Jared Blustein is a passionate social entrepreneur and advocate for cooperative business models. On May 11, he will be leading a workshop at the New Central Library — Worker Co-ops: Workplace Democracy for a Solidarity Economy — to spread awareness for worker co-ops specifically.
We sat down with Blustein to get the skinny on how he found his calling for co-ops.
How did you get involved with worker co-ops?
J: I’ve been involved with different forms of political-economic resistance over the past several years; I co-owned a radical bookstore in Vancouver, been part of a leftist group called Socialist Alternative, I did my Masters in sociology with a focus on Critical Economy at Simon Fraser University – where I looked at how people were working to create more “just” forms of work and economy. I started to look back and think about how we could create, rather than just critique, in society.
I heard about Momentum and the Thrive Incubator program, and thought “why not?” and went in with the idea to create a worker co-op model within the restaurant industry.
What is a worker co-op?
J: It’s essentially socialism at work. A worker co-op brings together the employees of an enterprise to collectively become owners and managers for horizontal decision-making. There’s no hierarchy or one person in charge. It’s a way of creating change and filling the gaps of our existing society to create a more robust economy.
It really helps the employees become self-empowered, they’re not just a cog in the machine.
How does a worker co-op lead to an inclusive economy?
J: For me, it really comes down to this notion of “surplus value.” In any enterprise where you have a money-making component, there’s a piece of work that goes toward the labour and a piece that goes toward surplus value. Because the workers in a worker co-op get to control that surplus value, they begin to not only keep more of the profits for themselves but also are able to invest more money into the community through the multiplier effect: supporting local businesses, creating jobs.
What’s your vision for the worker co-op restaurant?
J: We envisioned a vegetable-forward restaurant where every employee will have a piece of ownership. So every customer who comes in would be interacting directly with an owner who’s invested in that enterprise. We’re also planning to start a zero-waste refill store – or bodega, as we’re calling it. We’re aiming to be open in July of this year.
The Incubator was paramount to this cooperative, not just at the planning stage but the connections we’ve made have been extremely helpful. It was a leap of faith, I don’t think I’d be here without it.
J: A huge part of worker co-ops is ally-ship, education, community support and development. So in addition to building this enterprise, I saw an opportunity to spread the awareness of this business model. People often don’t know much about worker co-ops, and I want to help get the word out about the power and importance of it.
I’m proud to be co-presenting a free workshop in partnership with Thrive, Momentum, the ACCA (Alberta Community & Co-operative Association), the Arusha Centre and CWCF (Canadian Worker Co-op Federation), where we will explore economic issues and practical solutions through worker co-ops and existing examples.
What is the best part of your work?
J: Definitely the community. I love being part of such an awesome and dedicated team of people. We come from many different backgrounds, but when we get together, it’s amazing what we can achieve when we collaborate to create change. It’s amazing to see the unlimited capacity of other people when we create conditions and structures that allow them to realize their own abilities.