Worker cooperation and green activism

Dr Rory Ridley-Duff, Reader in Cooperative and Social Enterprise at Sheffield Business School, makes the case for Greens to back cooperatives

At the 2015 election, the Green Party manifesto mentioned co- ps and the social economy 143 times, four times more than Labour and six times more than the Conservatives or UKIP. Based on policy commitments, we are the party of labour and co-ops.  

International standards for worker co-ops were set in 2004. There must be majority control by worker-owners, with policies to improve their economic, social and cultural wellbeing. Research at Sheffield Business School found three legal forms that meet the standard: cooperative societies controlled by worker-members, companies where employees own a majority of shares, and companies where shares are owned by an Employee Trust and trustees are directly elected from the workforce. 

In the UK, the second and third types are more prevalent, whereas the first is favoured across the EU (such as in Italy, where cooperative societies provide over 10 per cent of jobs). There could be a similar shift in the UK if emerging innovations can be harnessed. 

Fellow lecturer Dr David Wren’s recent PhD found four characteristics shared across all three types - trust, fun, openness and high commitment. In cooperative societies, he found there is more emphasis on self-control, democratic management, work-life balance and secure employment. This compliments my research on the ‘FairShares’ model, which encourages joint worker-consumer ownership in solidarity co-ops. 

Policies for worker and solidarity cooperatives are already part of Green Party policy. However, there is another reason to develop a closer relationship with the wider movement. At the 2016 International Cooperative Summit in 

Quebec, the movement’s leaders, the International Labour Organisation and the UN all stressed in the post-summit report that only cooperative businesses have made a collective policy commitment to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

What can we do? In addition to buying from co-ops, we can help build new cooperative markets and nance them through crowdfunding platforms. 

A short article like this cannot provide a detailed policy review, but it can remind us that active Green Party support for worker, producer, solidarity and consumer cooperatives is a key policy that advances sustainable development. 

The Cooperatives Working Group is open to Green Party members to help develop policy. Contact ed@acrewoods. net or join the gp-cooperatives mailing list for more information.