How to Support Worker-Owned Businesses

Photo by Chanita Sykes

Last week on Hall Monitor’s TV news show, we played an interview with two members of PACA, the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance. During the interview, the PACA leaders made the argument that co-ops, consumer and/or worker-owned businesses, helped both workers and consumers build wealth. They urged consumers, when they could, to support co-ops by the simple act of buying co-op products and shopping in co-op stores.

The question for all of us is what can we do if we want to support worker-owned businesses and stop corporations from having the power to demand tax breaks and other concessions from local governments. After years of both Republican and Democratic elected leaders de-regulating, decontrolling, and cutting government investment in infrastructure, the marketplace, consumer spending, has become the largest economic engine for the United States economy. 68.5% of our Gross Domestic Product is consumer spending.

Understanding what we buy and from whom makes a huge difference. Shouldn’t we consider where something is made and who makes it before deciding what to put in our proverbial shopping cart?

Often Co-op products are competitively priced. For example, Cabot Cheese, Land of Lake Cheese, and Tillamook Cheese are all made by farmer co-ops. In the supermarket, the prices are the same as Borden’s, a multi-national corporation that owns many different companies.

The same is true for flour. King Arthur is a worker-owned company whose products are competitively priced. Bob’s Red Mill, is a worker-owned company offering other grains, cereals and soup bases. Spice producer Frontier Co-op and nut butter company, Once Again, are both co-ops and have products competitively priced in many supermarkets. Buying Florida’s Natural orange juice ensures that the farmer-owners of the co-op get a fair price for their oranges. You can even find competitively priced bicycles made in Spain by the worker co-op Mondragon, if you shop for Orbea Bicycles.

There is also the choice of where you shop. You can choose to buy from a co-op. There are several food co-ops in the City, Weaver’s Way, Mariposa, South Philadelphia Food Co-Op, and the Kensington Food Co-Op. One of the better-known consumer co-ops is REI, which sells outdoor equipment and clothes.

There are many co-op credit unions, which, unlike multinational banking corporations, keep money circulating in Philadelphia. Some of the best-known insurance companies are types of co-ops, for example, Liberty Mutual and State Farm are both, to some extent, owned by their

There are even utility co-ops from where you can buy your electricity. In Philadelphia, we can buy from Energy Co-Op.

What is surprising is just how many worker and consumer co-ops there are and just how few of us know about them. While co-ops, like all things, are imperfect and have problems, they, for the most part, treat their workers and consumers better, keep money local and ensure that what we pay helps the workers who produce and sell the products.

Co-op-made products aren’t always the best. And what’s right for one of us may be wrong for another. But certainly, we can put our hopes, dreams, and aspirations on our shopping list, along with milk, flour, butter, and cheese. We can consider how our shopping decisions affect our world. All things being equal, wouldn’t you rather your money go to a farmer or worker rather than a speculator?

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