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(en) Ireland, Belfast, Organise!, The Leveller* #12 - Organised Anarchy and Cooperative Politics:

Date Sat, 03 Nov 2012 12:16:52 +0200

Worker Owned Enterprises in Action ---- Aine Carroll from Praxis attended the Cooperate And No-one gets Hurt seminar in Belfast that resulted in the establishment of the Workers Cooperative Network this June. We are reprinting her article from the latest issue of the Irish Left Review on the event which includes interviews with some of the participants. -- The lack of jobs and services is forcing communities to seek alternatives, and once again the cooperative model is being explored. Two weekends ago in Belfast, a number of organisations met at the Cooperate and No One Gets Hurt seminar where the Workers Cooperative Network (WCN) was established. The cross-border initiative broadly aims to improve networking and learning opportunities among worker coops and to contribute
to developing a greater understanding of the sectorâs benefits and opportunities.

Worker-owned coops are unique
enterprises that demand a democratic
decision-making process and a system of
ownership that has workers at the centre.
Worker-owners are not just employees
but are more typically known as members
who democratically share ownership of the
business. While worker-owned coops are
subject to the same strains and challenges
as regular businesses, when well-
governed and subject to basic good
business practices they can deliver top-
quality goods and services at affordable
prices, as shown by the dramatic success of
MONDRAGON Corporation in the
Basque region.

While coops in Ireland have traditionally
had success in the farming and dairy
sectors, in the true sense of the term âworker
-ownedâ such organisations are extremely
rare. Golden Anikweof Cooperative
Support Services believes that âbecause
cooperation can be organised in virtually
all areas of human endeavourâ, there
are lots of opportunities for communities to
explore. Golden explains why he believes
communities new to Ireland are particularly
open to the idea. âThe World Bank says that
Nigeria, as an instance of an African
community, toes as easily to cooperation
as ducks toe to water, because it is
fundamental to the way of life. Due to the
peculiar experiences they have had,
migrants have developed skills that enable
them to help themselves and there is a
stronger tendency among them to explore
these ideas.â

Strengthening links between new and
existing democratic organisations will be
the key to developing the sector.

Cooperatives are reasonably well-
developed in the UK, naturally influencing
the situation in Northern Ireland. Julie Mc
Nerney and Jason Brannigan also attended
the seminar and are both members
of worker coops. Julie describes how
the model can serve flexible purposes as
she has learned through working at the
radical education coop Just Books.
âWe didnât have a shop for selling books so
we are getting into online sales with
the help of the Creative Workers Coop.
We are also setting up an education branch
of Just Books called Just Learning thanks
to a few people at the Ulster Peopleâs
College who have been a great resource of
knowledge and experience.â Jason is a
member of the North Belfast Housing Coop
and describes how the meaning and
purpose of the organisation has changed
over time. âWith the help of Radical
Routes, the North Belfast Housing Coop was
initially set up by people who identified
as anarchists who all had a sort
of ideological commitment to the idea of
cooperative living. But with the attacks on
welfare and housing benefit, economic
reality kicked in leading people
into homelessness and hostel-style
accommodation. So it went beyond
agreeing with an ideological idea to being
- here, we actually need to do this: we need
to sort out accommodation for us and
people like us.â

Worker coops can fulfil purely practical
purposes or can be designed to serve wider
political agendas through a fundamental
emphasis on democratic and egalitarian
processes. Brothers Jack and Hugh Corcoran
are two of the seven members that make
up Na Crosbhealaà Irish language
cafà and social centre in Belfast city.
Jack describes how the coop makes
demands of members as well as providing
them with benefits, and links Na
Croisbhealaà with a broader struggle
against the privatisation of goods and
services. âAll of our members are signedto the Independent Workers Union whichsee as one of the more progressive unionsIreland. We also expect our members
to speak Gaeilge fluently or be actively
learning the language. Iâll be travellingCuba soon where Iâll be working on a farm.
We will also have lectures from different
Cuban representatives and see
some examples of the revolution. Iâll be
educating myself about coops becauseare starting to bring that into Cuba as
a way of resisting privatisation.â

Hugh describes how worker coops can be
hives of resistance to neoliberal ideology
by providing spaces for social engagement
and critical thinking. âWe had been visiting
radical spaces in CataluÃa and having
conversations about being the first
generation to come out of conflict and
witnessing the deconstruction of a social
movement. We could see our generation
growing up in a very individualistic
society and we knew we wanted to build
towards this more collective idea by
working together and pushing progressive
ideas. So we started the social centre to
promote the Irish language and promote
workers control, directly challenging
neoliberalism through language, culture and
economics. We provide regular decent
lunches for working people five days a
week and free Irish classes once a
week also. We have also just started
political education classes aimed at creating
political cadres through discussion and
debate around theory and ideology.â
To find out more about the Workers
Cooperative Network and to sign up for
information on future events keep an eye on
the WCN website (http://www.workerscooperativenetwork.org/).

The following worker coops were
represented at the Belfast seminar and
currently make up the membership of the
Workers Cooperative Network: Belfast
Cleaning Coop, Na CroisbhealaÃ, Meitheal
Midwest, Just Books Collective, North Belfast
Housing Coop, Cooperative Support
Services, Bridge Street Coop, Dublin
Community Television , CounterPunch/Dole
TV, Creative Workers Coop, TradeMark
Belfast, Northern Ireland Cooperative
Forum and PRAXIS.
* Anarchist journal
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