Several Chicago youths are taking part in efforts to increase democracy in the workplace while tackling economic and environmental issues in their neighborhoods through the use of innovative business cooperatives owned and controlled by workers.
Young people from the city's Austin and Rogers Park communities discussed their involvement with cooperative businesses, which are entities owned and managed collectively by workers, at a 2014 Worker Cooperative National Conference held over the weekend at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In the West Side neighborhood of Austin, an impoverished community struggling with high rates of unemployment and crime, students at the manufacturing-focused Austin Polytechnical Academy launched a business cooperative at their school last year called Mech Creations, which makes trumpet mouthpieces. And on the city's far North Side in Rogers Park, which also faces issues of unemployment and crime, young people are participating in a worker cooperative focused on green infrastructure called Grassroots Ecology. The North Side youth-focused cooperative started building green infrastructure, including rain gardens and barrels to mitigate flooding, in 2012 and plans to incorporate as a limited liability company with cooperative by-laws this fall.