Fri 27 Jan 2023 10:30AM

CoTech to become an industry circle of workers.coop - towards a proposal

SWS Sion Whellens (Principle Six/Calverts) Public Seen by 105

There is a new, independent worker co-op federation and at the summer gathering the idea of joining forces and making CoTech the first industrial circle of workers.coop received a generally positive response. I now want to work towards a proposal to act on and formalise this.

There are both political and practical reasons why this should be a no brainer, although as always the devil's in the detail and it would also need the coordinating circle of workers.coop to agree and to work on it. Essentially CoTech would operate exactly as it does now, but I think the subs-paying members of CoTech would also need to join workers.coop as enterprise members (many of them have already joined, have agreed to join, or are considering joining). The CoTech circle could involve non-workers.coop members and non-CoTech subs paying co-ops as it does now and have autonomous decision-making and administration remit, sending a member to the worker.coop coordinating circle.

The advantages - apart from the main one - together we are stronger - are that we would be able to merge some admin and infrastructure functions; for instance workers.coop would be the contractor with CoTech's coordinator and could have its own financial ecscosystem, raise money if it wants as it does now for special projects, events, circle expenses (but potentially cross-subsidised from workers.coop general funds); we could merge our NextCloud instances but CoTech could keep its own wiki and other organising tools; and so on.

I know perhaps some CoTechers are not familiar with workers.coop, which is itself in startup mode, and I'm happy to respond to all clarifying questions and then reactions/critical concerns, with a view to writing a proposal for CoTech decision. Meanwhile I'm sharing this summary business plan doc. Here's how a primary worker co-op can join the federation. For transparency: I'm a mission circle (board), coordination circle and communications circle member of workers.coop :)

Would like to be in a position to formulate a proposal in the next couple of weeks, i.e. by Friday 10th Feb 2023.


Chris Croome (Webarchitects Co-operative) Fri 27 Jan 2023 11:05AM

Thanks for making this a formal proposal @sionwhellens, this idea was briefly presented at the last CoTech gathering in Scotland but there wasn't a written motion or a huge amount of discussion about it.

One point that was raised in Glasgow, by @athertonjohn, was that CoTech has always considered that sharing work, bids, jobs and so forth between CoTech co-ops has always been a key component of the activity of the network and we also want this to be an aspect of the job of a CoTech network co-ordinator, however this isn't something that workers.coop currently considers to be within it's remit, so I think we would need to clarification that CoTech, as a industrial circle of workers.coop, would have the autonomy to continue to undertake this type of activity.

Furthermore my feeling is that a formal decision of this nature would really need to take place at a face-to-face gathering, however we don't have one planned at the moment, but creative.coop did hint in Glasgow that they might be on for hosting the next one in Colchester (any progress on this @alanpeart ?), but this would be at odds with your 10th Feb 2023 deadline -- what is the thinking behind this date?


Sion Whellens (Principle Six/Calverts) Fri 27 Jan 2023 12:17PM

Thanks Chris, I would certainly clarify in the proposal that the role and tasks of the CoTech coordinator would be entirely determined by the CoTech industrial circle, although as part of the wider federation there could be some sharing of resources and tasks where it made sense.

CoTech wouldn't be a 'working group' circle of workers.coop like the current ones are (comms, tech infrastructure, mobilising, mission, people-policy-culture, etc). It would be an industrial members' circle. The distributed, circle-based organising method is how workers.coop is developing; for instance we are currently recruiting a freelance comms worker and their work and tasks will be managed by the Communications working group. I suppose there will be an element of centralism - for instance, enterprise members (and therefore fee-paying participants in CoTech) will be in a membership agreement with workers.coop - but I can't see any conflict.


Doug Belshaw Fri 27 Jan 2023 11:16AM

Hey @Sion Whellens (Principle Six/Calverts) I'd echo @Chris Croome (Webarchitects Co-operative)'s thanks for bringing this as a proposal. I also want to make it clear that in what follows I'm only representing myself and not WAO.

While I can see the benefits for workers.coop to have CoTech as the first industrial circle, I'm not sure what the benefits for CoTech members would be in being subsumed under the workers.coop umbrella? I guess I need spelling out the "political and practical reasons why this should be a no brainer"...

Oh, and just an additional point for those of us who can't always get to CoTech gatherings due to childcare commitments, etc. - I'd humbly suggest that decisions of this nature being made at face-to-face gatherings privileges a certain type of participation in the network.

I hope that's not too negative. I hugely value the work that's being done with workers.coop and WAO are happily signing up to pay our dues!


Sion Whellens (Principle Six/Calverts) Fri 27 Jan 2023 12:03PM

Thanks Doug. I think it's a win-win, although I understand CoTechers might feel they need to preserve CoTech's culture and separate identity and that there is a concern we might get somehow 'subsumed'. IMO that depends on the vitality of CoTech itself.

