IN THE BEGINNING
Worker cooperatives gained prominence during the Industrial Revolution as part of the labour movement. Workers began controlling businesses for themselves and forming cooperatives in reaction to the industrial capitalism of the time. The underpinning philosophy of the movement came from the socialist writings of thinkers including Robert Owen. Owen, who is considered the father of the cooperative movement, provided a healthy environment for his workers, with education for themselves and their families. The first co-operative store was opened in New Lanark, Scotland and “villages of co-operation” were formed where workers could overcome poverty, become self governing, grow their own food and make their own clothes. By 1830 there were hundreds of co-operatives. Also around this time, Dr William King produced a monthly publication, which provided philosophy and practical advice about running a business using cooperative principles.
In England in 1844, The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, became the first successful Cooperative. The Rochdale Principles became the basis for the development of the modern cooperative movement. The Pioneers banded together to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford, due to poverty created by the Industrial Revolution. In Dec 1844, after months of struggling to pool £1 from each member, with £28 pounds of capital, they opened their store. It had a limited selection of mainly butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and candles. Within months, they added tea and tobacco, and become known for their high quality goods.
The Co-operative Group formed gradually over 140 years from the merger of independent retail societies, and their wholesale societies and federations. By 1872, it had become known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS).
The current cooperative movement began in the 1960s and developed on a system of “collective ownership” where face value shares were issued as symbols of equal voting rights and common ownership. Some of these early cooperatives still exist and most new worker cooperatives follow their lead and develop a relationship to capital that is more radical than the previous system of equity share ownership.
In the UK this type of cooperative was traditionally known as a producer cooperative; the ‘new wave’ of worker cooperatives that took off in Britain in the mid-1970s joined the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM) as a separate federation. In 2001 ICOM merged with the Co-operative Union to create Co-operatives UK
In 2008, Co-operatives UK launched The Worker Co-operative Code of Governance. In 2018, Google announced a $1 million grant to a platform cooperative development kit in collaboration with 5 pilot cooperatives, which are all worker-owned.
DEFINITION AND DIFFERENCES
There is no universally accepted definition of a worker cooperative, but they can be viewed as business that provides a product or service, to sell for profit where the workers are members or worker-owners. Worker-owners work in the business, govern it and manage it. Unlike with conventional firms, ownership and decision-making power of a worker cooperative is vested solely with the worker-owners and ultimate authority rests with the worker-owners as a whole. Worker-owners control the resources of the cooperative and the work process, such as wages or hours of work. Some casual or wage workers may be employed with whom profits and decision making are not necessarily shared equally. Workers may also undergo a probation period before acquiring full voting rights.
Participation is based on one vote per worker-owner, regardless of the number of shares or equity owned by each worker-owner. Voting rights are not tied to investment or patronage in the workers’ co-operative, and only worker-owners can vote on decisions that affect them.
JUST COOPERATE LIMITED (No.4384)
We are registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 (IPS). The society rules can be seen and downloaded free at mutuals.fca.org.uk