The Guiding Light

Over the last several months, I have used this space to discuss the two core documents for worker co-operatives: The Statement on the Co-operative Identity and the CICOPA Declaration on Worker Co-operatives. Worker co-operative practitioners need to read these documents. More importantly, they need to conduct their co-operative’s affairs and lead their co-operative with respect to these documents.

It really isn’t enough to post a sheet of paper on a wall with the words on them. While that is important, it simply doesn’t go far enough. We need, in our co-operatives, to invent ways to bring these documents to life. Co-operatives should adopt strategies such as including a statement with each policy proposal that details how this proposal expresses the identity of a worker co-operative in terms of these guiding documents. Trainings should begin with a review of the documents and how they interact with the training. Ultimately, even our operational decisions should reflect the guiding light of the co-operative identity and the declaration.

Unlike our competitors, our business must be intentional. We can’t simply throw pasta on the wall and see if it sticks. We need to consciously embrace the identity and infuse it into our operations, our planning, and our governance. If we aren’t really different from our competitors, then why co-operate? The way that we create that difference, a difference recognized world-wide, comes from expressing the collective values, principles, and identity of the worker co-operative. We don’t need to re-invent any wheels. We just need to make them turn.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-op in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University and hopes to finish his Ph.D. in Business Administration soon. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle and Mission Circle for Sociocracy for All. He teaches on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College.
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