The Future of Worker Co-operation in the UK
A new and independent organisation of worker co-operatives, cooperators, and supporters of industrial democracy will be launched in 2023.
Based in the UK, it will take on the role of a sectoral federation to unite, defend, and advance the shared interest of worker-controlled and worker-owned enterprises. Beyond this, it will strengthen worker co-operative culture by mobilising co-operators and allies through industrial networks, knowledge sharing, social movement alliances, and active internationalism. Most importantly, we want to make the system of worker control and collective ownership accessible and relevant for new groups and generations of workers, refining our propositions and organising models in the process.
Why now? The reasons are partly internal to the movement. The long drift since the 1990s intensified after the demise of the last independent national federation, the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM) in 2001. Without our own specialist federation, we’ve been unable to articulate clear and authentic messages about democracy at work, adequately respond to changes in the broader political and policy realm, or participate strategically in the wider autonomous workers’ and social justice movements. Let alone build on earlier hard-won gains. The fortunes of organised worker co-operatives have always more or less risen and fallen with those of the wider workers’ movement, so some historical and political perspective is useful to understand the present sense of urgency.
The history of worker co-operation goes back 250 years in Europe, represented primarily through workers’ unions and worker co-operatives. The earliest worker co-operatives in the eighteenth century were a critical reaction to capitalism and the industrial revolution, particularly the violent transition from agricultural and artisanal production to the factory system.