Working Democracies: Managing Inequality in Worker Cooperatives - CLEO Skip to main content


In this inside look at worker cooperatives, Joan Meyers challenges long-held views and beliefs. From the outside, worker cooperatives all seem to offer alternatives to bad jobs and unequal treatment by giving workers democratic control and equitable ownership of their workplaces. Some contend, however, that such egalitarianism and self-management come at the cost of efficiency and stability, and are impractical in the long run. Working Democracies focuses on two worker cooperatives in business since the 1970s that transformed from small countercultural collectives into thriving multiracial and largely working-class firms. She shows how democratic worker ownership can provide stability and effective business management, but also shows that broad equality is not an inevitable outcome despite the best intentions of cooperative members.

Working Democracies explores the interconnections between organizational structure and organizational culture under conditions of worker control, revealing not only the different effects of managerialism and “participatory bureaucracy,” but also how bureaucratic variation is facilitated by how workers are defined at each cooperative. Both bureaucratic variation and worker meanings are, she shows, consequential for the reduction or reproduction of class, gender, and ethnoracial inequalities. Offering a behind the scenes comparative look at an often invisible type of workplace, Working Democracies serves as a guidebook for the future of worker cooperatives.