Making links: cooperatives and trade unions

Deadlines (and life generally) have meant that I have not had time  to report on an interesting seminar on links between coops and trade unions which was organised by the Co-operative College last Wednesday in London.

There were some stimulating presentations, including one from the Musicians Union who described how in various parts of the country school music teachers – as a response to the loss of their previous employment status with local authorities – are banding together in cooperatives. The MU has produced an excellent handbook Altogether Now:  A Guide to Forming Music Teacher Co-operatives, based on experiences gained at a pioneering cooperative in Swindon set up in 1998.

Both the trade union and the cooperative movement know that they share the same historical roots and the desire for a deeper relationship today was clearly expressed at the seminar.  The development of cooperative schools has seen a useful link made between the Co-operative College and some of the teachers’ unions.

But there remain tensions. As Matt Dykes from the TUC said, his first objective is to see workers who deliver public services remaining as public employees. The implication was that some sort of cooperative arrangement may be better than outright privatisation, but is still something of a fallback.

More fundamentally it was hard to disagree with Cliff Mills of Mutuo, who called for the traditional assumption that public ownership means just state ownership to be re-examined. Like Cliff, I’d maintain that there are other ways that public ownership can be established (some of which may take us back to ideas tried out in the early days of the coop movement in Britain).

If you’re interested in this area and haven’t already come across it, the ILO report from 2013 Trade Unions and Worker Cooperatives: Where are we at? is worth a good look.

2 thoughts on “Making links: cooperatives and trade unions

  1. Another interesting initiative between cooperatives and trade unions in the USA is, a Mondragon USA-affiliated not-for-profit economic development catalyst, focused on building a national ecosystem of unionized and alternative labor, worker-owned, cooperative businesses to create vibrant and sustaining local living economies while overcoming inequalities of opportunity, mobility, and income through broad-based, equal share worker ownership best practices. works with and through all like-minded local and national organizations and movement allies in each participating geography to assist existing businesses transitioning to a union co-op structure, develop new union-coop businesses and projects, and provide technical assistance, education, templates, access to finance, and mentoring.

  2. NOTE: This comment from has been moved here from another page.

    Community shares, might it not clarify things if these were called cooperative and community shares.
    The way these have been rolled out does nothing to encourage mutually supporting bonds between coops. These are launched as individual isolates with limited time slot to buy Withdrawable shares. There is a minimum requirement of the amount that has to be invested, understandable as each investment account has a cost. But the amount required means that a considerable proportion of people will for practical purposes be excluded. This can be mitigated if payments were in small instalments over time.
    Such a system might allow the of development of micro pension schemes directed at building socialised capital to invest in democratic enterprises. Then you need enterprise incubators pushing out viable mutual and coops to invest in.
    Re Union coops , interesting things developing in USA


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