ESOPs & CO-OPs: Worker Capitalism & Worker Democracy
The broad purpose of the labor movement has always been to further the economic self-determination of workers, to maximize working people’s control over their economic destiny. Self-determination is the goal, but what are the means?
In the past and present state of capitalist society, the only real opportunity for most people to earn a living is by selling their labor as an employee to some employer. In that historical situation, workers can best promote their self-determination through unionized collective bargaining with their employer. Collective bargaining is the best means at hand, but it is only a means, not an end in itself.
As the economic situation changes, new opportunities arise. In some cases, workers can break out of the employees’ role and achieve the status of worker-owners of their business. Labor can hire capital (instead of the reverse). In this newfound role, the workers can have much greater powers to control their own economic destiny, to promote their own self-determination. But worker ownership also presents a whole new set of problems and challenges.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the two major forms of worker ownership in view of the overall goal of the labor movement, to promote democratic self-determination in the workplace.