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How do anarchists feel about worker-owned businesses?

+4 votes
When I say "worker-owned businesses", I'm talking along the lines of workers democratically and collectively owning, making decisions for, and obviously working the business in a non-hierarchical manner. I've seen a lot of anarchist-friendly printing shops and book stores run this way, along with bakeries, bicycle shops, and even some small restaurants (slow food but I'd be a fat man if I could eat there more often).
I'll do my best to clarify anything that you guys have questions about.
asked Jan 24, 2012 by Vindico Vaco (1,240 points)
As you indicate, many anarchists are enthusiastic about these kinds of projects. Others argue that they are simply a capitulation to life under capitalism. Doubtless a variety of other perspectives exist. A great starting place for thinking about this topic is an article by someone named Dot: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/dot_matrix__Capitalism_means_never_having_to_say_you_re_sorry.html One point she makes that sticks out to me is that these sorts of businesses can serve as a first exposure to anarchy/-ism.
great article! it hits on a wide range of pros and cons and different opinions of it

4 Answers

+3 votes
hardass answer: this anarchist feels no way at all about worker-owned businesses.
there are some businesses and fields that are more fun to work in. there are some businesses that teach skills that are more useful in the rest of my life. there are some businesses (or jobs) that introduce me to people who i am more likely to enjoy.
but none of that has anything to do with anarchy or capitalism... only with reform.

not so hardass answer: being able to live our lives more the way we want to (time off to fuck shit up, connecting with people who become good parts of our lives, enough money to work short hours, etc) is a good thing, and  may help make changing the world more do-able.

back to hardass: or it might not.

and the reality of these kinds of jobs tends to be that they require more time, not less, and more commitment and more energy... vs working a job that one doesn't care about and can hence exploit fully.
answered Jan 25, 2012 by dot (50,920 points)
i guess the way i see it is if people are willing to put in that extra time, commitment, and energy and not necessarily with more pay then they might be more likely to do it for free and without any coercion; because they like to do it. interesting answer though :)
+2 votes
In a society without private property and without the State I think worker owned businesses are the default -- they are how people would go into joint enterprises if there were not bosses or owners (including government bosses and owners) to control them or pay for their time.

But, while I think that the anti-statism and anti-capitalist stances of Anarchism logically necessitates that all businesses would be worker owned, that is not to say that all Anarchists proscribe them as either a tool to subvert the current order or as a way for individuals to escape the current order. Indeed, some individuals might find the time and mental demands of a worker owned business just as or more oppressive than a regular job. And, socially speaking, worker owned businesses often just spread the wealth of a capitalistic enterprise.

Still, worker owned businesses can, at times,  create an infrastructure that is antagonistic to the capitalist system and gives space and resources to anarchistic causes. Put another way, if a group of anarchists, for the benefit of themselves and the causes they care about, decide to go into an enterprise that would be described as a business, I believe that a worker owned business would be a great model for them do so in -- as it would allow them to do what is typically an exploitive and hierarchical task in a way that is not so.

So, I think the take away is that worker owned businesses are not inherently anarchistic, but they can be used positively by anarchists individuals and movements. I would think that any group of individuals working together and being guided by anarchistic principles would choose a worker owned model as opposed to a corporation or some sort of owner employee model -- but the history of worker owned businesses is that there are many disparate examples, so the relations between anarchism and worker owned business has to come with qualifications.
answered Apr 28, 2013 by hamjam (420 points)
+1 vote
Its an old question now and so everybody's probably lost interest, but I would answer that its a better alternative to working in a hierarchical Capitalist wage labour system, but not as ideal as working in a Anarchist commune. A worker owned business is a more preferable way of Anarchist inclined people to ensure they have a source of income necessary to survive in a Capitalist economy, as has been said, but I don't think anybody involved should be under any illusions about how meaningful or radical their work is. After all they are still selling something, whatever that may be;bikes, baked goods(where did they get the ingredients/parts from?) whatever, they are still selling something and thus are benefiting somewhere along the line from someone's wage labour/slavery. This effect would be perhaps even worse in a poorer area, where instead of selling their products to upper working class or middle class people they are selling and thus benefiting from the wage slavery of poor people.
answered Aug 8, 2014 by Anarcho-Goth (730 points)
+1 vote
This answer will refer mostly to the United States...

5 years ago when this question was asked, I knew less than I do now about contemporary cooperatives, worker-ownership (employee stock ownership plans), and the like. I still don't know as much as I'd like to for a thorough answer, but I think I know enough now to point some things out:

*There is a sizable cooperative and worker-owner movement in the United States. It has been quasi-political for a while, but it is now becoming much more politicized ...especially with the help of the DSA, Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, and various legislation that himself and others are trying to push through at the national level. For instance, H.R.2357 ( https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2357/text?format=txt ) is a bill to establish a national bank, funded by taxes, that would invest in new co-ops, ESOPs, etc. and fund the movement of existing non-coop businesses towards worker-owned models. AFAIK, most anarchists have taken very little interest in any of this ...but that's just AFAIK.

*The above is definitely NOT anarchist. It is just as statist as the State's investment in capitalist firms. However, it is a departure from capitalism and it is far more democratic than Marxist-Leninist dictatorships. Some of what I want to look into more is the extent to which coops would be regulated by something like the above investment bank, but at least at the outset the dictatorship of coops/collectives/communes by the Party doesn't seem to be a goal.

*That said, there are anarchist (or, anarchist-friendly) ways to think about this all without throwing it entirely onto the dung heap. The DSA now has an official Libertarian Socialist caucus ...which is one approach. A push to detach coops from the State could be another. A push to confederate coops and prioritize distribution of surplus to commons (or, communes) could be a very anarchist-communist approach. There's a lot of potential thinking and experimenting which this all offers anarchists.

*There's a lot more to be said about these things in relation to the Service Sector, the so-called "sharing economy", to the increase of automation...

*As far as the power dynamics of coops themselves go, it varies ...widely, with a lot of factors involved. Obviously not all coops share the same anti-authoritarian goals as anarchists. There can be a lot of workerist and/or producerist ideology tied into it ...neither of which are in my interest as someone that wants to work LESS.

IMO - I think that pushing on these contradictions could be highly beneficial for anarchists. And as an anarchist, I think that cooperative work is much more beneficial to me than waged labor and hierarchical management.
answered 3 days ago by Squee (2,470 points)