I think I've outlined the practical/administrative benefits, though happy to work on the detail. The big picture, 'political' benefit is that a broader, more diverse federation with more resources and capacity to collaborate with the wider worker-social movement, including the international level, could be more effective in fulfilling shared social purposes and meeting shared objectives. At a high level these are set out in workers.coop's founding document, and at the moment they are:


The purpose of the Cooperative is to carry out its function as a cooperative and to abide by the Cooperative Values and Principles, as defined and modified by the International Cooperative Alliance from time to time, in order to build a world where:

a) everyone has access to rewarding, meaningful and sustainable work;

b) the worker-controlled enterprise system is well known, easy to grasp, and a viable option for workers;

c) capital serves labour, rather than dominating or exploiting labour;

d) people retain the fruits of their work, and wealth is distributed equitably and fairly;

e) working relationships are characterised by true equality and mutual accountability;

f) people are able to collectively take control of their work, creating opportunities for skills and personal development, and for a better life balance; and

g) the production of goods and services is integrated with democratic community development, and respects ecological limits.


The objects of the Cooperative shall be to carry on business as a cooperative and to carry on any other trade, business or service and in particular but without limitation to:

a) act as a sectoral federation to unite, defend and advance the shared interest of worker cooperatives and other worker-led or worker-owned enterprises;

b) be the recognised voice and network for worker cooperation in the UK;

c) provide access to specialist development advice, cooperative support and other shared services for worker cooperatives;

d) strengthen worker cooperative culture by mobilising cooperators and supporters of the worker cooperative system through industrial networks, knowledge sharing and social movement alliances;

e) participate in international workers’ and cooperative networks, and actively promote worker internationalism; and

f) Make the system of worker control and collective ownership accessible and relevant to new groups and generations of workers, refining our organising models in the process.


John Atherton Fri 27 Jan 2023 11:20AM

Don't want to wade into the pro's and con's as its not my place to do so, but to build on Chris's point I think that is where the inter-play between workers.coop and co-tech will work well. Workers.coop is best placed to co-ordinate across the worker co-ops sectors, create and build on campaigns, services and needs that all worker co-ops face. Co-tech is best placed to focus on the details of what tech co-ops need as tech co-ops, work on contracts together etc.

Like with Co-operatives UK there are obvious places to work together, and places to be autonmous. We are looking to create an industry circle for wholefood co-ops which I'm guessing will be more light touch, more of a best practice and co-ordination space. So there are many ways it could go and I think a discussion of how to work together most effectively is the goal.


Graham Fri 27 Jan 2023 11:21AM

I would suggest that there is a common interest in making this work. I note that CoTech people are talking about a coordinator role, and that activity could usefully integrate with workers.coop stuff. At the same time I would argue that the principle of self-management suggests that CoTech, as a "circle" linked to workers.coop, can do pretty much what it wants to do, and wouldn't be subsumed in anything, rather it would simply be informed and have influence. As to where and how decisions might best be made, in-person rules out a lot of people and is anti-democratic, IMHO.


Michael Wignall Fri 27 Jan 2023 12:41PM

Thanks Sion, and all who have been involved. We're very much watching from the outside but it's good to see.

We're happy for CoTech and Workers Coop to have a more formal association, so long as it remains autonomous. Can see the benefits.

One point - as a coop we may not want to join / pay additional subs to Workers Coop.


Sion Whellens (Principle Six/Calverts) Fri 27 Jan 2023 3:24PM

Thanks Michael. I imagine not to be a member of workers.coop, but remain a member of the CoTech industry circle, can work fine if the CoTech circle has the freedom to include in its deliberations and activity whoever it chooses; although of course non members of the federation would not have direct access to the resources, networks and opportunities for collective self-determination offered by workers.coop - if that makes sense!


PollyRobbinsOutlandish Fri 27 Jan 2023 2:25PM

Responding for myself rather than Outlandish. I can see that in the long term there could be a benefit to this and I believe in the political sentiment behind it. However, I think it's tricky that workers.coop doesn't see itself as having a direct function of helping to get more commercial income into co-ops (other than from other co-ops). I can already identify quite a few overheads looming in the scenarios that you've mentioned in the description @Sion Whellens (Principle Six/Calverts) and I don't think that we have the resources necessary to meet them. For now the burden seems to outweigh the proposed benefits, as amalgamating is going to require a lot of thought by the network about governance processes that until now have been pretty lightweight in CoTech.


John Atherton Fri 27 Jan 2023 2:54PM

Just to clarify, workers.coop will do whatever its member wish it to do. If members want it to take on a role of directly marketing worker co-ops, their services to external markets/clients or coordinationg joint ventures, bid writing etc it could do. My sense from all the research so far is people want workers.coop to focus on peer learning, best practice sharing, buiding capabillities and more broader campaigining work. Helping members directly generate new business by working together seems to me to be best done by co-tech.

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