For co-founder James Rasza, Democracy Brewing was always going to be a worker-owned cooperative. He’d held low-wage service jobs earlier in his life and spent years in labor and community organizing, but had grown disillusioned with the lack of practical, actionable, alternative paths forward.
“I think creating things like Democracy Brewing where people can go, drink a great beer, eat good food, listen to good music, see some comedy, and people are like, ‘worker co-ops, that sounds good but does it really work?’ Well, do you like the beer? Do you like the hamburger?,” Rasza says. “At the end of the day, working-class people are very pragmatic, and pie in the sky shit is stupid, in my opinion. People want to see if it works, and if it does, they want it. But we need to create the desire for people to want this, and once you do that, people will start seeking that out.”
But as Razsa also knows from the years it took to raise startup capital for Democracy Brewing, the financial system isn’t quite prepared to handle more worker co-ops. Most lenders follow small business lending practices that are incompatible with the worker co-op ownership structure and aren’t familiar enough with the model to be willing to bend their own rules.
The few lenders who do work with worker co-ops, like those who provided startup loans for Democracy Brewing, are relatively small and limited in how many of these loans they can make a year. That’s why those lenders are now part of a broader coalition to support the creation of a state-owned bank in Massachusetts. Some of the details still need to be hammered out, but they believe it would be possible to support more worker co-ops and other cooperatives if they had a state-owned bank as a reliable partner in their lending ecosystem. Legislation to create such a bank is currently making its way through the Massachusetts Statehouse, and it needs a favorable committee decision this month to have a chance at a full assembly vote by the end of this year.