I was asked at the Co-operative Congress whether I was a member of the National Guild of Co-operators, to which I had to answer no. Rightly or maybe wrongly I have tended to see the Guild (first set up in 1926) as something of a relic of a previous period of British co-operation and one with only a limited role to play today. (In fairness to the Guild, they have a website here where you can find out more.)
The question was asked in the broader context of whether we need an effective organisation of individuals who identify with the co-operative movement (Co-operatives UK – quite rightly – being a member organisation of co-operatives rather than of individuals). This was a question which also began to be posed last year, in the context of the Ways Forward initiative hosted by Co-operative Business Consultants.
I tend to think that this would be a useful step forward (although what such an organisation or network would seek to achieve with its members’ contributions is of course a wide open question). In the meantime, there is SOLIDFUND, the solidarity fund originally established by the workers’ co-operative movement which is increasingly attracting a wider range of supporters and now has around 500 participants. It’s worth checking out, if you haven’t already signed up.
An interesting press release arrives from the Spanish workers’ cooperative organisation Coceta which has today signed a partnership agreement with one of the two main trade union federations in the country CC.OO. The aim is to work together to try to turn failing conventional businesses into cooperatives, as well as to convert businesses where the owner is retiring into worker-owned ventures.
The two organisations say they want to work more closely together with the aim of “not losing a single further worker’s job”.
Cooperatives and unions are increasingly rediscovering their common roots. Let me remind you of the 2013 ILO report on this theme Trade unions and worker co-operatives: where are we at? It’s worth a reread.
News from the US, where coop supporters in New York City met last week to campaign for more support to be given to the city’s embryonic workers’ cooperative sector. Hopefully, the time is right: the mayoral election last November saw a Democrat Bill de Blasio take the helm, the first Democrat in charge since 1993.
New York currently has only 23 workers’ coops, although they include the very long established home care coop Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) which has over two thousand members. There’s also the successful women’s coop Si Se Puede! which undertakes domestic cleaning contracts and which has helped to raise the wages earned by its members in a notoriously low paid sector.
“There is widespread recognition that one key area where the city must act is to create jobs,” says a new report issued in conjunction with the conference. “Too few jobs have been created in recent years and too many are at poverty level wages. It is critical that the city support the creation of jobs that combat poverty and empower workers to build businesses rooted in the local communities. Considering that the largest job creator in New York City are small businesses (of which there are nearly 200,000), there is no better time than now to push for the creation of worker cooperatives.”
You’ll find the report here.