First off, what's a worker cooperative? Worker co-ops are businesses owned and run by the people who work in them. Each member of the co-op owns one share and has one vote and gets a share of the profits by the end of each year.
Simply put, worker cooperatives are defined by shared ownership and workplace democracy.
Now how do they relate to tech? Interestingly, worker co-ops have been around since at least the nineteenth century. But recently, they've been making a comeback. And as it turns out, this business model is perfect for the tech industry, and here's why.
When the US passed the 8-hour day into law in 1938, this was a radical change for the many employees across the country working 10 hours, 12 hours, 14, or more. Fast forward about eighty years and we find ourselves in a situation that is ripe for change, especially for tech workers.
For many developers, the 8-hour day just isn't practical anymore. We find ourselves mentally fatigued long before the digital clock strikes 5:00. That's why a lot of our offices have video games or other activities to do throughout the day: we have too much time on our hands!
If we worked cooperatively with one another, we could democratically decide how long our workday should be. And if we all had the ability to do this today, I'm certain most of us would not choose an 8-hour day. We might decide 6 hours is sufficient or even 5 hours. (What do you think? Leave a comment below.)
Mob programming, or mobbing, is a development approach where a team of people works on the same task at the same time, each taking turns with the keyboard and mouse.
Mobbing can be a very effective tool for making high-quality, reliable code in groups. It's this mode of working cooperatively and by consensus which yields that high-quality software. A worker co-op, then, is a lot like a mob, except the mob runs an entire business.
In 2014, Forbes published an article that explored a hypothetical scenario in which Apple is a worker-owned cooperative. They found that if it were one, every Apple employee would earn at least $400k a year. In today's world, the profits go to the shareholders instead of the people who generated those profits: the employees.
Mondragon is the largest and most successful worker co-op in the world and employs around 75,000 people. Their work spans several industries, including manufacturing, retail, banking, and... software.