The rise of the co-op 

In a time of endless chain businesses, the cooperative is rising. Originating in the mid-19th century, cooperatives are people-centred companies: businesses where every member has an equal say in decisions about how the company operates. Unlike most other capitalist businesses, traditionally run cooperatives are now owned by shareholders and do not operate using a hierarchal employment structure e.g., managers vs employees. They are often motivated by values, rather than solely profit.  

There are many possible answers as to why this business model is increasing- namely a counter to the growth of capitalist, profit-driven and unethical businesses. The Covid-19 pandemic may also have had an effect- lockdown emphasised the fragility of many business models, and in times of such uncertainty, a culture where staff wellbeing is prioritised is enticing to many.   

Back in my home (Manchester), I had the experience of working in a co-operative called Eighth Day: one of the first vegetarian co-ops of its kind. After working in a chain restaurant, working there felt like a welcome escape from the clutches of a 21st Century capitalist consumer culture. There was a sense of genuine community, shared values and the health and wellbeing of staff was an utmost priority. I recently spoke with my friend and ex-colleague Aaron (he/him) about his experience working in a co-op: 

“You feel more secure in a less competitive workplace. You don’t get the feeling somebody is trying to out-do-you or ‘rise through the ranks’- a cooperative model is not structured to facilitate this. I believe co-ops attract like-minded individuals who aren’t just out for themselves. Exploitation-based capitalism is one of the main issues we face worldwide.” 

Glasgow has a plethora of thriving co-ops, such as Glasgow Uni’s Student Housing Co-op and Glasgow Uni’s Food Co-op. One of Glasgow’s most prolific cooperatives is Bonjour: a queer bar and community space that opened in Saltmarket in 2021. It is home to a variety of club nights and events such as ‘Mojxmma’- a club night centring queer people of colour. Aside from these, Bonjour has been a lifeline to many queer people in Glasgow, regularly hosting fundraisers for queer and trans people and often acting as a meeting place to organise protests and groups surrounding queer issues.  Like many other bars, the cost-of-living crisis has taken its toll on Bonjour. I spoke with Peter, a member of Bonjour’s team, about what it’s like being part of a queer cooperative:  

How does the working environment within a co-op differ to that of a capitalist, profit focused business? 

The working environment feels more flexible and collaborative- as we have no focus on profit, this affords us time and space to focus on the mission of creating a safe space and prioritising under-represented voices: people of colour, trans and non- binary people, and queer women. The flat management structure in the co-op affords people more agency and empowerment when making decisions. 

What are some challenges that co-operatives face in the cost-of-living crisis and how can people support them? 

Our financial situation is quite specific to us. We are part of a network of co-ops in Scotland, most of which are small, and smaller businesses are more susceptible to the current cost of living crisis. Our customers are having to make more decisions about what events they come to because they don’t have the money to spend going out a few times a week. People can support us by being aware that co-ops aren’t resistant to these challenges and by trying to support them where you can– going to events, buying from small businesses and promoting them on social media.  

by Sophie Taylor-Davies [She/her] 

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