American Study Visit:

On Tuesday 12th June members of the Co-operative Charitable Trust (founded by Bob Giel) visited Co-operatives UK.  John Butler did a fascinating presentation on consumer co-operatives and I...

On Tuesday 12th June members of the Co-operative Charitable Trust (founded by Bob Giel) visited Co-operatives UK.  John Butler did a fascinating presentation on consumer co-operatives and I was asked to talk about worker co-operatives.  So here are the highlights and some of the things I found out in return.

I started off with the headline figures for the Co-operative Economy and how worker co-operatives make up roughly 8% of the UK co-operative economy by number, but less than 0.5% when you look at their turnover.

The size of the UK worker co-operative sector is very small compared to our Spanish, Italian and French cousins (something I will go into in my next post or two). But we are comparable to the US in number, although they do have some worker co-operatives that are larger (one has 1500+ staff!).

Although the US Federation of Worker Co-operatives doesn’t collect data to the same extent as Co-operatives UK they estimate there are over 300 democratic workplaces in the United States, employing over 3,500 people and generating over $400 million in annual revenues.

He is a break down of the worker co-operative economy for 2009 (please always send back your annual return to help us keep our data accurate).

Our US visitors were particularly interested in our Worker Co-operative Code of Governance and the flatter more collective management structure in the UK. I focused particularly on some of our larger worker co-operatives like Suma, Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative and Dulas. To show the different structures, governance models and industry sectors.

 
I could only find the 5 largest American Worker Co-operatives, but it is interesting to compare and contrast them.  There largest (in turnover) is comparable to Suma and mostly similar industry/size to our co-operatives, when you think how much larger the US is. The big surprise is Bronx based homcare provider with 1500+ workers, far larger than any of our worker co-operatives. I understand our own Sunderland Homecare a UK employee owned business were inspired by them (Sunderland are not usually categorised as a worker co-operative though).

Defiantly worth a deeper look into their governance mode and business; particularly in light of the Conservative Governments interest in public service delivery through Co-operatives.

Name
State
2005 Revenues
Workers
Calif.
$38 million (£25mm)
200+
N.Y.
$24 million
(£15.8m)
1,500+
Mass.
$22 million
(£14.5m)
70
Calif.
$20 million
(£13.2m)
120
Wis.
$10 million
(£6.6m)
50

I finished off with a graph to give a flavour of the industries worker co-operatives operate in. I organised them under the below categories (my own creation). In the future our members will be able to tag and categorise themselves in our new directory hopefully improving the number and depth of our data.

Most of these should be self-explanatory apart from “Creative Arts” that brings together all the music, art, theatre and craft based worker co-operatives.

If you are an American reader I would love any links of info on your larger worker co-operatives, and what makes them successful.  Please leave comments.

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