Wales Co-operative Centre

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Wales Co-operative Centre

Wales Co-operative Centre is unique in the UK in being a co-operative development organisation that was set up by trade unions. However, although the Wales TUC retains seats on the board and the chairman is from the Wales TUC, today financial support has been taken over by the Welsh government, with ERDF support.

It opened the doors of its office in Cardiff in 1983 in response to the crisis of the 1970s in a regional economy heavily dependent on the coal and steel industries. The founders were encouraged by a visit to Mondragón, and the centre was given a grant of £40,000 (€48,000) from the UK government’s Welsh Office, matched by the EU. Most local authorities in Wales also contributed £10,000 (€12,000) apiece.

The centre was established on the basis of a memorandum of understanding with the Wales TUC, under which the centre would promote the takeover of businesses into employee ownership at the request of local authorities, but not as an alternative to public ownership. However suspicion remained that employee ownership would undermine the union role, and trade union support for the centre has dwindled. Nevertheless the centre does see a role for unions in the workplace, and buyouts often happen with union support. The centre publishes a handbook for shop stewards.

WCC supported several dozen worker take-overs of failing businesses. The most celebrated of these was Tower Colliery, which was the last deep coal mine to survive in Wales. The mine was closed by British Coal in 1994 and then bought out by 239 miners who each contributed £8,000 (€9,600) from their redundancy pay towards the cost of £2 million (€2.4m). The colliery reopened in 1995 and continued for 13 years until it eventually closed when economic reserves were exhausted in 2008. A plan is being discussed to restart opencast mining on the site.

It adopted a model in which employees had to make a financial contribution to the co-operative’s capital. Over 30 years it has helped create around 200 jobs, trained several thousand workers for other jobs, and also helped set up community co-operatives to take over local facilities, credit unions and housing co-operatives. There is some reticence about multi-stakeholder co-operatives.

Source: Glenn Bowen, Wales Co-operative Centre

Website: http://www.walescooperative.org/

Source: final report of the MESMER project: http://www.mesmerproject.eu/products/