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The John Lewis Partnership gave workers a 20% salary bonus last week, but as Barbara Panvel reports there are plenty of other less well-known co-operatives out there, giving satisfaction to workers and value to customers.

Last week John Lewis gave employees bonuses equal to ten weeks wages – 20% of their salary.


Because, like the Glas Cymru Welsh water company, they are a co-operative - owned by their members, whom they call partners. Profits don’t go to shareholders but, after reinvestment in the business, a proportion is divided amongst the workforces or, in the case of the water company, their customers.

Glas Cymru gives a discount to customers on benefits and all received a dividend with their bills this year.

In many ways the co-operative movement has for some years been a trailblazer. There are several wind farm co-operatives and the large retail and financial co-operatives source most of their electricity from wind and waterpower.

The Co-operative Group has funded the installation of PV cells in 100 schools and its Co-operative Insurance Services’ building has a solar tower in Manchester which generates electricity from solar power – the largest solar project in the UK.

It has also set up a recycling plant for paper, plastic tin & other waste from its head office, and local schools and businesses.

Co-operative retailers have banned GM foods, artificial food colourings and a range of toxic chemicals still present in many brands of household cleaners and fabric conditioners. Six years ago they introduced biodegradable plastic bags made from tapioca – not oil.

The Co-operative Financial Services recycles over eight times as much waste as the average office and the Bank, which doesn’t give loans to damaging enterprises, was recently rated the best for overall customer satisfaction by the BBC’s Watchdog programme.

In addition to the movement’s wholehearted support for Fairtrade, last year Co-operatives UK proposed a Fairtrade type system for local food in this country.

They are trying and - in one respect - very trying:

If only the large groups could manage to find a way of including members in making major decisions innovation, enterprise - and membership - could well increase rapidly. They are nominally owned and controlled by members, but many businesses have been sold & many people disemployed, without any consultation - the most serious case being that of Birmingham Dairy.

Most worker co-operatives are smaller businesses and they definitely have the edge over the larger bodies when it comes to democracy in the workplace – they also score on many other points such as job rotation and lower wage differentials.

The most surprising endorsement?

David Cameron set up a Conservative Co-operative Movement in November last year - see

Have you worked for a co-operative? Are they better than conventional companies? Leave a comment on The Stirrer Forum.

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