How the NDP and Greens Can Grow BC’s Cooperative Economy: Co-ops make us wealthier and more equal, and government can do plenty to foster them.

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Rowe, James
Peredo, Ana Maria
Restakis, John
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The Tyee
Excerpted from the full article available from The Tyee at Policy that supports the growth of the cooperative sector in B.C. can go a long way towards achieving the goals of a sustainable and equitable economy. Consider the Basque region of Spain, where the Mondragon cooperative network is the largest employer, providing jobs to over 80,000 workers, working in the areas of manufacturing, retail, finance, and research and development. Basque country is the wealthiest region in Spain with a per capita GDP that is 35 per cent higher than the Spanish average, and 30 per cent higher than the EU average. The Basque country also has low income inequality compared to the European average. Worker satisfaction in the region is one of the highest in the world. Public policy supportive of cooperatives has played a key role in Mondragon’s success, and the relative equity and worker-satisfaction found in Basque country. For example, Spanish cooperatives enjoy a favourable tax rate. Another key policy form that has been successfully deployed to grow cooperative economies around the world is access to public financing. Conventional financial institutions, due to unfamiliarity with the form and ideological blinders, can be hesitant to lend to cooperatives, especially worker-owned firms. The strong credit union sector in B.C. reduces this concern, but having access to public financing would still help grow the cooperative economy. Another key mechanism that can support cooperative growth is governmental support for the technical side of starting a new collective enterprise. The Quebecois cooperative movement has benefitted considerably from the formation of Regional Development Cooperatives which have a mandate to support the creation of new coops, strengthen existing coops, and support co-operative networks in Quebec’s 17 administrative regions. Another mechanism with real promise to grow cooperative economies is preferential bidding on governmental purchasing contracts. Because cooperatives regularly achieve public goals like job creation, good wages, and greater job satisfaction, then it makes sense for them to be first in line when the government goes to buy goods and services with public money. Recent research shows that in 2010 cooperatives in Canada created jobs at nearly five times the rate of the overall economy, and generated 11 per cent more income for those employed in the industry.