‘Return-to-workers: Trade Union Investment Companies and ESOPs’

Workers as owners The very idea of workers as business owners suggests a contradiction On the one hand, the distinction between workers and capitalists, based on their relationship to the means of production, is a core assumption in Marxist and neo-Marxist texts On the other hand, South African trade unions participate in the economy as owners or part-owners of companies Trade union investment companies and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) are the vehicles for worker ownership and are regarded as central to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) in South Africa The central question is: Can these companies be both profitable and attain a wider goal? It’s not clear what exactly that wider goal is, and even if it is defined more precisely it remains difficult to measure For example, how does one measure creating an alternative to capitalism, or challenging market dominance using the concept of workers being owners? Alternatively, should one focus purely on financial aspects, namely how much money is returned to workers and unions?