Managing the democratic life in a worker co-op: role of members, the board and managers/co-ordinators

Photo_Alain_Bridault-Septembre_2008 100x100_0Alain Bridault
CWCF Annual Conference
Saturday, October 30, 2010 in Vancouver


In a worker co-op, one has to have a good understanding of group dynamics. There are two energies within the group.  First: Production energy; the more important the goal or target is, the higher the energy level. When you look at a worker co-operative this target is actually the worker co-operative advantage. This is what mobilizes people to form co-ops. For example, in the 1960s in Quebec there was not access to natural food products. A network of co-operatives formed to provide access to these products. The goal was have access to natural food products. When supermarkets in the 1980s and 1990s started stocking natural food products, the co-operatives gradually disappeared. The drive is strongest in worker co-operatives. The intensity of usage of products and services is highest in worker co-operatives. Our entire work life is dependent on the co-operative. This is why the mobilization in a worker co-operative is always highest. The second type of energy is solidarity energy: taking pleasure from being together.

The challenge in a worker co-operative is channelling these two types of energy. In the start-up phase, the production energy is very high and intense. The first two energies are very spontaneous. There is also maintenance energy. Understanding facilitation. Running an efficient meeting.

One of the main problems in a worker co-operative is that the members do not all have the same vision. A lot of failures in the early stages of co-operatives are because members do not understand the worker co-operative advantage and fail to understand why they are doing this. Another reason for failure is the lack of competence in certain areas, mainly in resolving interpersonal conflict. A problem that comes up is false consensus, but we may not have really agreed what the overall goal is. Conflict often results with a split of what the vision is and the on-the-ground reality. With this two groups form, the pragmatists and the idealists.

The primary driver of the worker co-operative is the professional competencies, for without these you will not be able to succeed. With this, training is imperative in worker co-operatives. There are 3 types of ongoing training. First is professional training. We have to be the best in our given field. There is no way around it. Second is democratic/governance training. Third is management training. In every member there has to be general competencies of a general manager. In conflict management you have to have a right type of person who can resolve conflict within the co-op. Know your co-op needs and identify those with the inclination to resolve conflict.

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