The worker cooperative Aktywizacja, located in Poland, provides electrical safety equipment and services for electrical power installations, and offers decent work for the local community focusing on innovation and, mainly, on its people.
Created in 1985 in Krakow, Poland, Aktywizacja started as a small cooperative and became as of today the largest producer of health and safety equipment for the country's energy industry, employing 37 workers of which 35 are members. After 34 years in the polish market the cooperative has gained a solid and valuable reputation based on its capacity to adapt to changes, adopting new business strategies according to the market needs, without departing from its primary purpose, as worker cooperative, that of providing jobs for its members. Through its history the cooperative employed more than 1,300 people.
In 1989, when the communist regime collapsed the country had to adopt to the market standards of the European Union and faced one of its most important challenges. The European market standards, based on the research and experience of large corporations with big budget resources, were a serious threaten to the cooperative’s competitiveness in the market.
Before that year, cooperatives in Poland never had to worry much about market competitiveness. Under communism cooperatives were managed by the state, which was the guarantor of selling everything that was produced. However, during the economic transformation that followed the end of communism in the 90’s, the cooperatives had to struggle for their survival, abandoned by the government authorities. Around 2000 worker cooperatives shut down and only about 600 probably survived. Key to survival was the capacity of cooperatives to be flexible, innovative and constantly diversify their sales.
Thanks to a dynamic and focused team and the high quality of its products and services, also more affordable than those offered by the foreign companies that invaded the polish market after 1989, the Aktywizacja cooperative managed to survive these challenges, shifting form a starting offer capacity of six or seven products to a wide range of products listed, today, in a 200 pages catalogue.
The resilience of worker cooperatives is its worker members
According to, Janusz Szajta, president of the cooperative, what also contributed to the survival of Aktywizacja and it still contributing to its sustainability over time is being a worker cooperative. In these cooperatives the peculiarity of the status of worker members, at the same time employees and owner of the cooperative, allows workers to identify with the workplace and get directly involved in the development of the cooperative, making any decision making process a lasting and collective process.
In Aktywizacja, once a year, the members take part in the general assembly, which has the power to make all the decisions, as for example, the election of the management and the board. The management is constituted by three members that carry out the daily decision making of the cooperative, while the board is constituted by five regular workers and reviews the activity of the management.
Moreover, once a month the management, board and managers of the departments meet in order to discuss about last month developments and future strategies.
“If the workers were not reinvesting the profits in the best professional skills and the most modern products, instead of sharing it among them, as any other conventional enterprise would do, the cooperative wouldn’t exist anymore”.
Although managing a cooperative is sometimes more difficult than a normal company, as seeking consensus is not always easy, according to Mr Szajta “a cooperative employment contract is a form of employment unprecedented in other enterprises because it protects the employee even in its most difficult moments”.
Employing workers with up to 40 years of experience, Aktywizacja, defines itself as a multigenerational cooperative, where three generations of worker members, from 26 years old to 66 years old, work together. “Just like in a family, if trouble arises, nobody throws anyone out of the door, but tightens the belt. When the financial crisis came, the workers members jointly decided to reduce their salaries, so that anyone would lose its jobs”.
To read more about the resilience of cooperatives in time of crisis, check out CECOP’s study “the resilience of the cooperative model”
Aktywizacja cooperative is affiliated to the National Auditing Union of Worker Cooperatives (NAUWC) in Poland, an organisation providing auditing, trainings, financial and legal consultancy services to worker cooperatives in the country. NAUWC is member of CECOP since 1997.