Q: You’ve recently been elected president of the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation (CWCF). Why was this important to you?
A: It seemed essential to me to strengthen worker co-operatives in Quebec by joining the Quebec movement with the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation. Therefore, in 2007, I first convinced the Network of Worker Co-operatives of Quebec, of which my co-op is a member, to become a regional member of the Federation. Being the representative of the Quebec Network to the CWCF, I was elected to CWCF’s Board of Directors. I then convinced the Federation of Forestry Co-operatives in Quebec to also become a CWCF member. I believe that since the Board of the CWCF quickly elected me to be vice president in 2008 and then president in 2009, it is a mark of recognition of the worker co-ops in Quebec since they are the largest number of worker co-ops of all provinces of Canada with about 300 co-operatives.
Q: What differences exist in law between Quebec and the rest of Canada?
A: Unlike the rest of Canada, 100% indivisible reserves are included in legislation in Quebec and they are very important! This is obviously essential for the sustainability of worker co-operatives. This is one of the areas in which I intend to focus as president of the CWCF. (Editor’s Note: Under Quebec law, if a co-operative decides to dissolve or convert to a for-profit company, the reserves of that co-operative are not divided among its members. Instead, by law, any reserve funds have to go to another co-operative. This indivisible reserve is created through the allocation of a minimum percentage of profits, which in Quebec’s case is 10%.)
Q: Do you think worker co-ops may represent an alternative to the crisis that has shaken the global economy?
A: Of course, and not only worker co-operatives, but all co-operative sectors. In Quebec, the example of the Mouvement des caisses populaires Desjardins (Desjardins Credit Union Movement) is telling. It is the largest banking network in Quebec with more than 4 million members out of a population of 7 million. If Quebec was comparatively little affected by this crisis, this was partly due to the strength of this banking network.
In addition, a large project that I would also like to put in place is with regard to business succession and transfer. In Canada, it is estimated that 200,000 businesses will change hands over the next ten years. For example, in Quebec this means that entire villages may be completely deconstructed, because many businesses that employ up to 100 people will have no buyer. We’ll see companies bought by competitors sometimes left to die in order to eliminate competition. In this context, the co-operative alternative needs to get ready as it can help to save villages. Orion, the co-operative of which I am a founder, is working on this issue and has published several guides to raise awareness about this. In 2011, CWCF is organizing a major international conference on converting businesses to worker co-operatives to fully showcase the expertise and experience which has been acquired, and the seriousness of the co-operative alternative to the issue of succession.
Q: What is your vision of worker co-operation today?
A: First of all, I am from the self-management movement of the seventies. This led me to worker co-operatives, to what the French economist Claude Vienney termed concrete self-management practice. For me, worker co-operation was only a marginal phenomenon of the co-operative movement during what I call the century of hegemonic mode of industrial production, until the early 1980s. These were the different forms of consumer co-operatives, which then had the most development potential. But with the advent of the so-called post-industrial society or the knowledge society in the words of Peter Drucker, the formula of worker co-operation can fully live out its potential. Indeed, the success of businesses in the new economy is now based on the skills of their human resources. Today’s businesses and more in the future will be smart companies offering products and services with high intelligence added. Management practices change. The management of human resources is now more important than other aspects of management, because the competitiveness of enterprises depends on their capacity to mobilize the intelligence of their employees. This means developing their sense of belonging, implementing participatory management practices, leaving ample room for innovation, and increasingly involving them in company performance. But all this is the very paradigm of a worker co-operative as the only form of business which, by nature, is intelligent, which has the potential of mobilizing understanding of its human resources through its purpose and its way of being.
This is why I believe that the objective conditions for a vast new deployment of worker co-operatives are now in place. In particular, there is enormous potential for creating new co-operatives, particularly among young graduates and in the field of new technologies where there is a lot more intelligence added. However, the subjective conditions do not yet exist, especially among us in North America. Indeed, in Canada we are very close to the nerve centre of capitalism with the United States at our door, the production center of capitalist ideology. We have much to do in order to realize the potential of the worker co-op movement.
[Note: CICOPA (International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Co-operatives) is the branch of the International Co-operative Alliance that promotes worker cooperatives. Headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, CICOPA has a membership of 57 national and regional cooperative federations in 39 countries. www.cicopa.coop The Quebec Network (Réseau)’s web site is: www.reseau.coop; Coopérative Orion is: www.orion.coop.]