Work may provide subsistence, but for most people it is a necessary evil. For communities, businesses lie at the heart of our economic system, but often come with negative externalities. This article considers whether worker cooperatives will tend to have more positive impacts on the happiness of their workers and of the community than do traditional businesses. Worker cooperatives are businesses, but they are rooted in the community. Based on the work of 19th-century political economist William Thompson, I examine what I call the alignment thesis, which suggests that the democratic and ownership structure of cooperatives will align the interests of the enterprise with that of the workers and the community beyond. I explore this question both analytically and by reviewing the existing empirical literature. I find that the impact on workers is generally positive, mostly because of the establishment of democratic control, better working conditions and job security, but it is limited where social inequalities that disadvantage women and people of color are replicated in the cooperative. The larger community impacts, however, are less certain, because worker cooperatives do not necessarily alter the logic of capitalist production for exchange. I conclude with thoughts for further research.
Kaswan, MJ. Happiness theory and worker cooperatives: A critique of the alignment thesis. Labor and Society. 2019; 22: 637– 660. https://doi.org/10.1111/lands.12442
Labor and Society