On October 27th, a gathering of worker co-operatives is taking place that provides an exciting opportunity to find out more about the sector and the support available within it.
As the event draws near, we thought it was a great time to catch up with one of the key organisers and founding member of media co-op, Louise Scott, to find out more about the sector and what is in store for us at the event.
Could you tell us a little bit more about media co-op, their purpose and why they operate as a worker co-op?
media co-op is a workers’ co-operative based in Glasgow. We make films, animations, graphic design and digital media for the third sector and the public sector. We’ve been trading for over 18 years.
The eleven members of media co-op own the company – we’re each both boss and employee. We’re non-profit-distributing, and we’re not grant-funded.
The main reason we operate as a workers’ co-op is we enjoy our democratic workplace. There’s no-one in a remote office in London or Singapore who could decide to close us down, change our structure, or sell us off.
We have clear job roles, but key company decisions are made collectively. We engage equally with the rewards and the tough decisions.
I’m proud to be one of the founders of a sustainable business that is values-driven.
I’ve been in unhappy workplaces in the past, so it’s refreshing, satisfying and hugely motivating to be in a democratic workplace.
What makes you so passionate about co-operatives and why do you encourage others to consider them?
Where do I start?!
Self-reliance, honesty, openness, social responsibility, equality, mutual respect, care for the environment, democracy, solidarity – what’s not to like? I’d encourage anyone thinking of setting up a new business or organisation aspiring to a genuinely ethical approach to business practice to consider being a co-operative.
You can create truly decent jobs in worker co-ops because we design the working environment collaboratively to be most productive possible while allowing for work-life balance. Co-ops also give people the chance to develop their skills by breaking down traditional roles of intellectual vs manual, gender assumptions about job types, etc. Co-ops create a genuine culture of equality and respect between workers.
Worker co-ops can operate successfully in any sector and at any size: it’s a really flexible organisational model. It just needs to be fully democratic and ethical.
In our co-op we voted to pay everyone the same, no matter what their job or grade; but other co-ops have totally different pay structures. You make it what it is.
And when you start a co-op, you become part of an international community, plugged into a vast global network of solidarity and expertise.
You are the driving force behind the Worker Co-op Gathering on October 27th, could you give us a little summary of what this event is about?
A new Federation of worker co-ops is starting up: www.workers.coop. It’s aimed at supporting anyone interested in setting up, converting to or joining a workers’ co-op.
The Worker Co-op Gathering is the first of a series of self-organised events to introduce the new Federation. I took on the organisation in Scotland because the entire co-op sector here has become fragmented over the last decade. So it feels like time to re-build connections between co-ops and start to create a more favourable environment for ourselves – through the new Federation, but also more widely.
The Gathering will be an upbeat event, a good place to meet like-minded people. It’s open to worker co-ops from all over Scotland, to other employee-owned companies which are run along co-operative lines (or would like to be), and the co-op curious.
Why is it important to bring worker co-ops, both new and more established ones together?
When we first started media co-op, established worker co-ops gave us an enormous amount of encouragement and advice. Their generosity was humbling.
I’d like new co-operators to have the same kind of opportunity: to be energised by those connections, to feel supported and inspired. We have a lot to share with one another.
Co-operatives are resilient business models: we’re survivors. That’s borne out by academic research. That resilience is partly due to our connectedness – to each other in individual co-ops and to the co-op sector as a whole.
Can you tell us a bit about the ambition of the sector and your hopes for where it will be in five years?
We want a vibrant, interconnected and highly inclusive worker co-operative movement. One that’s growing, and playing a much bigger role in the economy, meeting more people’s needs and doing it in a fairer way.
We hear a lot about ‘community wealth building’ these days. Co-ops have been doing it for hundreds of years. Literally.
Starting with the event on the 27th, I’d like us to be able to say that we’ve made worker co-ops accessible to a new generation and to see them developing in new sectors here in Scotland; and I’d like worker co-ops, along with democratic employee-owned businesses, to be part of the workers.coop network.
In five years’ time, media co-op should be surrounded by a thriving co-operative community – and I don’t just mean worker co-ops: from food and farming to tech and housing, from the smallest allotment co-operative (spending membership fees on local goods and services) to the largest retail co-operative (spending profits on local community projects).
I want to be living in a Scotland with a dynamic and growing network of value-based businesses and organisations founded on co-operative principles, inspired by our talented, hard-working people, our innovative ideas and what’s possible.
What key piece of advice would you give those considering setting up as a worker co-op?
The best advice I can give is to talk to people who are in a worker co-op already.
We welcome people coming into our co-operative world: we’re always willing to help and share our experience. You’ll get a feel for what kind of co-op might be right for you, and you’ll make new connections.
First step: sign up for the free Worker Co-op Gathering ,
The Worker Co-op Gathering takes place on October 27th in Glasgow. You can find out more and sign up here: www.bit.ly/worker_co-op_event
Co-operative Development Scotland can provide support to set up or transition to a co-op . We can also provide support to existing co-ops. To find out more about our support please visit our main website: www.scottish-enterprise.com/coops