Friday, September 15, 2006

Worker Buy-Out Boom Ahead?

Media Release from the Canadian Labour Congress

Analysts have forecasted more plant closures in industries like forestry across the prairies in the years ahead. But there could also be many more worker-led plant rescues and buyouts if a new joint task force has its way.

The independent task force was commissioned this weekend in Saskatoon at a movement-to-movement dialogue that brought together about 20 regional leaders of the trade union and worker co-op movements. They traveled from across the three Prairie provinces to discuss the spate of recent plant closures – including the former Weyerhaeuser plant in Prince Albert and Worldwide Pork in Moose Jaw – as well as other industries at-risk in the new globalized economic climate. Delegates to the Saskatoon Summit vowed to build their capacity to respond effectively and rapidly in future job-threatened situations.

Over two days of intensive discussions, leaders from the Prairie Region of the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation exchanged ideas for advancing the ability of workers and communities to defend their jobs and local economies and outlined some next steps.

Legendary leader of the Steelworkers’ plant rescues across North America, Lynn Williams, declared the meeting “historic.” When the bottom fell out of the North American steel market and 250,000 jobs were lost, Williams emerged as one of the pioneers of union-led buyouts – like the rescue of Algoma Steel, a Sault St. Marie success story that is now buying other steel companies. Williams is now 82, but traveled from Toronto to be the weekend’s opening speaker.

Facilitating the regional dialogue was Dan Bell of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center. In the heart of the so-called ‘rustbelt,’ where de-industrialization took a devastating toll, the Kent University-based OEOC has helped put employee ownership plans in place in 77 companies, maintaining about 14,400 jobs in Ohio since 1987.

Participants also struck a steering committee to guide further discussions on strategic joint planning. Priorities for that committee, the Prairie Labour-Worker Co-operative Council, will include:

q† developing an outreach and education campaign to raise awareness of the co-operative worker ownership model with union members, development partners and the public;

q† assembling a string of technical assistance ‘SWAT teams’ that can respond rapidly and effectively to shut-down threats, and;

q††rolling out a financing committee to assess and develop specialty financing tools for conversions to worker ownership.

The steering committee was also mandated to pursue proactive applications of the worker co-op model in non-crisis situations. These include orderly retirement succession plans to the large group of owners now approaching retirement age and the use of the worker co-op model as a tool for new enterprise development and job creation, particularly in distressed and vulnerable communities.

The Saskatoon Summit was organized by Co-operative Ventures, a worker co-operative specializing in technical assistance delivery to other worker-owned firms in the Prairie region. It was primarily funded with the assistance of another worker co-op, The Big Carrot – a very successful organic grocery store in Toronto which created a fund called Carrot Cache to support other workers’ efforts to take control of their economic lives.

For more information, contact:

April Bourgeois, Co-operative Ventures and Prairies Region Director, Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation (306) 244-2210, or Hazel Corcoran, Executive Director, Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation, (403) 287-2069
David Winter, Prairie Region Director, Canadian Labour Congress (Regina) (306) 525-6137 or cell 536-7703


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