A fund created four years ago to support the UK worker co-op sector has reached £76,203, delegates at the UKSCS conference in Sheffield were told.
The Worker Co-op Solidarity Fund – run by Solid Fund, an unincorporated collective with 581 contributing members – emerged from discussion of a possible development fund at the Worker Co-op Weekend in 2014.
“Anybody who pays into the fund is a member,” said Siôn Whellens, a member of design and print enterprise Calverts, one of the contributing worker co-ops.
Mr Whellens has been with Calverts since 1984 – a time of growth for worker co-ops in the UK, particularly in the print industry. Since then, the sector has declined, falling from 3,400 worker co-ops to just 400 today. But there is growing appetite for industrial democracy within the tech sector, making initiatives like the fund more important.
Mr Whellens says the majority of new members are not employees of worker co-ops but supporters of industrial democracy.
Each member of the fund, whether individual or corporate, has one vote. It is run on a voluntary basis, with individual members contribute £1 a week, while worker co-ops pay on behalf of their members – in some cases through payroll deduction. Suma is the largest contributor with over 200 members.
The decisions regarding the allocation of funding are done collectively through Loomio, an online collective decision-making tool developed by a worker co-op in New Zealand.
Around 150 people are active in the Loomio group, through which Solid Fund makes all decisions, with 60 members exercising their voting rights.
Members propose projects for support, which are discussed and voted on. A number of projects have already won support, with £3,750 going to Creative Workers Co-operative (CWC) for purchase of video production equipment.
Last year, a grant went to the successful CoTech retreat and £6,600 was allocated to find the next generation of worker co-op development advisers. Members also allocated £2,000 worth of bursary tickets and travel costs for low-income worker co-operators wanting to attend platform co-op events in New York and London. And there is assurance for worker co-ops hosting educational events in case they do not break even.
“We are now trying to reflect on why has this worked and how to make it better,” said Mr Whellens.
More information about the fund and the projects supported is available here.