Ah, the magic ‘C’ word. We don’t really like to blow our own trumpet here at Suma, but we do like to think that being a workers’ cooperative is one of the fundamental keys to our success.
So what’s it all about? Unlike most UK companies, Suma operates a truly democratic system of management that isn’t bound by the conventional notions of hierarchy that often hinder progress and stand in the way of fairness. While we do use an elected Management Committee to implement decisions and business plans, the decisions themselves are made at regular General Meetings with the consent of every cooperative member – there’s no chief executive, no managing director and no company chairman. In practice, this means that our day-to-day work is carried out by self-managing teams of employees who are all paid the same wage, and who all enjoy an equal voice and an equal stake in the success of the business.
Another key feature of our structure and working practice is multi-skilling. At Suma we encourage members to get involved in more than one area of business, so individuals will always perform more than one role within the cooperative. This helps to broaden our skills base and give every member an invaluable insight into the bigger picture. It also helps us to play to each member’s various different strengths while enabling us to think ‘outside the box’ when it comes to creativity and problem solving. And as for job satisfaction and staff morale – just ask yourself when was the last time you heard someone complain that their job involved too much variety? It is the spice of life, after all.
This all sounds great, but does it work? In a word, yes. Here in the UK we’re often sceptical about workers’ cooperatives, but that’s largely because of our more conventional business culture and the fact that the vast majority of UK companies are purely profit-driven. Workers’ cooperatives are far more common in many advanced European countries and developing world economies. Of course it’s not all plain sailing, but if you look at Suma’s growth over its 30-year history, we think you’ll agree that we must be doing something right.
Useful links for new and established workers’ cooperatives
The central membership organisation for cooperative enterprise throughout the UK.
To find out more about worker cooperatives in the UK.
International non-governmental organisation serving coops worldwide in all sectors.
Excellent e-zine for community and cooperative enterprise of all kinds.
Cooperative Group members pool their dividends to fund professional help for cooperatives across the country via the Cooperative Enterprise Hub.
What is happening in worker coops in Europe.
Worker cooperatives around the world.
The world famous, largest, worker owned and worker controlled business group in the world, Mondragon