When workers own companies, the economy is more resilient | Niki Okuk

When workers own companies, the economy is more resilient | Niki Okuk

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Are you tired of your boss? (Laughter) Are you tired of going to work and making money for other people? And who are those people anyways? Those people that make
money from your work. Well, they’re capitalists. They have capital, and they use your labor
to make more capital. So if you’re tired of going to work and making money for other people, then you’re probably like me — just tired of capitalism. Which is ironic, because I’m a capitalist. (Laughter) I own a small business — Rco Tires in Compton. A few years ago, when I read Van Jones, and he wrote, “Let’s make
green collar jobs in the hood,” I took him really seriously. So I cofounded, own and operate
a tire recycling company, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done. So far, we’ve recycled
a hundred million pounds of rubber. That’s 21 million gallons of oil
diverted from landfills into new products. (Cheers) We also employ about 15 guys — mostly people of color, most of whom are felons, and we pay above the minimum wage, and we are now proud members
of the United Steelworkers Union. (Applause) Now, Rco is not a cooperative now. It’s a privately held company
with community-minded ownership, but I would like it to become one. I would like for them to fire the boss — that’s me. (Laughter) And I’m going to tell you why, but first, let me tell you
how we got started. So a lot of people ask, “How did Rco come to be?” And I have to be really honest. I leveraged my white privilege. So, here’s how white privilege
worked for me and Rco. My white grandmother
was born on her family’s plantation in Arkansas in 1918. She traveled with her white father west, following the oil boom. And he held various union oil jobs — jobs which would have never been given
to my black great-grandfather, had he lived here at the time. Granny became a hairdresser and then got a loan with her husband who built their home
in West Los Angeles — a loan which would never have been
given to a black family at the time. And after my grandfather passed away, my granny was able to keep that house because she had his pension
and his health care from a state job which he held, which again, would have never been
given to a black man before the anti-discrimination
act of the 1960s. So, you fast-forward 30 years, and I graduate, and I want to start my own business with a pile of debt and a credit card, and no experience in the tire industry. But I had what most people didn’t have. I had a clean, safe, free place to live. I moved in with my grandmother, and I was able to rent
our first warehouse, buy our first truck, pay our first employees, because I didn’t have to worry
about paying myself, because I didn’t need to feed myself, because I am the direct beneficiary
of generations of white privilege. Now, telling the story
of white privilege is important because very often people say, “Oh, we want more companies like yours. We want more Rco’s, we want more black-owned businesses, female-led, triple bottom line, Ban the Box, green manufacturing companies,” right? But the question we have to ask is,
where is the wealth? Where is the money? Where’s the capital in our communities to build the types
of businesses that we want? And in telling a story
of the white side of my family, I needed a dozen ways where blacks were excluded
from the economy, whereas the white side of my family
was able to gain access and traction, and build wealth … Primarily because racism
and capitalism are best homies, but — (Laughter) but what that means
is that when we ask ourselves, “Why are our communities broke?” — Like, we’re not just broke
because we’re broke; we’re broke for a reason. Historical context really does matter. But our history
tells another story as well. There’s this incredible book
called “Collective Courage,” which is the story of how
thousands of African Americans have been able to build
businesses and schools, hospitals, farming cooperatives, banks, financial institutions — entire communities
and sovereign economies, without a lot of capital. And they did it by working together and leveraging their community assets and trusting each other and putting solidarity first — not just profits by any means necessary. And they didn’t have to wait around
for celebrities and athletes to bring their money back to the hood. However, if you are
a celebrity or an athlete, and you’re listening to this, please feel free to bring your money. (Laughter) But they did it
through cooperative economics, because they knew that capitalism was never
going to finance black liberation. So, there are so many great
examples in this book, and I suggest that everybody just read it because it answers
the question I asked earlier, which was where are we going
to get the wealth to build the types
of business that we want. And the answer is going to have
to be cooperative economics. There’s a lot of different
versions of cooperativism. What I’m talking about today
is worker ownership. You may not have heard
of worker ownership, but it’s been an incredible tool for black economic liberation
for a century, and it’s also working
all over the world right now. You may have heard of Black Wall Street or maybe the Zapatistas, but I’ll give you an example
that’s a little bit closer to home. Right now, today, in South Bronx, is the country’s largest
worker-owned company. It’s called Cooperative
Home Care Associates, and it was founded by black
and Latinx home care workers who are now able
to pay themselves living wages, they have full-time hours, they have benefits and a pension, through their membership
as a unit of SEIU. And these women owners now receive
