Cooperatives fall into two categories: worker and consumer. The United States, following the tradition of England, is more familiar with the concept of consumer cooperatives -- as in food, housing and rural electric coops. The idea of the consumer cooperative is to minimize prices paid by the owner/consumer either directly on each purchase, or by distributing profits in the form of patronage dividends at the end of the year. The consumer, being also the owner, profits either way. The person exlcluded in this deal is the worker who might wish for a higher wage.

(It should also be mentioned that cooperatives allow the consumer greater control over quality of merchandise as well as its price, which is why food cooperatives grew in proportion with the health food industry)

The best idea I've seen using the worker cooperative model is at Mondragon, in the Basque. Economic development in this region is financed through worker savings deposited in local credit unions. The credit unions make investments through an advisory board in new production facilities, increasing jobs makes greater wages which they deposit in the credit unions, and so on. I met a lady in Kathmandu from Mondragon. She was travelling through Asia. But she was guaranteed a job when she returned, up to two years later, because the system is job based. It creates jobs as its own source of funding.

The idea of worker cooperatives became popular in the USA in the 80's in the form of ESOP's -- worker stock-purchase plans usually arranged to forestall or delay a plant closing and layoffs in an ill-managed organization in an obsolete industry. Even where such offerings were not a mere disguise for labor concessions, inviting workers into the Board room presumes that they have some management and communication skills.

Organizations can be drawn schematically by the way they disperse power. There's the top-down hierarchy of power that resembles a pyramid. You know this one -- the guy at the top, he's got his secretary and three or four vice-pres's under him, under them, each has his or her own crew, all the way down to the bottom where the work generally gets done. At the bottom, they work; all the top, they communicate.