Section IV of the World Declaration on Worker Cooperatives discusses the relationship between the State as well as regional and intergovernmental institutions. I should note for the USian audience that the term “State” in this sense means any sovereign nation. The things that we call states would count as well (and in terms of regional institutions) along with the provinces of Canada that have significant latitude in self-governance.
The Declaration presents seven issues around the relationship between worker cooperatives and the governmental authorities:
- Governments should see worker co-ops as effective forces of job creation; they should not discriminate against worker co-ops and should include worker co-ops in development schemes.
- Governments should enact legislation that regulates worker co-operatives and provide them legal protection to allow optimal conditions for worker co-ops to succeed.
- The legislation should be cognizant of worker co-ops in that:
- Labor and industrial relations are different that wage based labor, self employment or independent work
- Non-member workers of worker co-ops should be subject to standard labor laws and protections
- The International Labor Organization concept of Decent Work should be applied to worker co-operatives and there should be specific language created to address the worker co-operative model in terms of health pensions, unemployment insurance, occupational health and safety.
- Create specific legal provisions to assist worker co-operatives fiscally and enable their development.
- Governments should ensure “appropriate financing conditions for entrepreneurial projects”
- These bodies should promote projects for worker co-operatives due to their sustainability, and as part of an overall goal of improving gender equality, fight against poverty and marginalization.
- Worker co-operatives should be promoted as an option and entrepreneurial model for development
- ILO Recommendation 193 should be understood and expressed by governments and their associations.
These are some great ideas. Unfortunately, few in any governments likely know about them. Venezuela has enacted some aspects of the recommendations under the Chavez government. I imagine that the Chavez government did because there are people in the government (at relatively high levels) who promoted the ideas to the leadership of the Chavez government and explained how it would support his economic and political model. Venezuela passed a Special Law of Co-operative Association. At the New Orleans Democracy at Work Conference (2008), an attaché from the Venezuelan government explained it to the membership of the US Federation of Worker Co-operatives. Steve Dubb reported on the conference for the Democracy Collaborative. The passage of the law helped worker co-operatives grow from about 1,000 to over 200,000 and 14% of Venezuela’s GDP and 18% of its unemployment. Even after the Chavez era ends in Venezuela, workers will have a strong voice in the economy and it will be difficult for the land barons to re-assert dominance.
The Venezuelan experience shows the power of these recommendations. But the world is not Venezuela. Chavez has unleashed forces that he may not be able to control, but his experience is unique to his country. We don’t have the same level of revolutionary fervor in the United States or Canada. We can’t expect these recommendations to be enacted by the various state governments or even the federal governments without a lot of work on our part. In that sense, these recommendations must be seen as a call to action for the representative bodies of worker co-operatives and their membership. The USFWC and the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation must find a way to create and enact a legislative agenda to accomplish these goals. In turn, we need to pressure our apex organizations, the National Co-operative Business Association and the Canadian Co-operative Association to act in our interests as well. Creating more worker co-operatives strengthens the entire co-operative movement.
As the nations creep out of the worst economic crash in several decades, we need to create a new economy based on sustainability. We already know the way forward. Our challenge remains to bring that message into the offices of economic development of our cities, our counties, state capitals and nation capitals. In the United States, as the election year begins, we need to make the co-operative model in general and the worker co-operative model in particular an issue. We need to get the candidate’s attention. In the UK, the election happening on May 6th offers an opportunity for the worker co-operatives to push their agenda.
To begin, however, we need to speak with a common voice and develop materials for all of us to use. This should be a major goal for the USFWC, the CWCF and other worker co-operative associations over the next months and years. Without the understanding of government agencies, we will always be at the whim of a bureaucrat who doesn’t get co-ops. As long as we are seen as “just another business” we lose. We offer more than trickle down economics from profits, we offer sustainability, economic justice, and a way of life more akin to our democratic values.
Next Week: Relations with Employers’ Organizations