9 December 2015
Recently approved by the Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation (CWCF), a resolution to support the leap manifesto, a call for a Canada based on caring for the earth and one another. This resolution directs worker cooperatives to participate actively to advance a transformative vision of an economy based on renewable energy, care for ecosystems and human, and a justice-based approach that ensures that those negatively affected by the unequal extraction economy benefit first. Canada has several good examples of how cooperatives in industry and services are precious towards a sustainable and competitive economy also by cooperatives’ direct involvement in environmental activities.
Kaye Grant, Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation and Leire Luengo, CICOPA
The leap manifesto takes climate justice further. It is a “vision for how Canada can tackle climate change in a way that changes our country for the better.” The recent COP21 in Paris further emphasizes a level of commitment towards action on climate justice; however, leap manifesto adds a new element of caring for each other as part of caring for the planet.
Cooperatives in industry and services are valuable allies towards a green, sustainable and competitive economy indeed, because of their inclination to seek innovative capacity on their close relationship with the surrounding environment, due to democratic governance and the mutual interconnection between the economic activity of the enterprise, its community and environment. On the other hand, cooperatives’ direct involvement in environmental activities is a growing trend. In some countries they have been active in that field for more than a decade, whereas in others it is a much more recent trend. Quebec, where forestry cooperatives are highly present and developed is a good example.
The Quebec Federation of Forestry Cooperatives (affiliated to CICOPA Canadian member CWCF) represents the totality of worker cooperatives and social cooperatives (called “solidarity cooperatives” in that region) present in the forest sector in Quebec. Its 40 cooperatives gather 2,700 worker-members and created jobs for approximately 3,500 individuals, generating over $250 million in revenue.
The history of forestry cooperatives in Quebec goes back to the 1930’s: closely associated with the farmers’ unions, they were created to organize the work force of the settlers who offered their services in the woods during the winter season. During this period, forest cooperatives improved the fate of workers who were constrained to earn their living in very difficult conditions. A turning point in their development and consolidation came in the 1970s with the government’s support. In the 1980s, forestry cooperatives were involved in a major reforestation program, producing seedlings for reforestation and intensifying their forestry operations. In 2005, forestry cooperatives had planted one billion seedlings on Quebec’s public land. Nowadays, they are focusing on forestry planning and training.
Recently, the Quebec Federation of Forestry Cooperatives has launched the project “Vision Biomasse Québec” in partnership with other private and public actors. It is a structured network for generating heat from forest biomass in Quebec, with the objective to generate 4,000 GWh of annual renewable energy production for heat until 2025. To reach these results, Vision Biomasse Québec has targeted the creation of 12,500 new jobs linked to the establishment of infrastructure.
A worldwide momentum
Worldwide the momentum is growing to support the immediate need to address climate change. The International Cooperative Alliance General assembly has also published a statement to the world leaders involved in the COP21 “urging the heads of state and government, present in Paris for the COP21, to agree to effective and ambitious measures against climate change and to take into consideration the cooperative movement as a partner in their implication.” The ICA notes that cooperatives act on several levels at a time:
1. “First level: cooperatives contribute to reducing inequality and poverty. Having decent living conditions is a prerequisite to feeling that you are an actor in an effort which requires sacrifices, as will be the case with future climate challenges.”
Neechi Foods Limited, a worker cooperative, is addressing inequality, poverty and food insecurity in the north end of Winnipeg (Manitoba) by operating a grocery store in an area that has been labeled a food dessert. As well, it employs local aboriginal people from the area which is one of the lowest income urban areas in the city and possibly in Canada.
The International Women’s Catering Co-op is a culturally diverse team serving a wide variety of ethnic food at the James Bay Community and Moss Street Markets in Victoria, British Columbia. They focus on creating supported employment for new immigrant women.
2. “Second level: they are schools of democracy and foster active citizenship. Cooperatives encourage people to unite and act, rather than wait for solutions to drop from elsewhere or from governments.”
Careforce, a personal home care enterprise in Kentville, Nova Scotia, is a worker buyout where the employees now own the business as a worker cooperative. They provide substantial education for members which provides members with the information needed to be informed and active members. This increases members’ engagement and also ensures a higher level of service because members have a stake in the outcome.
The Media Co-op is a coast-to-coast network of local media cooperatives dedicated to providing grassroots, democratic coverage of their communities and of Canada. It is a multi-stakeholder cooperative that provides informed news coverage to ensure its readers have the information they need for democratic decisions about their world.
3. “And the third level is the educational mission which results from their action. This educational mission can include the complex issues of climate change. Much remains to be done in terms of raising awareness.”
Victory Gardens is a worker cooperative in Vancouver, British Columbia that creates gardens in a wide variety of spaces where people can grow and eat healthy food. By doing this they are helping decrease people’s impact on the environment, supporting their local economy, and creating a healthy environment with organic food. This all contributes to the movement towards new and sustainable food systems.
Cooperatives, by focusing on people first, are a model that can mobilize people to “own the change”.