FOSS Cooperativism

maddog's Doghouse

Article from Issue 196/2017

Cooperatives have a lot of power and flexibility that other business models lack. FOSS projects have leveraged this structure to create valuable and lasting products.

At a GNU/Linux Meetup recently, I met a young woman who presented me a book that contained a chapter she had authored. The book is titled Ours To Hack and Own [1], and it discusses "cooperativism," the economic practice of running a company as a cooperative, wherein either the employees or the customers are the owners.

Many readers might stop at this point and ask, "How does this relate to Free and Open Source Software?" FOSS projects are typically the epitome of cooperativism, so please continue reading.

Many years ago, when I was a university student, there was a small grocery store in the heart of Philadelphia that was a cooperative ("coop" for short). The people who regularly shopped there joined the coop, and the money they paid for groceries went directly to buying the groceries, paying the salaries of the employees, and taking care of other expenses. Some of the people who shopped there also formed a board of directors, who helped govern the coop. These governors made the rules for running the coop, hired the Executive Director (who in turn hired the rest of the staff), and determined the Executive Director's salary. The Executive Director was responsible for running the coop efficiently and making sure the cooperative either put excess revenue back into the coop, to make it better, or lowered the prices to make sure the food was the best for the lowest price. People who actually belonged to the coop (and showed their membership card) got a small percentage off the already low prices and could attend the membership meetings once a year to vote for board members. The coop had no "owners" to siphon off "profits" to make the goods more expensive.


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