a dividend back on their ownership every year that the company
has been profitable, which has been most years. So they’re able to really enjoy
the fruits of their labor because they fired the boss. They don’t have any big investors. They don’t have fat-cat CEOs or absentee owners taking
the profit out of the company. They each pay in
about 1,000 dollars over time in order to gain ownership, and now they own their job. Now, there’s hundreds of more examples
of companies like this springing up all across the country. And I’m so inspired by what they’re doing, because it really represents
an alternative to the type of economy we have now, which exploits all of us. It also represents an alternative to waiting around for big investors
to bring chain stores, or big-box stores to our communities, because honestly,
those types of developments, they steal resources from our communities. They put our mom-and-pop shops
out of business, they make our entrepreneurs
into wage workers, and they take money out of our pocket and send it to their shareholders. So, I was so inspired by all these stories
of resistance and resilience that I got together with a few people
here in Los Angeles, and we created LUCI. LUCI stands for the Los Angeles
Union Cooperative Initiative, and our objective is to create
more worker-owned businesses here in Los Angeles. So far, in the last year,
we’ve created two: Pacific Electric, an electrical company, and Vermont Gage Carwash, which is right here in South-Central, some of you guys
might be familiar with it. This long-time carwash is now owned
and operated by its 20 workers, all of whom are union members as well. (Applause) So you might be wondering
why the focus on union-worker ownership, but there’s a lot of good reasons why the labor movement is a natural ally
to the worker-ownership movement. To build these companies
that we want in our community, we need a few things. We’re going to need money,
people and training. Unions have all of those things. America’s working class has been
paying union dues for decades, and with it, our unions have been building dignified, decent,
and democratic workplaces for us. However, union jobs
are on the steep decline, and it’s time for us to start
calling on our unions to really bring all of their financial
and political capital to bear in the creation of new,
union, living-wage jobs in our communities. Also, union halls
are full of union members who understand
the importance of solidarity and the power of collective action. These are the types of folks that want
more union businesses to exist, so let’s build them with them. Learning from our unions, learning from our past, learning from our peers, are all going to be very
important to our success, which is why I’d like to leave you
with one last example and a vision for the future … and that vision is Mondragon, Spain. Mondragon, Spain is a community
built entirely around worker cooperatives. There’s 260-plus businesses here, manufacturing everything from bicycles
to washing machines to transformers. And this group of businesses
now employs 80,000 people and earns more than 12 billion euros
in revenue every year. And all of the companies there
are owned by the people that work in them. They’ve also built universities
and hospitals and financial institutions. I mean, imagine if we could build
something like this in South-Central. The late mayor of Jackson
had a similar idea. He wanted to turn his entire city
into a Mondragon-like cooperative economy, calling his ambitious plan
“Jackson Rising.” And when I look at Mondragon, I see really what working-class people
can do for ourselves when we work together and make decisions
for ourselves and each other and our communities. And what’s really incredible
about Mondragon is that while we are dreaming about them, they are dreaming about us. This community in Spain has decided
to launch an international initiative to create more communities
like it all over the world, by linking up with unions, by supporting organizations like LUCI, and by educating folks
about the worker-ownership model. Now, here’s what you can do
to be a part of it. If you’re a union member,
go to your union meetings, and make sure that your union
has a worker-ownership initiative, and become a part of it. If you’re an entrepreneur, if you have a small business, or you’re interested in starting one, then link up with LUCI
or another organization like us to help you get started
on the cooperative model. If you’re a politician, or you work for one, or you just like talking to them, please get the city, state, federal
and county legislation passed that we need in order to fund
and support worker-owned businesses. And for everybody else, learn about our history,
learn about our models, and seek us out so can support us, you can buy from us, invest in us,
lend to us and join us, because it’s really
going to take all of us in order to build the more just
and sustainable and resilient economy that we want for ourselves
and our children. And with that, I would like to leave you
with a quote from Arundhati Roy, and she writes … “Our strategy should not be only
to confront Empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To mock it. To shame it. With our art, our literature, our music, our brilliance, our joy, our sheer relentlessness — and our ability to tell our own stories. Not the stories that we’re being
brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy
what they’re selling — their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their sense of inevitability. Because know this: They be few and we be many. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way. And on a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Thank you. (Applause)

