 350 to at least 465, according to the Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI) and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC). Mo Manklang, policy director for the USFWC, said that there are 39 verified cooperatives that are restaurants, breweries, cafes, bars, or bakeries.

There’s been a similar response to the pandemic, as it exacerbates income inequality and lays bare workplace disparities. Attendance at monthly webinars hosted by the USFWC has more than doubled to an average of 65 people per month, according to Manklang. And over the past 19 months, a handful of businesses in the food service sector alone have started up or transitioned to worker-owned cooperatives. Among them is the vegan Sri Lankan restaurant Mirisata in Portland, Oregon, as well as Phoenix Coffee Company, a Cleveland-based regional chain with five locations and a roastery. 

Read the rest at The Counter


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