What is a Workers’ Co-operative?On September 13, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
[music] The economic environment in Stratford is very seasonal. We have a thriving summer and fall season with culinary and theatre tourism so there are lots of jobs in the summer but not lots of jobs in the winter. [music] None of us really knew anything about co-operatives or workers’ co-operatives or all the different types of co-operatives. We just knew that we weren’t really happy being underemployed.
The first steps in creating Your Local Market Co-operative were very grassroots. It was kind of I knew someone who knew someone who worked with someone else who was married to this dude and we all kind of went out for a couple of drinks and decided that together we could probably create something more mutually beneficial and empowering for all of us. We all had an entrepreneurial spirit. We all wanted sustainable jobs where we had a voice in the situation as well and we didn’t want to do it alone. Setting up the co-op was much less difficult than we anticipated. There’s pretty much five steps: One, assemble a key group of organizers;
2. Conduct a feasibility study to determine what our community actually needs; 3. Develop our business plan;
4. Incorporate before we open the doors; and 5. Open our doors. [music] Your Local Market Co-op is a local food grocery store with on-site bakery and take-out counter. Our workers’ co-operative also operates Slave to the Grind Espresso Bar. A workers’
co-operative is a business that is owned and democratically operated by its member employees. The members are not only employees, they also manage the business. Co-ops are great because they’re not just about the profit, it’s about serving the community. All co-operatives develop to fill some kind of need. With us for instance, we saw a need for affordable, local groceries. We saw a need for sustainable year-round employment. And we saw a need for a fair outlet for farmers and producers. If you’re thinking about starting a business and it’s not just about the money to you, you want to engage the community, you want to support the community, maybe think about starting a workers’ co-operative and thinking about the needs in your community. We’re structured slightly differently from a sole proprietorship and from a traditional corporation. As a corporation, each of the owners of the business, who are also the employees, has limited legal liability, as in say the case the business fails and there are debts on the books. Starting any business is risky so any way that you can lessen the personal risks is a kind of comfort. I am the fifth and first non-founding member of Your Local Market Co-op. The process I had to go through was providing 600 hours or six months of employment. From there, you are eligible to apply to the members and to the board. There’s a lot of benefits to membership: Being able to go ahead and have control of my job, steer it in a direction I would like and it’s really really great to be able to go ahead and work with some like-minded people and try and do something good here in Stratford. People have a pre-conception that we’re somehow a very kind of informal, loosely-knit group, that we just kind of throw ideas in and all go, “Hooray, that’s a great idea.” Actually, our structure is very formal and it’s as formal as any large corporation. We have a board of directors, we have a management team, decisions have to be made in a very formal way. It’s not a quick way of doing things by any means but it does mean that you have to be very thoughtful in the way that you operate. [music] People who should start a workers’ co-operative are people who want to work. The clue is in the name. I wouldn’t do it any other way personally because you have such a support system, you have so many people to help you and you can all handle different aspects of it as well. It’s never one person on the line, it’s always taking the risk together which makes it a lot easier. I think if you have entrepreneurial desires and you have thought about starting your own business, consider a workers’ co-op. Consider talking to people who have similar interests so you can collaborate and create a successful venture and work together to create something that’s long term. I believe that any enterprise that has employees can be a workers’ co-operative and probably would be better if it were a workers’ co-operative too. [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music]