100 comments

  1. There is a way for workers to own companies… It's called starting and owning a company.
    The world isn't fair. It's never been fair. 2017 America is the most fair civilization that has ever existed in human history. Sure, 60 years ago the white guy could get a home loan easier than the black guy, but 600 years ago the white peasant was doomed to a life of poverty while only a handful of elites ruled over Europe. We can play this game all day, because most of human history is horrible. We don't realize how good we have it because we have been spoiled since birth with late 20th and 21st century life.

  2. Dear most of the people in this comments section: the Red Scare is over. You don't have to be afraid of the word "cooperate" just because it begins with the same two letters as "communism." Also, for what it's worth there are now more prisoners the United States prison system than there every were in Stalin's gulags. So PLEASE, stop getting hung up on -isms, and evaluate economic practices and novel business structures (whether cooperative or not) on their merits, not on the basis of irrelevant, outdated propaganda. The future of our species depends on it!

  3. But workers can own parts of the company through stocks. Just because you're too ignorant to know how it works doesn't mean it's discrimination.

  4. I like the part about workers owning their own jobs
    I don't like the part about white privilege

    Does anyone feel like she is unnecissarily mixing two separate issues?

  5. I was interested until she turned business into a statement. She could have just talked about numbers and how a system like this would work in an American economy. But instead it was focused on working on our own time for "living wages" making it sound more like a get rich scheme ad when a real argument could have been made with research.

  6. The last quote of hers is why people are calling her socialist or communist, btw.

    Broke (legal) immigrants of all colors come to USA, and outperform the locals of all color, even those who initially have more wealth. Stop letting history or current poverty oppress your mind.

    Sorry that a system where people freely trade with minimal state coercion, does not support your racist collectivist ideology. That's literally the whole point.

    If you want to start a company and give ownership to the people you hire, go ahead. But you can't rob others via the state.

  7. Why do you need government funding to open a worker-owned business? Normal companies don't requires this. Is it because worker owned companies are not as efficient as normal companies?

    No where in the video did you say why it is more resilient. If this alternative form of business could work, then why are people not creating them all the time? Ah yes, I know why. Because when you own a business, you are taking a risk. You don't realize how many businesses fail, all the time. That business owner then loses all their money, but the employees only really lose a job. They did not invest their money.

    Imagine, if you will, we hit another recession. All the employees that have put their money into the business, just lost it. Now, no longer are they just jobless, they also have a lot less saving. I have an idea, its called the STOCK MARKET. Go invest in a publicly traded company and work for them. There you go, that's your dream. We already do this. It's just optional for the workers, if they want to risk their money or not.

  8. So when people come to the USA with absolutely nothing, from korea or china or El Salvador and become successful, is that white privelage? Call me crazy but I think it's hard work, smarts , and life planning , and sacrifice that makes you successful these days.

  9. This model is already in work. When you float the shares of your company, you open your company to ownership. But no matter who owns the company, the major decisions will be made by a small group of people called directors. The say of small shareholders is mostly nominal.

