Historically, U.S. federal policy action has often followed experimentation and organizing at the local scale. Around the U.S. today, cities and states have been experimenting with a range of policy actions to support worker and community ownership, including cooperatives, by removing barriers to their eligibility and inclusion in existing urban economic development programs, improving provision of technical assistance and education to new entrepreneurs about cooperative models, and incenting cooperatives’ use in existing government procurement/purchasing programs and direct lending programs. States are undertaking similar actions and have also moved to update the laws governing cooperatives’ incorporation, many of which were woefully out of date. As a sense of the best practices across cities and states emerge, we suspect they might inform the development of other federal policy recommendations. This might also help harmonize the treatment of cooperatives across states, which is a particularly critical issue for digital and platform co-ops, which often seek to work across state lines.
But for any of these recommendations to have a chance of succeeding and to gain a place at the policy table, however, they need widespread backing, including from the broader movement for worker power. With history as a guide, if the Democratic Socialism movement in the U.S. gains traction, more centrist policymakers are likely to push for cooperatives as a way to temper the severity of American capitalism. To that end, efforts like The Clean Slate for Worker Power project would do well to consider the potential of platform cooperatives and lend their active support to the cooperative movement and its policy goals.