How do co-operatively-run freelancer networks and open businesses compare on the seven co-operative principles?

There are many organisations, such as Gore or Valve, which are run co-operatively – but which do not identify themselves as a co-operative. So how do organisations such...

There are many organisations, such as Gore or Valve, which are run co-operatively – but which do not identify themselves as a co-operative. So how do organisations such as these compare to co-operatives on the seven co-op principles?

1. Voluntary and open membership

Open businesses do not operate a membership policy, though all employees are given the same autonomy as their peers. Some freelance networks have an open and flexible approach to membership, whereas others like The Cube have a restricted membership.

2. Democratic member control

Many freelance networks have no formal governance structure, meaning freelancers are in control. Without it being legally codified, however, there is always a risk that democracy will be eroded. For Gore or Valve, workers may control the production process, but the business’s direction is controlled by the owners, not the workers.

3. Member economic participation

Many freelance networks are normally run by and for freelancers, and it is often those people who are investing a little money in the business to get it off the ground. Open businesses do not necessarily need to use the capital of employees, although Gore has an Employee Stock Ownership Plan for its staff.

4. Autonomy and independence

Both freelance networks and open businesses tend to start and develop as independent organisations but, as their ownership is not necessarily democratic, there is no reason why they wouldn’t merge or become part of other organisations if there were benefits to the owners.

5. Education, training and information

Education and training is something that many organisations take seriously, not least those like Gore or Valve which have participative workers who are the driving force of the organisation. Education, though, is not constitutionally required as it is for co-operatives.

6. Co-operation among co-operatives

Because they do not see themselves as co-operatives, neither open businesses nor freelance networks necessarily work with other co-operatives. Nevertheless, many freelance networks in particular aim to work with like-minded organisations.

7. Concern for community

There is, again, no inherent concern for the community amongst open businesses or freelancer networks, though many freelancers see their way of organising as a different approach to conventional business.

Read more:
Co-operation – but not as we know it
Case study: The Freelancers Union and new mutualism

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