“I really believe that people become empowered by doing things themselves, not by having handouts” explains Becky Johnson from Who made your pants?, a worker cooperative formed to empower marginalised women by providing flexible employment, education and a social and community space.
For this campaign, CECOP has been collecting stories of cooperative members from all over Europe. All those testimonies are presented on the campaign website which includes also news and videos. In recent years, there has been a growing interest for the worker cooperatives model. A largely unsustainable financial-economic system at a global level paved the way towards the global crisis which has left entire EU member states in a very critical situation. Since then, cooperatives have appeared as generally more resilient to the crisis than the average of enterprises, also in terms of jobs, and as a realistic option to save enterprises and jobs through the restructuring of enterprises in crisis or without heirs.
Nevertheless, cooperatives in general and worker cooperatives in particular suffer from a lack of recognition in European employment policies. “An emblematic example of that lack of recognition can be found in the EU 2020 strategy”, underlines CECOP secretary general, Bruno Roelants. However, the recently published European Commission Communication on the Single Market Act does recognize that the cooperative sector is more vibrant than ever European Commission Communication COM(2011) 206/4: “Single Market Act : Twelve levers to boost growth and strengthen confidence”. Despite the enthusiasm cooperatives have enjoyed in the past few years, the CECOP campaign does not picture them as the medicine that would cure all the diseases. As any other type of company, cooperatives have many problems but, most of the time, these are solved jointly by their members. “It is not easy to operate as a cooperative.
The initial enthusiasm soon gives way to individualism and demands that can easily endanger the integrity of the company. It is therefore absolutely necessary to share the issues and problems faced by all members of the workforce with the fierce conviction that all actions are taken in the common interest” explains Elena Purinan from the Aussametal cooperative in the North of Italy.
All members have their word to say and are directly interested in the success of the business thanks to the redistribution of surplus: “If more businesses were run this way, with highly motivated worker owners, then everyone would be better off”, says Scott Muir, a worker from Infinity Food in the UK. Recently, CECOP wrote a letter to several high-level EU decision makers to raise their awareness on the worker cooperative business model. The letter was sent to EU Commissioners László Andor (Employment), Antonio Tajani (Enterprise) and Michel Barnier (Internal Market), several MEPs, Commission civil servants, etc.
As stated in the letter, “by providing sustainable employment in economically sustainable enterprises geared towards the long term, we consider ourselves to be part of a wider socio-economic trend, which is trying to generate and distribute long-term wealth in the territories, going in the opposite direction of the tendencies which caused the crisis”.