Thoughts from the Canadian Worker Co‑op Federation annual conference

November 14th, 2016 by Iler Campbell

The Canadian Worker Co‑op Federation (CWCF) held its annual conference last week in Vancouver ‑‑ a good choice since the drizzly November weather encouraged full participation of the 50+ participants.

I attended the conference on Friday morning, Alain Bridault kicked the morning off with a plenary session “Managing the Democratic Governance Process in a Worker Co‑op.” Bridault discussed the challenge of governing when your members are also your employees. Thanks to Denyse Guy from Co‑operatives and Mutuals Canada for her translation services and her input from time to time.

The plenary was followed by three concurrent sessions. At one, Mary Childs of Ethos Law in Vancouver and I co‑presented on legal issues in worker co‑ops. Mary gave an overview of contract and tort law in an impressive 30 minutes! I followed it up with a very high level discussion of the obligations worker co‑ops – and indeed all co‑ops – have under human rights legislation. The discussion that followed reflected the wide range of types of worker co‑ops represented in our session – from bicycle co‑ops to coffee shops to environmental consultancies.

I was sorry that I had not signed up to attend the full conference but the lure of mountains was too much. I’m sure that the balance of the three days was equally engaging. Well done to Hazel and Kaye who organized it.

Iler Campbell LLP has a long association with CWCF, representing a number of its Ontario members. In addition, our lawyers are all members of and regular presenters at events put on by CWCF’s Co‑op Zone Legal Network, where Lauren Blumas currently sits on the Steering Committee.

There’s a wonderful film called The Mondragon Experiment that inspired Brian and many others back in the 1980s – including the founders of The Big Carrot, one of Toronto’s worker co‑op success stories.

And, for those interested in learning more here’s an interesting article on “social enterprise”, and “philanthrocapitalism”, that includes this:

Most interesting of all, I suspect, are those groups that deliberately set out to use the power of the market while simultaneously altering patterns of consumption, production, ownership, and distribution—groups that aim to transform social and economic systems rather than simply enable more people to participate in those we have already. They include new business models built around the commons, community benefit agreements and worker-controlled firms, co-operatives like Mondragon (still doubling in size every ten years though virtually forgotten in the race towards philanthrocapitalism)


Filed in: Co-operative Law


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