North American Worker Coop Conference This Week

If you happen to be near Quebec City this week, two exciting conferences will be taking place. The first is about business succession planning with an emphasis of selling businesses to one’s employees. The second in the first ever conference of North American worker cooperatives and will include the creation of the CICOPA-North America group.

The first conference develops as a cooperative reaction to the estimate that, in Canada alone, 200,000 small business owners will be retiring over the next 10 years. For many, they will not have children interested in running the business. Further, the buyers may be more interested in simply shutting the companies down instead of maintaining them. Worker cooperatives offer a great opportunity for the owners to sell to their employees. This allows the legacy of the owner to carry on into perpetuity. They will not see their life’s work simply boxed up and shipped away. For the children who inherited a company that they don’t really want, it gives them an opportunity to realize their inheritance without harming the workers who helped provide that inheritance. For communities, it means being able to keep legacy businesses, stores and factories that helped define the local culture as well as jobs and capital.

In the United States, owners avoid Capital Gains taxes if they sell to their workers. I am not sure if Canada has similar laws, but my guess is that this conference will answer that question and more. The conference begins October 11 and runs through the 13th.

Starting on the 13th and running through the 15th, is the first NA worker coop conference. The close trading relationship between Canada and the United States led to this conference. The worker coops in Canada and the US have often worked together through their respective trade organizations: the USFWC and the CWCF. However, this is the first time for a joint conference. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! will be speaking as well Bruno Roelants, General Secretary, International Organization of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Cooperatives (CICOPA) which is the interational sectoral organization for worker cooperatives within the International Cooperative Association.

Of course, my good friend, USFWC President and Progressive Magazine blogger Rebecca Kemble will also be present and presenting. It should be an exciting conference and a rare opportunity for those of us in the US to learn about the Quebecois worker coop movement. Likewise, we will also be sharing some of our newest developments such as Union Cab’s new peer review program which moved disciplinary and accountability power from management to panels of peers. My fellow worker, Martha Kemble, will be presenting that topic.

However, the big event will be the creation of a CICOPA North America as a subgroup of the CICOPA Americas. Traditionally, the two continents of this hemisphere have been linked together in one geographical unit (the others of Europe, Africa and Asia). To be fair, the number of worker co-ops in the US was nominal until just a few years ago. However, the development of the regional trading groups, MERCOSUR and NAFTA, have caused the ICA map to become a bit dated. The work here, won’t undo that map, but it will create an organization that is better suited for working with the NAFTA based nations (including Mexico and the Caribbean) as our movements grow and prosper.

I am personally heartbroken that I cannot attend either of these conferences. Especially since I missed the Minneapolis conference in 2004 which established the USFWC. For those of you attending, please take my energy with you! I hope that someone publishes a report (and remember, you can do so on these pages if you would like).

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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