Restaurant Co-Ops Put Economic Justice On The Table

Food service is not an industry that most would associate as a beacon of social or economic justice. In fact, the restaurant industry is notorious for providing paltry wages, for engaging in shocking levels of wage theft, and for generally being comprised of toxic work environments marked by sexual harassment and human trafficking.

In the face of horrendous work environments and staggering levels of worker exploitation, many restaurant workers and their advocates are advancing alternative models of management and ownership geared toward breaking the cycles of abuse and disempowerment that define much of the industry.

One of the most interesting models being explored is the worker cooperative: businesses that are owned and run collectively by the workers themselves.

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How Co-operative Architecture Shaped Britain

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Britain’s growing co-operative movement provided an alternative to capitalist business practices – and made its mark on cities and towns with ambitious building projects.

Co-operative forms of organization have proliferated in the UK during the pandemic, with self-organizing networks of mutual aid groups forming and thriving at street and neighborhood level to meet people’s needs in a collective way. These kinds of relationships feel novel, but co-operative organization has a long history in Britain.

Throughout much of the last 170 or so years, the co-operative consumer movement has comprised a vast national system of mutual enterprise, giving rise to the Co-operative Wholesale Society (now known as the Co-op) which has been a stalwart institution on the Left.

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Lessons From Finland: Building Co-Operative Economy

From Finland’s high-tech businesses through to an extensive network of regional co-ops that ensure that there are banks, stores and other services within two miles of residents throughout the year, there are co-owned services in every sector stretching right across a country 40% larger than the UK. We have much to learn from countries like Finland and, across Europe, there has been a welcome strengthening of trade relations and contact between the 160,000 co-op enterprises which provide jobs for 5.4 million European citizens. My recent trip to Finland coincided with the start of the Lapland tourist season: the plane that brought me there boasted a seven metre high picture of Santa Claus on the tail. But I was there for a more prosaic reason, visiting some of the country’s leading co-operative enterprises.

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Advocacy Support For Worker Cooperatives

By David Morgan in Geo – As worker-owners, we’re used to doing things ourselves. We start businesses, figure out democratic decision-making, and confront systemic issues that deny wealth to communities. We’re tenacious and self-governing, so why limit our influence to our workplaces? As our movement grows—and it is, rapidly—we’re innovating faster than the law can keep up, often operating in gray areas that can be as uncertain as they are productive. What would it look like to stitch up these loopholes and create a full-fledged support system?

Co-ops and their support networks have been a part of the recent rise in attention paid to economic justice, and our participation has allowed us to establish unique positions to solidify gains in policy. Municipal-­level efforts in Austin, Philadelphia, Madison, New York City, and elsewhere have shown that local advocacy can produce big results for the worker cooperative movement. Millions of dollars have been procured for development work.

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