03 May 2021
Meet the CICOPA member and cooperative ULCCS and read their great story of success, and how they became one of the largest labour cooperatives in India.
In India, the labour cooperative is a typical type of the worker cooperative. Tamil Nadu Co-operative Societies Rules 1988 defines a labour contract cooperative as a cooperative which has its principal object, the securing and provisions of employment to its members by executing works with the help of its members or through them.
The Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative (ULCCS) was founded in 1925 in the state of Kerala, India by a group of social reformers who struggled against upper caste discrimination and superstitions. Originally composed of 14 founding members, the cooperative now thrives and prides itself by providing direct employment to more than 13,500 workers from rural areas, and with a brilliant panorama for 2022, including a 600 million USD project.
The ULCCS focuses on construction, infrastructure, and development in Kerala, undertaking government and non-government projects, usually delivering ahead of time and with the best quality.
The cooperative is very proud of how far they have come and the challenges they have been able to overcome. Just at the beginning of the year, they were able to celebrate their 96th anniversary, where they had a moment of reflection on how the last decade was a period of rapid growth and diversification.
This came from the realization that some sectors are becoming obsolete and there is a fast need to modernize, as technology has taken a huge importance in the modern world. ULCCS has been able to focus on workers upskilling and investing in tech education, since more and more technology is used for their daily work.
In addition, the cooperative is now diversifying and using technology in more progressive ways. For example, they now have a state-of-the-art technology facility ‘cyberpark’ focused on IT infrastructure development. ULCCS is also very happy to report that many women are getting IT positions and managerial positions that only can benefit more their cooperative. Furthermore, this is the first ‘Green LEED’ certified, gold rated building by a cooperative. Additionally, the coop is also building other places for diversification of their services, such as craft villages for the handicraft sector where they provide a safe place for artisans, including a market to sell their products for fair prices.
When it comes to the day-to-day governance and operations, the cooperative has different levels of functioning. For the projects, the workers are free to organize their schedule daily and work as they see fit, and at the end of the tasks, they have a weekly review by directors who oversee and supervise the completion of each of those before moving on. The projects all have programs to make sure that they are delivered on time, and as mentioned before the ULCCS prides itself on delivering usually ahead of it. The board meets regularly to discuss issues and problems and find suitable solutions.
Furthermore, when it comes to membership, on top of the 13,500 regular members of the cooperative, they have 9000 hired workers. These workers could eventually become full members if they desired so, by learning the cooperative culture.
“For me, the added value of us being a cooperative, is that we all grow together. We grow with the help of others, and this is the way we can give something back to society. A fair and positive impact in the community”. Says Kishor Kumar, Chief Project Coordinator for ULCCS.
When it comes to the pandemic, the ULCCS, just like many others around the world, had to modify its plans and schedules. Their number one priority was worker safety, and while construction was halted with the national lockdown, workers in other sectors such as IT had the chance to switch to safe working from home environments. On another note, before the pandemic ULCCS had the chance to develop a “Virtual Medical Consultancy” platform (Telemedicine) through which patients could consult doctors in case of illness. During the pandemic, this platform became incredibly relevant overnight as it allowed people to make their appointments and connected physician specialists from remote places to patients. Additionally, the cooperative has launched a study to define the “Post COVID-19 environment” to explore the new landscape and opportunities that will emerge. They expect this study will help other organizations and industries to prepare for what is coming next.
In other ventures, the cooperative also runs a senior citizen’s day care center, where elderly can get the attention they need during the day, and a disaster management & rescue operations unit, which helps the government and people in need during very difficult situations.
To conclude, the ULCCS is more than just a cooperative, it is a way of life. Being around for almost a century, has taught them some valuable lessons, but most importantly, they have been able to leave their mark in their community, and become a big family. Every cooperative’s dream.
ULCCS is a cooperative, and an associate member of CICOPA.
Source: Cooperatives in industrial and service sectors in the Asia-Pacific region study, page 62 and 88.