From contributor Primitive Times at the Daily Kos:
Worker co-ops, an idea as old as the Industrial Revolution (and really, civilization itself), have the potential of becoming a major front in the Occupy movement, not to mention the wider global social justice movement. Like most people, I’ve known about worker co-ops for a while, but it was only recently that I became conscious of their far-reaching implications. For me, this happened during a night out with a friend, enjoying fine food and drink at a fine establishment. It was the kind of night that, some might say, could only have been made possible by our capitalist system. Yet on that night, somewhere between the first and second glass of wine, it occurred to me that no one directly responsible for making my first-rate experience possible – from the waitstaff to the cooks; to the producers, packagers and shippers of the food; to the people who made the tables, chairs and silverware; to those who designed and built the building – made anything close to 7 or even 6 figures.
So what exactly are the implications of this? To start, let’s define what a worker co-op is. A worker co-op is, simply put, a business whose ownership and decision making power is shared equally amongst the workers. By “workers,” we don’t just mean those putting hammer to nail – it also includes those fulfilling administrative, development, or managerial roles. A worker co-op does not, as is often assumed, imply equal pay to all its members. It is entirely possible that workers could collectively decide to enact an incentive structure of some kind, or grant higher salaries to certain positions, which is indeed the case with many worker co-ops. The difference is that in a worker co-op, it is the workers themselves deciding this, rather than a detached CEO halfway across the country. In short, at a worker co-op, the cherished American act of voting isn’t relegated to a booth every 2 years, nor does the ideal of freedom take a siesta when one clocks in for work.
Probably the biggest concern defenders of the status quo bring up about the worker co-op concept is the question of incentive. If employees are all seen as equals, without the gross variance of compensation seen in traditional companies, what incentive would one have to do anything but the bare minimum? Humans are greedy, we are told. Thus, we must have an economic system which rewards this greed and allows us to act on this natural impulse. Of course, the justification for this view comes by way of collectivist reasoning. The reason we should accept this system, its proponents argue, is because it will lead to the greatest level of prosperity for the greatest number of people. If it didn’t, surely we wouldn’t accept it, right?