In a number of EU countries there are strong formal networks of worker co-ops that collaborate to win and deliver work, to support the development of co-ops in general and to provide their own training, market research and funding.

Their track record shows them to be highly effective in terms of growth, employment and more resilient to down turns in the economy than other firms within their national economies. They also tend to have strong commitments to their local communities as well as their workforces. They are strongest in Italy, then Spain and France. These countries have the strongest legislation to protect co-ops from changes in ownership and structure. In Italy there are also VAT benefits in return for which the co-ops have to give 3% of their surpluses to support the development of new co-ops. They cover the whole range of sectors – manufacturing, energy, finance, health, construction, consultancy and other professional services. Some can be huge: Mondragon in Spain includes over 100 co-ops, and between them they employ over 88,000 people. The surrounding area had the highest medium income in the EU. Unifica, a construction consortium in Italy, has over 1,000 member companies who own it between them. Another Italian construction consortium, Consorzio Cooperative Constrzioni, has a joint annual turnover of over 6bn euros.  CGM Group comprises over 1000 cooperatives with a workforce of over 45,000 (10% of whom are defined as disadvantaged). It operates throughout Italy to provide health care and education with a turnover of 1.1 bn euros. Its turnover grew by 15% between 2008 and 2010.

Key features of this approach

  • Worker ownership, replicated and at scale
  • Cooperation between large numbers of independent businesses
  • Mutual ownership, replicated and at scale
  • Comprehensive range of support to individual and new co-ops including through government action.  This is controlled by and tailored to the needs of individual coop members in the local network. (Countries such as Sweden and Wales have national level support for the cooperative movement, and this seems to get weaker results than local control – albeit better than those countries with no state support for co-ops.)

To learn more

For more information see:

  • Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty (2012) The Resilience Imperative; Cooperative transitions to a steady state economy. New Society Publishers.
  • Tito Menzani and Vera Zamagni (2009) Cooperative networks in the Italian Economy. Oxford University Press.
  • Bruno Roelants, Diana Dovgan, Hyungsik Eum and Elisa Terrasi. (2012) The Resilience of the Cooperative Model: How worker cooperatives, social cooperatives and worker owned enterprises respond to the crisis and its consequences. CECOP.
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