Report: Among the Canadian Co-operators  (November 26, 2021)

By Elias Crim, Ownership Matters (Chicago, IL)

With about 70 others (total Conference registration of 165), we attended the Nov. 16 sessions of the Conference hosted by the Canadian Worker Coop Federation and came away energized, impressed, and better informed. Here are some highlights of what we saw and heard.

The Keynote Panel was comprised of Francesca Zaganelli (CICOPA), Hazel Corcoran (CWCF), Esteban Kelly (USFWC), Kelly Storie (La Siembra), and Jonny Sopotiuk (VALU Co-op); facilitated by Victor Beausoleil (SETSI). 

Topics include effects of Covid on the global worker co-op sector, strategies for success during the pandemic, and worker co-op models for building better together.

  • Francesca Zaganelli commented on the inspiring and agile responses many co-op businesses were able to mount during the first year of Covid. 
  • Hazel Corcoran noted that the recent upswell of co-op interest in Canada feels like the similar moment in U.S. interest about a decade ago; there seems to be a “great turning” in the worker co-operative movement in Canada now. 
  • Esteban Kelly noted that social forces like the “Great Resignation” and Striketober may have contributed to the growth in the number of U.S. coops in the last year–to an estimated 900 or more, over half of which classify themselves as startups. He also pointed to a growing realization that co-ops as a business form may offer solutions to broader workplace and social questions.
  • Kelly Storie reported that the impacts of Covid from their vantage point was increased sales, a rise in home-based business models, and prospective employees who are more discerning about the places they interview.
  • Jonny Sopotiuk described his interesting Vancouver-based labor coop for artists and creatives, now up to 17 artists with 32 members.

Hazel Corcoran of the CWCF offered some additional comments via email on the event and the Canadian co-op scene (which includes Quebec and the rest-of-Canada or “the ROC”). Her points:

  • “The worker co-op movement in Quebec is very well developed and organized, comprising 2/3rds of the worker co-ops in the country. Quebec has the vast majority of the very large worker co-ops, mostly in the forestry and paramedic sectors. In fact, each of these two sectors has their own federation in Quebec. There is another worker coop federation in Quebec, le Réseau COOP du Québec.  All three of these groups are now members of CWCF.”
  • “This type of situation [of parallel institutions] is common in Canada, in other co-op sectors (housing, banking, food co-ops, etc.), and in general. It’s partly a matter of language, with most of Quebec’s population being French-speaking, and most of the ROC’s being English-speaking. However it seems to go beyond this and be a preference of many Quebeckers to participate primarily in their own Quebec-based associations and international associations.  This is changing significantly for the better of late, and this gives the potential for great synergy between the WC movements in Quebec, and the Rest of Canada.”