  10. 10:46 Wtf. Don't go to your legislator and ask them to support this. If it's really a better business model, it will happen on its own. You don't force people to do this using laws and courts and police and guns. Not everyone wants to be an owner. There's a lot of risk and responsibility in being an owner. The vast majority of people would rather just sell their labor in exchange for a paycheck. You communists legitimately scare me.

  11. Only someone too stupid to enter the meritocracy of capitalism would hate it. This is why Niki Okuk thinks the group of factory workers are a better CEO than the genius that does get picked for the CEO role.

  12. lol, listen to this fuckin Communist. Is TED serious? You block Graham Hancock but let this lady preach the supposed Merits of failed Ideologies.

  13. I create videos for the people who want to have a sharper edge, gain confidence, improve social skills, and much more! INTERESTED?? Then Head to my channel!

  14. somehow the jews and the asians game the racist capitalist system to be on top of the evil white people.
    capitalism is just the exchange of goods and services, only a moron hates this concept.
    what you uninformed communists should focus your attention at is corporatism, that is when the government is big enough that it gets payed by big corporations to pass laws that stifle competition for them and artificially create monopolys. a system that goes against the core spirit of free trade. capitalism just adapts to the circumstances because trade will always happen, obviously the company that holds a monopoly is able to increase the prices.

  15. Why do they always have to put a racial twist on it? She actually has good ideas about individual responsibility when it comes to business ownership

  16. When Communism was a thing, they used to slaughter and enslave my ancestors by the hands of Kremlin because back then we, 3rd world nation poor, were considered bourgeoisie were considered to have things too good for Russian Empires liking. Then a century later amidst of their own population starving the streets and dying by the millions, they invaded my country twice in the intention of ruling over us because again, they were starving and we were not.

    You can give me all that " No True Scotsman " logical fallacy crap, but then by that same logic you can say that about anything which is exactly partly why it is not a sufficient claim. Those of us who are intimately familiar with this kind of thinking know exactly why this always becomes a genocidal ideology in the end. Perhaps the biggest irony is that Communism critique's Capitalism by its unrealistic expectation of infinite growth in a finite world, but then it also relies on this very same expectation but in a different way.

  17. Oppression points for being black (missed opportunity on her woman demo), plus confessing her original sin of being white, social justice ceiling has just been broken.

  18. The first 90 seconds sums up just about everything wrong with this country. The rest is utter nonsense, trash and lies. Capitalism wont finance black Liberation? Last time I checked, it already did. Pro union propaganda is laughable and speaks to how clueless these people are. To talk about laying siege to the corporate revolution like you're some kind of hero is irresponsible at best. Notice she didn't say she pays her own workers the $15 minimum wage? Hypocrisy…Finally, the claim that you used your white privilege to start your own business (capitalism) is clearly cultural appropriation and I'd like it back please.

  19. Girl, your parents and grandparents had white privilege. You had the privilege of wealth. You being white has not significantly changed your life.

  20. 'Mostly people of colour' Well the US is 65% white, so I think there's an under representation of Whites. They need pro-White hiring practises until this is resolved

  21. Ah, the stench of racism and communism. She says herself that Capitalism created the business she want to turns over to the community. That only works once and then we're screwed.

    "Solidarity over profits". Well said, Comrade!

  22. While I do think that communism doesn't work generally, and so should the case with cooperatives too, as it is somewhat based on a similar idea….- there are plenty of cooperatives which are economically viable and healthy, and have been so for many decades! One example, which straight away comes to my mind is…Amul – a cooperative business society based in India and established in 1950, which has been phenomenal in its success.

    So, I do think that the truth is not that straight and simple. There needs to be more study and analysis, to find out exactly what makes cooperatives work in some cases. Is it just the make up of the society out of which it is formed? Or it could be something else.

