Building co-operative ownership closely connected to place and people

The social co-operative model is used widely throughout mainland Europe as a way of galvanising local people to engage with their local economy through the development of new businesses and employment. Employing more than 4.7 million, they make an important contribution to the development of local economies by strengthening local ownership and the attachment of business to place and people. One example is the Fonderie de l’Aisne which is a successful case of a worker buy-out in France.

How it happened: The worker buyout of a local foundry

The Fonderie de l’Aisne, is a foundry located in the north-east of the French Champagne region which manufactured aluminium for heavy transport including boats and aircraft, one of the very few still making these products in France. In 2006 the company ran into difficulties because one of their major companies defaulted on a loan and in 2009, the business went into liquidation with the loss of more than 200 workers. However, some senior former staff atthe foundry were curious as to whether the business could potentially have a future. They developed a business plan and persuaded a group of former workers to collaborate with them in order to start a co-operative and re-develop their old jobs. Workers ploughed a percentage of their unemployment benefits into the business as start-up capital and the foundry recommenced operations, a month after closing in June 2009. Turnover of the business rose by 254% in the first two years of the new co-operative and a share of the profits is spread equally between the workers.

“Today we know for whom we are working. We know that we do not work for a financial group who could loot the company for several years and then close it or delocalize it”, says Pascal Foire, manager of the Fonderie de l’Aisne.

Key features of this approach

This is an example of a mainstreamed community economic development which involves:

  • Social equity – about ensuring that the benefits of growth are equally shared among the workers of a company in a way that does not place profit above the needs of local people
  • Business growth – about using the skills, knowledge and ideas of local people to create a successful growing business
  • Local employment – about creating new job opportunities in the communities, particularly for those who are furthest from the job market.
  • Mutuality – because the co-operative is worker owned, everyone has an interest in seeing the company succeed.

To learn more

A detailed write up of this case study can be found in this report by the European Confederation of Businesses.

See also – company website for Founderie de L’Aisne

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