Work Together (Archive)

Intercooperation between worker cooperatives in South Korea and the USA

Inchang Song President of the Korean worker cooperative federation and Minsun Ji cooperative activist and PhD student at the university of Denver, toured several cooperatives and federations in the United States to learn more about the development of the worker cooperative movement, the best practices that can be applied to South Korea and the creation of incubation centers.

20 October 2015

The two first met with the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. Song was extremely interested in learning about how the federation came about and in receiving tips from his American counterparts. Song and Ji also met with several cooperatives such as Alvarado St. Bakery and Prospera, both are worker cooperative incubation centers that use different models. “It was an eye-opening experience” declared Minsun Ji when visiting Alvarado St. Bakery. The latter believe that the key to success of any worker cooperative is worker ownership. The concept of incubation centers is of great interest to Song and the Korean cooperative movement in general.

Currently in South Korea, the cooperative movement is still in a growing phase. It began not long ago and to the South Korean mindset it is a revolutionary concept, although some small isolated cooperatives did exist back in the past. It is the economic crisis that sparked the birth of a true cooperative movement; in fact the country realized that they were in need of a new economic system, as the population could not just wait around for jobs. Keeping in mind that the notion of workplace democracy and worker ownership is radically new to South Korea, the cooperative movement is growing rapidly and has great momentum to develop, however the need for a well- working federation to educate people about cooperatives is critical.

Song desires to help the movement grow by developing worker cooperative incubation centers. Thankfully, the Korean government is grasping the importance of the cooperative movement for South Korea’s economy and laws are being passed to foster the creation of cooperatives, such as the Framework law on cooperatives passed in 2012 by the Korean National Assembly.

The meeting organized on October 7th, at the Sustainable Economies Law Center, in Oakland, California, was an opportunity for participants to learn more about the current situation in South Korea and to foster networking and an informal cooperation between the USA and South Korea.

At the moment, in South Korea, there are 8 000 registered cooperatives, and out of those 348 are worker cooperatives. The Korean Federation has 6 regular members and 23 associate members. The biggest task facing the federation is the education of people on the topic of cooperatives and worker ownership; however the movement is rapidly growing and gaining more momentum day by day.