10 December 2008

Research on worker co-operatives

I've just read a research paper by Rory Ridley-Duff, revisiting some previous research into worker co-operatives. Looking at "the impact of asset-locks on the longevity, growth and management styles in co-operative social enterprise."
Linked here.

Particularly interesting were two diagrams on co-operative governance structures: A representative structure; and a team/sector & hub structure.

The main points raised were:
  • The UK worker co-operative sector places a much stronger emphasis on common ownership than on the Continent.
  • Devolution of management responsibilities was more prevalent in individual and collective ownership, as opposed to common ownership co-operatives.
  • Access to external finance was less problematic for organisation where individual members had made investments.
  • Staff controlled organisations with a combination of individual/collective ownership grew faster than those based on common ownership principles.
In my opinion the survey size is too small, to draw many conclusion. I would be interested in research that could cover a lot more worker co-operatives. This might be something we can facilitate in the future.

It did however raise some interesting questions in my mind about the priorities and motivation in worker co-operatives, especially common ownership ones. If they are not investor led, would they priorities growth, (increase in the number of employees) over creating stable and well paid employment for their existing members?

If anyone knows of interesting areas of research into worker co-operatives, especially looking at their motivations and priorities and non-growth measures of success please send me info.


Anonymous said...

Recent economic events have reawakened my interest in workers co-ops. It's not that I ever went off the idea personally. It's just that most other people generally didn't seem very interested, though this may change in the near future.
Maybe it's that I was never very inspiring when trying to convince family and friends in the past but there's change in the air.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of interaction on the subject related forum I looked at today.
Quite a lot of viewers of threads over time but not so many active participants currently. Maybe this is due to a recent change of forum location.

First impressions gained from my recent forays into Web connected co-operation and communality are that there seem to be a lot more theoreticians than practitioners active on the Internet. Even if this is true, it may not be significant in real life terms. If it's my misperception, it won't be the first.

I got interested in communal living and co-operative endeavours about 30 or 40 years ago during a very laid-back period of my life. So I didn't get too much into the economics and legalities at that time.
Now, in my maturity I'm far more interested in the nitty-gritty because I'm looking at the way of life as a possible path for my kids and their kids, through the possible socio-economic difficulties of the near future.

In other words, if current family and friends express more than a passing interest in the subject I want to be there with as much information, practical advice and other help as possible. My current position is one of great interest and enthusiasm coupled with little knowledge or awareness of the complexities involved.

In response to John Atherton's Blog post "Research on worker co-operatives." I'd like to ask the following questions.
Please understand that these questions are asked from naivety, not scepticism. If anyone would be kind enough to provide some simple answers to further my education in these matters, I'd be most grateful.


As a novice, I don't yet understand how a worker's co-op can be such without common ownership?
How would there be an "emphasis" on common ownership?
Either there is common ownership or not?

How near in meaning is "devolution of management responsibilities" to "delegation of management responsibilities"?

I'm trying to understand the subtle difference between "collective" and "common" ownership. In my mind they're synonymous. I suppose that the variation in terms would tend to develop as a result of legal considerations?

Individual ownership of a worker's co-op?


My thoughts so far have been that employee numbers would be increased for the purpose of incorporating the necessary expertise as the co-operative developed its products, services or production levels based on orders.

Mike Halmarack

John Atherton said...

Hi thanks for your reply, If your interested in talking about worker co-ops try the facebook group (linked on the right) post a question or 2)

If you send me your email address to john.atherton@cooperatives-uk.coop

I will reply in more detail when i get back to work on the 5th Jan.

Common Ownership - Individual has a £1 share, they have no individual right to take money out of the business when they leave. This means the assets are held "in common" and therefore to sell or dissolve the Co-op is a lot more difficult.

Individual ownership - Individuals buy shares in the co-op and can sell them onto other members or back to the co-op when they leave. There are usually strict rules to how much of stake they can build up. This should not affect voting (one member one vote)