CICOPA: General Characteristics of a Worker Co-operative

If you are a member of a worker co-operative, as defined in the World Declaration on Worker Co-operatives, then CICOPA considers you a “proponent of one of the most advanced, fair and dignifying modalities of labour relations, generation and distribution of wealth, and democratization of ownership and of the economy”.

Heady stuff!

The Statement on the Declaration begins with a discussion of six General Characteristics that leads up to the actual Declaration. They are, in a nutshell:

  1. Humanity has consistently sought a qualitative improvement in the way that it organizes work with a steady progress towards labor relationships that are more fair and dignified.
  2. There are three modals of work:
    1. Self-employment
    2. Wage earners
    3. Worker ownership, in which work and management are carried out jointly
  3. Worker Co-operatives are the highest level of worker development in the present world. They are based on the values and principles of the Statement on the Co-operative Identity (adopted by the ICA in 1995 and supported by the ILO’s Promotion of Co-operatives 193/2002).
  4. Worker Co-operatives commit to being governed by the Identity Statement. In addition, they accept the additional definitions of this Declaration in order to further the worker co-operative model and differentiate it from the other types of co-operation. This will improve grow the movement while preventing deviations and abuses.
  5. The Declaration is necessary to allow the co-operative movement and the world to focus on the importance of worker co-operatives.
  6. The Declaration encourages co-operatives from all sectors to provide membership status to their workers and grant recognition to human work.

In some ways, this is a “shot across the bow” for the fake worker co-ops. These co-ops are really employer co-ops. Usually it is a partnership of a few who then sub-let to “independent contractors” who are not offered membership. This is most common in taxicab companies. It is a shell game used to avoid tax burdens and, in some cases, labor law.

The general characteristics also take a bold step in proclaiming in a very subtle way the old Wobblies motto: “Labor Creates All Wealth!” The Declaration encourages all co-operatives to respect their workers, to treat them as a significant stakeholder group and to create a membership class for them. This is very radical in co-op circles (at least US circles). Most Ag co-ops in the US do not allow members to work for the store. Consumer co-ops often only allow one or two workers (who might also be members) to serve on their boards. Usually, that service comes with a browbeating to ensure that they vote against their class. One consumer co-op that I know takes great pains to lecture their worker members to “think like an owner, not an employee”. As if the “employees” do not have a vested interest in the success of the consumer co-operative!

Quebec is a hot bed of worker co-operation. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the work being developed there follows this concept. In Quebec, the work has been laid to create the “New Co-operative Paradigm”. I can tell you that this discussion was the most popular of the St. Mary’s MMCCU program for my cohort. Its creator, Daniel Coté speaks at length about the need to develop social cohesion within a co-operative. A key part of his paradigm utilizes the value of Solidarity. Specifically, he sees the core success of the co-operative of the future as the solidarity between the worker and the consumer (by which I mean the consumer, the farmer, the housing consumer, and financial consumer).

The World Declaration on worker Co-operatives may not be the US Declaration of Independence, however, it does present a challenge. It presents a challenge to all worker co-operatives to examine how they operate. It challenges the fake worker co-ops, that are really employer co-operatives to own up to the falsehoods. It encourages all co-operatives to honor their workers, the people who actually produce the wealth and the benefits that the members enjoy.

Next Week: Basic Characteristics

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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