Co-operatives exist to benefit their members, and the flexibility of the coop model has allowed it to become successful across various sectors
Co-operatives exist in housing – operating on a basis where the co-op owns a property and tenants pay their rent to the co-op. In effect the co-op acts as a landlord, but one that will only act on the collective decision of tenants. Whether decisions be around rent, repairs, refurbishments – they are in the hands of tenants.
Co-operative housing associations such as those like West Whitlawburn Housing sco-operative provide a gold standard of housing service. By keeping power in the hands of tenants, co-ops provide a security that is often non existent with private landlords. Too often we hear stories of rouge landlords who implement hiked rent increases, neglect to carry out repairs and fail to make decisions in the best interests of tenants, those problems are eradicated by the collaborative approach of the coop model.
Perhaps the most well known example of a co-op in practice in the business sector is the co-operative convenience store itself. These societies operate on a membership basis allowing customers to purchase shares at a price of £1 which in turn gives them a say in the products stocked, charities supported and decisions around the directorship of the company.
But the co-op model can and has been utilised in many other ways. Some football clubs now operate on a membership basis, implementing the same model to give fans direct ownership over their clubs. FC Barcelona was one of the first clubs in the world to be owned entirely by its members who form the governing body of the club, but these days clubs a number of clubs across the U.K. follow a similar model. Motherwell Football Club embarked on a new fan ownership journey in 2016, putting supporters at the heart of decision making at their club, and it could be that with the financial struggles of Covid-19 other clubs begin to look to do the same.
I also think that worker-ownership is something that we should encourage. There are examples of worker ownership across Scotland from Green City Wholefoods in Glasgow to Clansman Dynamics creating robotics in East Kilbride.
I am delighted that as part of the Co-operative Party’s work on Owning the Future work to find out that 64% of people think that the economy would be fairer if employees could buy their business if it was at risk of closing or was up sale. This is an idea which has come from Italy where it is know as the Marcora Law and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is very supportive of this idea. I am pleased to say this idea has made the final version of Scottish Labour policy platform for next year’s election.
The Marcora Law does this by providing workers at risk of redundancy, when a business or part of a businesses is poised to shut down, with their unemployment benefits as a lump sum in advance to use as capital to buyout the business – as well as access to support and guidance to make it successful. Not only does this keep people in jobs and ensure businesses stay open and productive, it also means the economy can over time shift to a fairer, more democratic structure where employees have a say and a stake in their workplaces.
Across sectors, co-operatives have brought about great benefit for people. It’s vital that they continue to be promoted and praised to encourage more businesses to adapt to a community ownership model.