  23. These type of companies could never champion innovation like the top companies of the world but when they do, if they ever do, you can sign me up. Essentially a full economy of companies running with this structure is called communism. If communism could be organized and creat the same level of innovation and productivity as capitalism, a person would have to be crazy to not want that. Unfortunately there is no evidence that it can work and plenty of evidence it won't work. These companies will only work on a small scale and small scale companies can never produce good quality products, cost effectively at marketable prices.

  24. Couldn't stand another second of this – white privilege white privelege white privelege – what a ridiculous woman why doesn't she go eat up some more mind numbing mainstream media on television.

  25. Why did you have to say "White privilege" and bring race into this and trigger easily offended far-right babies and anti-sjw snowflakes? Half your audience tuned out at that moment, at 1/6 the way through. You had a great opportunity to discuss worker-owned co-ops and you destroyed it with race politics.

  26. To the people bitching "this is socialism" yes it is. It is workers owning the means of production. It is also free market as worker owned firms will compete with each other. Think Coke and Pepsi being worker owned. I believe Benjamin Tucker called it Free Market Socialism.

  27. Workers owning parts of the company? Umm…have you seen the way Workers at Walmart perform? And treat customers? You must be kidding.

  28. Just stop already. One of the richest men in the world is a Mexican named Carlos Slim. Worth more than Trump. We just had a president who is half black. Asians are super wealthy. But for whatever reason, people appeal to history and white privilege to justify their failures. And I'm not even white, so shut it.

  29. what would stop workers from buying shares and become owners of business ! this women is simply need 101 finance education

  30. Solidarity do mean that if you pay the others can not pay and the government can make you pay that what the others do not pay.

    Better to split the cost and effort and work load then solidarity.

    Solidarity is a good word but how do it work in practice?

  31. i last to the 3rd "white priviliege" gibberish, then had to turn off. How spreading racial propaganda is in the spirit of TED?

  32. I study in Mondragon in a school that is a part of the cooperative, I go to grocery stores that are run by it, I buy tickets back to the USA to visit family in the travel agencies they own… everything from clothing stores to factories are part of this cooperative. There are a lot of benefits to it, but dont think that it doesn't have it's downsides and it is always isn't what is best for the small businesses and mom and pop stores. Here in Basque Country I think the model is certainly better than that presented in the USA, but it is not perfect.

  33. Damn I don't agree with everything but Ted talks normally have a slightly more mature audience then the rest of YouTube that is not well represented here

  34. It is not a bad idea, but if she had left the "color" out of this presentation I think this talk would have worked a lot better.

  35. You see, this is why we need free speech. So that we could hear people's idiotic ideas and disseminate them, so that better ideas can emerge.

  36. As a capitalist, I'm not completely against this idea…for small businesses. Larger corporations need more centralized control and ownership in order to use their resources efficiently as the individual worker would make up too little of a portion of the corporation to make skilled management decisions. However for small businesses I could see this working, although not as efficiently as the traditional LLC model for most small businesses. And on a macroeconomic level this has no feasible way of working on a large scale

  37. Not that it’s negates her argument just interesting to point out that after the October revolution in Russia, the sovnakom introduced the workers degree which did this exact thing

  38. Publix proves this…Trump and conservatives are still stupid enough to think trickle down economics works even though every single conservative presidency where rich people were given tax cuts, the economy suffers. Stop giving everything to the wealthy. This middle class deserves the majority of wealth.

  39. Capitalism doesn't exist without aspects of Socialism. Until we can admit that Capitalism is failing, we will continue to spiral downward. Spewing the Western narrative that Socialism is Communism, or "socialism always fails", is being dishonest and doesn't change the fact that Capitalism is not working.

  40. How are decisions made? do you need a vote for every little decision? Also, isn't that system similar to companies giving their employees company stock options?

  41. The ICA Group has been helping employees take over their failing companies and bring them back to life. https://ica-group.org/

  42. If you work it or buy from it, you should own it. If you use it, you should own it. There, a common sense principle, plain and simple! What’s so hard about that?

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