I said in my last blog that I wanted to return to the question of what the British co-op movement (and, hopefully, a future co-operatively-minded Labour government) can learn from recent developments in France, where workers’ coops (SCOPs: Sociétés coopératives et participatives) have been growing in numbers in recent years.
There are currently around 2300 SCOPs. They include start-ups, employee buy-outs of existing companies (for example, when the owner wants to sell up), and employee rescues of failing businesses (always the hardest option of the three). In the last category, I mentioned here the worker-led rescue of the daily Nice-Matin newspaper chain at the time the co-op was being established. I’ve also mentioned several times the Sea France ferry co-op, now unfortunately no longer trading.
I got talking to Eleonore Perrin Massebiaux at the Ways Forward conference in Manchester last month, and afterwards she kindly gave me the link to a recent article she’s written which provides a very good introduction to what is happening n France. Elly also sent me a link to a useful publication Beyond the Crisis from the European worker co-op federation CECOP, which somehow I missed when it came out a few years ago. CECOP’s report gives detailed information on what’s happening in France, Spain and Italy. (The version online claims to be a draft, but since no final text appears to have been published we won’t worry too much about that).
“Co-operatives are a successful business model, innovative, resilient and effective in both the short and long term, capable of working at both small and large scale, appropriate for all sectors of economic activity, and the generator of millions of jobs worldwide.”
Indeed yes, although these are not my own words. This is my best effort at translating some of the text on the website of the Cooperatives de Treball de Catalunya (the Catalan Federation of Workers Co-ops), which I’ve been browsing through with interest. There are around 4000 co-ops in Catalunya, just under three-quarters of these being workers’ co-ops. And Cooperatives de Treball de Catalunya has reported an upsurge in interest in the co-op business model recently, with 2016 being the best year for co-operative growth for twenty years.
The Labour Party is making welcome noises about strong support for co-operative business when it is returned to power. We will need to ensure that this latent support is converted into real long-term achievement (learning the lessons of both the Tony Benn ‘phoenix’ co-ops of the 1970s and the work of co-operative development agencies in the 1980s). My view is that there is much in mainland Europe to help us. As well as looking at developments in Catalunya I’ve also been looking into what’s been happening in France – a subject for another blog shortly, I think.
There are, I know, people who struggle to know how to pronounce the West Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd.
The poet Ted Hughes was born there, and when Hollywood made the biopic of Hughes’ life with Sylvia Plath the actor playing the poet at one stage mentioned that he came from (deep breath) mith- om – m – royd. Cue the sound of tittering at every cinema showing in West Yorkshire.
It’s migh- zhum –royd, with the emphasis on the first and third syllables.
Why am I telling you this? Because I will be giving a talk at the Mytholmroyd Community Centre this Friday on Joseph Greenwood and the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Co-operative Society, in my opinion one of the most important co-operatives in Britain during the later years of the nineteenth century. The talk is hosted by the Mytholmroyd Historical Society. I am sure they would not turn away visitors.