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To jumpstart US job market, turn workers into owners

Many Americans build wealth through their home. Why not through work?

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Seldom do the United Steelworkers, the United Nations, and film director Michael Moore express the same idea at the same time. But all have, in their own way, promoted the benefits of cooperative businesses in recent months.

The Steelworkers Union, North America’s largest industrial union, has signed an agreement with a 100,000-member European co-op to help workers here gain an ownership stake in their workplace.

Just last month, the UN declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives. It’s urging governments worldwide to collaborate with the co-op movement to reduce poverty and create more productive societies.

And Michael Moore sent a valentine to the co-op movement in his latest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” As a form of economic democracy, he said in an interview, co-ops are “the patriotic thing to do.”

In hard times like these, the co-op model makes sense. After all, public confidence in corporations, banks, and the larger financial system is at low ebb, while unemployment is at its highest level in 25 years. Homeownership, historically a reliable way to build equity, has been rocked by foreclosures. People are looking for other ways to do business and save money.

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