Originally published by The Internet of Ownership and written by Pat Conaty, Research Associate, Co-operatives UK.
- Freelance co-operatives have emerged in Europe in trades where self-employment is the norm. A good example is the network of 30 local actors co-ops in England and Wales. They collectively negotiate, manage and renew work contracts. Moreover they provide services complementary to the trade union bargaining services of Equity for the same members. Similarly there are 9 local Musicians co-ops in England and Wales that work collaboratively with the Musicians Union. A new co-op for educational psychologists has been set up backed by their trade union. There is enormous scope for more joint trade union and co-op partnerships like these and especially with the current growth in new freelance co-ops in the UK for tech workers, filmmakers, translators, interpreters, bakers and in many creative industries.
- Business and employment co-operatives developed in France and Belgium during the 1990s. They provide a wide range of services that secure ‘worker rights’. Smart in Belgium with over 70,000 members is a good example. It handles for freelance members their invoicing and debt collection in ways that smooths out cash flow through guaranteed payment within seven days. Smart secures decent work by providing workspace, ongoing vocational education, equipment rentals and by managing social security arrangements to access benefit entitlements. Indycube a co-operative provider of workspace with more than 30 locations in England and Wales has formed a partnership with Community Union to develop a Smart solution for the UK. Smart co-ops have already been developed in seven other EU countries.
- Social co-operatives developed first in Italy from the 1970s and operate in the fields of social care, community and public health, education and in the creation of employment for disadvantaged groups. In Italy they are supported by a national trade union agreement and provide services for over 5 million people with an annual turnover of more than €9 billion. The model has been developed in Canada, Japan, France, Spain, Portugal and other EU countries. There are a growing number of social co-operatives in England and Wales including Cartrefi Cymru Co-operative, Community Lives Consortium, the Foster Care Co-operative and CASA.
- Union Co-op platforms are an emerging strategy aimed at advancing worker ownership and control in service industries. For example, the SEIU public services union in the USA is developing apps and a platform for community nurses and childminders. The CWA union in the USA, for example, has assisted taxi drivers in Denver to set up Union Taxi and Green Taxi co-ops and to become highly successful with their own apps. There is trade union support in the UK for developing apps with the highly successful Taxi co-ops (City Cabs and Central Taxis) in Edinburgh being a good example of partnership with Unite to negotiate rates and license conditions.
Supportive public policy and legislation is crucial for a transformative difference. The USA and the UK have weakly developed workplace co-operatives with less than 500 in each country. Italy by contrast has more than 24,000 worker co-ops and social co-ops that have created more than 827,000 jobs. This transformation was propelled both by legislation in 1985 (for worker co-ops) and 1991 (for social co-ops) and by public-co-op partnerships with local authorities. Italy has also pioneered innovations in co-operative capital funds and mutual guarantee societies that together make low-cost development equity and working capital readily accessible for workplace co-op development.
For a democratic sharing economy that is equitable for both workers and service users, a similar public policy framework is needed in the UK as well as an eco-system of local support including technical assistance, advice and co-operative finance tools. Our report shows how to connect these ways and means and highlights examples of emerging local authority strategic support for economic democracy solutions from New York to Bologna that should be pursued here.
Read the full report, Working Together: Trade Union and Co-operative Innovations for Precarious Work