Worker co-operatives helping to bridge a divided community – antidote to gloom

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An article  in the Co-operative News by Susan Press, about Trademark, a Belfast-based co-operative, prompted a websearch. 

Many areas in Belfast remain segregated and Ms Press reports that the number of walls separating Loyalists and Republicans from each other has trebled since 1998. Trademark, which works towards beneficial social change, is heading an initiative to bring communities together by helping them to set up their own worker co-operatives.

                      Trademark’s Stephen Nolan and Alice McLarnon

Trademark’s first cross-community business venture involved women living in the Shanklin and Falls roads who have now set up an Industrial provident Society under the auspices of the Belfast Cleaning Company – the Belfast Cleaning Co-operative. The women were keen on the worker co-operative model and eager to get off the welfare system.

Trademark hopes to develop smaller social enterprises in the catering, childcare and media sectors.

The Belfast Media Group’s website notes that interest has been shown by larger local organisations seeking to expand, including the West Belfast Taxi Association, who are currently assessing the benefits of being part of a co-operative.

A sustainable model can absorb financial pressures when there are no big wages or dividends

Sinn Féin Councillor Jim McVeigh is a staunch advocate of the co-operative model: “The co-operative movement in Ireland, including West Belfast, is under-developed. In the likes of Italy, the worker co-operative is a significant part of the local economy employing thousands of people.

“It uses the social ethics of the business model and has equality at the heart of it. There are no multi-millionaire directors.  With a co-operative, the workers either share the profit or it goes back into the company.

“A typical business is hierarchical, much of the profit goes to the owners and directors.  If you have a model that cuts out the massive wages, it becomes sustainable as the profits are ploughed into wages or invested in the company.

“This is an important business model now because in the difficult economic climate it’s a sustainable model as you can absorb financial pressures when there are no big wages.”

“This year is the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives. The UN is trying to encourage and promote the co-operative model as a community-friendly business model. This is an egalitarian and socially responsible model. It’s a model we want to see grow in this city.

 

“The priority isn’t profit, it’s employment and supporting communities.”  

A model we want to see grow in Belfast and elsewhere

 

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