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France: Democracy succeeds at cooperatives!

22/03/2011

France: Democracy succeeds at cooperatives!

For the first time in its history, the General Confederation of Scop (CG Scop) has launched a big campaign across the whole country. Its goal: to educate the working world that “Scops” (production cooperatives) are businesses tailored to work in this century and that they represent a model that deserves to be taken into consideration.

CGSCOP’s campaign has been announced by the written press, radio and internet. It re-explains the typical cooperative principles represented by CICOPA on a worldwide scale: sustainability and local roots, wealth sharing, leaders elected by associated employees, the principle of one person / one vote on major decisions, etc.

It comes right one year after the launch of the new “Les Scop” brand and the “Democracy suits us” slogan.

An original Approach

For the purpose of the campaign, it was the worker cooperatives employees themselves who took a stand in their work environment. They are the emblem of this campaign since who could be better to express the human and collective dimension of their business model? The photos from the campaign appeared in newspapers and are accompanied by various messages such as “We will not delocalise our business. We are the Board” or otherwise “Sharing decisions, risks, pleasures, profits, is normal for us."

“At the time it was logical and appropriate to involve cooperatives, whose members have expressed themselves in the campaign, just as they would do naturally, in real life. The way in which many cooperatives in very different sectors of activity have been directed allowed us to equally illustrate the diversity and wealth of the cooperative movement” Sylvain Cathébras confides, from the Alma cooperative which has participated in the campaign.

The movement of worker cooperatives in France – now named cooperatives and participatory societies - represents more than 2,000 companies and more than 40,000 workers today.

Opening up to the general public

As President of the General Confederation of Scop since 2006, Patrick Lenancker takes stock of this new campaign in France.

QUESTION: Why a campaign on worker cooperatives in France? What is your first impression of this campaign?

ANSWER: For several years, worker cooperatives have made an effort to get the media and online sources to talk about them. Although, the lack of awareness on this type of business model is such, that it became necessary to start a publicity campaign, devoting the appropriate resources to it. We chose the regional and national press to visually show Scop and our new brand. We also broadcasted the first 80 adverts on a leading French radio station in order to open ourselves to the general public, starting with employees who increasingly want to be better recognised in the company and to find meaning in their work. The feedback we have on this campaign is very positive. Our external contacts are finding that the campaign is a success and the new brand very appealing. Internally, our cooperatives show appreciation and pride of belonging to our Movement. This element is crucial because it is the first vehicle in creating new cooperatives in our sectors, especially for business transformations, when cooperatives themselves that meet other companies from the same sector or on the same territory. Finally, quantitatively, our website has seen its traffic grow by nearly 40%. Strongly focused on reputation and image, the campaign has also enabled to create contacts on cooperative projects that may start this year.

Q: How would you explain that the cooperative model is sometimes more competitive than other types of businesses?

A: The cooperative model is doubly competitive in the context of global economy today. It is through its long-term vision and its priority in keeping substantial resources created in the company which guarantees its sustainability. It is also explained by its ability to meet the employee’s demand for autonomy, participation, recognition and collective sharing.

Q: In an article in the newspaper Le Monde (19.04.10), you affirm that Scop can sustain businesses and establish permanent jobs within the heart of an area. How is this possible?

A: It’s the reality. Over the past ten years, the industry in France has lost thousands of jobs while Scop, in the same sector, has maintained its workforce and has sometimes even created new ones. Through their non-sharable reserves and discerning management, worker cooperatives were more able to weather the financial storm, which started in 2008, than other SMEs, while undergoing the same problems of declining sales and competitive pressure on their prices and margins.

Q: Can we say that since the crisis, worker cooperatives have been perceived differently and that there is a real awareness of their potential?

A: Absolutely. The cooperative model increasingly interests more economic actors and opinion leaders since the crisis broke out in 2008. However, this expression of interest has not yet resulted in an increase in new Scops being created. Challenging conventional knowledge and awareness takes time.

Q: Facing the ongoing economic slump (enterprises in difficulty, bankruptcy filings, redundancy), what are the implications of the takeover of companies on their employees?

A: They are important. They admittedly concern the enterprises in difficulty, which are facing the excessive devastation of finance capitalism that imposes its logic of maximum and immediate profit. Nevertheless, there could be more disadvantages to take into account, many healthy companies have leaders who will retire after developing good working tools over 20 or 30 years, and could find themselves in fragile situations if they are taken over by financial buyers or investors. In this context, the take-over of the business by employees is a real alternative because the employees know the company well and are the best placed to ensure its continuity. They are also the most motivated to preserve their own jobs. What remains is to convince them they can do it and identify the leaders to lead the project.

Q: Concerning the campaign that CECOP - CICOPA Europe launched at European level (cf. www.sustainableemployment.eu), which role do you think that cooperatives could play in terms of employment?

A: It is obvious. By nature, cooperatives are intended to help their members and not to yield shareholders’ profit. In working cooperatives, which include cooperative and participatory societies, the members are the employees themselves with the primary aim of sustaining their means of working in order to maintain and develop jobs, both in quantity and quality. Fortunately, many conventional enterprises are intent to keep their business and jobs. However, there is always a risk that the company aims and legacy could end up being taken away, as we witness every day, reading about restructuring and discordant relocations in the economic press. In working cooperatives, employment is the very aim.

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