Worker co-ops in the US

On 1 May 2019, the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, Pope Francis issued an invitation to young people – particularly to “young economists and entrepreneurs” – to join him in Assisi in March the following year to brainstorm a new economy, writes Renée Darline Roden in The Tablet.

The “Economy of Francesco” meeting was, of course, cancelled due to the pandemic, but a few months later Francis issued another call to action, a book entitled Let Us Dream. Again, he issued an urgent invitation to all Catholics to consider their part in reshaping a world economy that is exacerbating ­suffering rather than encouraging human flourishing.

The Economy of Francesco organisers in the United States are trying to find ways to add a distinctly American flavour to the global solidarity economy. Witchger and fellow ­organiser Elias Crim started a newsletter, “Ownership Matters”, to highlight various incarnations of the solidarity economy. The American models draw on a variety of global initiatives: the Quebecois cooperative credit unions; the Economy of Communion, personified in the town of Loppiano, Italy, run by the Focolare lay ecclesial movement; and the corporation founded by late Fr José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga, Mondragón.

Mondragón Corporación Cooperativa is a nexus of 170 factories, universities and media in the Basque region of Spain, cooperatively owned by approximately 81,000 workers who make a salary within a pay scale where the highest-paid member makes at most six times the amount of the lowest-paid member, where directors of companies are democratically elected by the workers and where each worker is also an owner of the company.

Witchger told me that the United States’ closest answer to Arizmendiarrieta’s project is Molly Hemstreet’s Industrial Commons, in Morganton, North Carolina. Hem­street, sporting a gentle Carolina accent, is a native of Morganton, in the Blue Ridge Mountain section of the Appalachian Mountains. She co-founded its first cooperative factory, Opportunity Threads, in 2008. It expanded by working with its local county business development bureau to build a close-knit ­network of textile producers in the region.

The Arizmendi Bakeries in California take their name from Fr Arizmendiarrieta. The first Arizmendi bakery opened in Oakland in 1997 and expanded into a franchise of cooperative bakeries. Each new cooperative was funded by some of the profits set aside from an older cooperative.

There are 22 worker-owners at the San Francisco site where Jason Jordan works, and around 200 worker-owners among all six bakeries.


The people versus Mammon: worker-owners cooperatives in the US (The Tablet)


Bjorn / Flickr / CC BY SA 2.0