Co-ops must play their part in building a future for work

Ultimately, the solutions may come from the very developments that have disrupted the economy

The modern co-op movement – created to meet the challenges facing workers in the wake of the Industrial Revolution – faces a new test as the world undergoes another technological upheaval.

There is growing concern over the threat to jobs from automation and the constant need to update skills. Add the pressures of globalisation, climate change and an ageing population into the mix, and it’s clear we face uncertain times.

How should the movement respond? Leading figures at the 2017 Global Conference in Kuala Lumpur stressed the trust people place in co-ops, which gives the movement a selling point as the world economy reshapes itself. Others discussed the wealth of data that co-ops have access to, and the fact that they are well-placed to take advantage of a shift in the job market towards areas such as the care sector.

But how will this new world of co-operative work be financed? Some suggest an automation tax on robots to fund health and care. Others are looking into setting up state investment banks.

And there are those who say that co-operatives are not strong enough to face these challenges alone, and urge them to work with other movements – as is already happening, for instance with the co-op-union hybrids being developed in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Ultimately, the solutions may come from the very developments that have disrupted the economy. One of our case studies, Moeda in Brazil, is a co-op crypto bank which lends to sustainable businesses which might not otherwise have accessed finance. It’s creative thinking like this which is needed to steer the co-op movement through these changing times.

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