14 June 2010

Worker Co-operatives and Football

I attended Supporters Direct Conference this weekend to find out more about this newer (Once you get past 150yrs everything is new) side of the Co-operative Movement .  Fantastic event with lots of people showing a real interest in democratic ownership models.

Speakers talked about: profit taking, short-termist, debt leaden and inevitably unsustainable ownership models. How football clubs need a model that is sustainable, balances the business and community needs and of course ... focuses on the football...

You could always go down the benefactor route and find someone with unlimited resources (Chelsea/Man City) but what happens if they lose interest, or their Children or other people taking over the business when they die don't share the same enthusiasm?  The general consensus seemed to be supporter owned co-operatives ticked a lot of the right boxes.

The most fascinating session was one discussing the Bundesliga in Germany where the majority of clubs are 50+1% owned by the supporters (found a blog on it here if your interested).  No club has gone into administration in the history of the league and average supporter turnout is 42,000; interestingly salary rates were also a lot lower nearer 40% of turnover compared to nearer 63% in the UK.

During the Conference Supporters Direct also launched a report investigating how football clubs can account for their social value, considered if and how different ownership structures, including supporter owned, can influence the social value. This was of course interesting, and helped the argument for more supporters trusts but that's not the reason I'm mentioning it. The reason is; the paper was written by Dr Adam Brown from Substance (a worker co-operative).

Which brings me back to worker co-operatives. Delegates were very interested in the idea of getting involved in democratic ownership in their social and spare time, but what about at work? How many people thought they they could own and have a real say in their work-place. Creating sustainable businesses with the aim of providing good quality employment for its members, not maximising shareholder return? Thinking about worker co-operatives?

I'm sure there were a few; but I spoke to Paul Jones (Co-operatives UK helped incorporate the business); is setting up football co-operatives in Ghana, Kenya and Iberia.  The first co-operatives Keta Sandlanders FC is a supporter owned club (which is looking for international supporters if your interested). Focusing on the football, community development, but also employment & worker co-operatives. There is the problem of what happens to the team members when the season finishes, what do they do for the rest of the year?

Setting up worker co-operatives can be part of this answer and a way to add value to other community development activities. I wish Paul all the best with the idea of linking Football Club's to wider community development and for looking at the worker co-operative option.

I hope this renewed interested in democratic management and community ownership in peoples social time, can impact peoples thinking about their work time as well..

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