Cooperatives are often seen as an effective and participative way of mobilizing workers, especially in times of crisis. In recent years many organisations have advocated cooperatives as mechanisms of voice, security and social justice, not just within a specific production setting but also, within Global Value Chains (GVCs) (FBB 2004; Utting 2015). What is not clear is whether such labour process contexts generate the conditions (re: Kelly 1998; Atzeni 2009) of injustice necessary to cement and retain effective mobilization and representation? The specific questions we turn to in this paper are - to what degree does mobilization (into cooperatives) have to be driven by a sense of injustice? That is, what form(s) might this sense of injustice need to take? Secondly, what role do external actors (e.g. agencies of assistance; buyers; suppliers) or structural “imperatives” (e.g. organizational form) play in the ongoing (cooperative) development process without compromising initial principles of representation? This paper uses two different examples of cooperatives to reflect on what might drive and what might maintain worker cooperatives. The first example is an older cooperative project (Nova Amafrutas – NAF) for the supply of fruit from the Brazilian Amazon (Pegler, 2009), the form it took and challenges it faced in developing and maintaining structures and worker commitment for a new enterprise (but one tied to global production). The second is the VIOME workers mobilization in Greece and the challenges workers faced to reestablish hands-on management and organizational commitment to a family run national firm/cluster (Philkeram) within the context of sector uncertainty (Chourdakis 2015, unpublished). The cases allow us to contrast two situations of injustice, former mismanagement and sector uncertainty. At Viome the trigger point comes from existing workers, poor work processes and a workforce (plus their leaders) who felt “they” could do better at their plant than was being done by the faltering parent company (Philkeram). In the case of Nova Amafrutas, the injustice was previous mismanagement but also poverty, partly due to the uncertainties of demand from a more distant buying public (of fruit). Yet it was more the leaders and “helpers” of the workforce who saw the need for a new form of organization. Once established, however, both cooperatives faced internal and external challenges. For example, how to establish work, reward and incentive systems? Secondly, how to decide on suppliers (i.e. do they have to be cooperatives?) but also basic production questions (i.e. what volume, quality and flow of production). In terms of our overarching objective, how important is the initial drive for a cooperative (e.g. the nature of injustice, leadership and degree of solidarity) to the continuation of its fundamental principles of participation and equity, this is an important axis of analytical comparison but also of great practical and policy relevance. This paper’s discussion confirms our hypothesis that space and context complicate the drive for worker driven cooperatives in GVC contexts. Yet the prospect of injustice driven “reasons for solidarity” may still exist. Secondly, even in situations where conditions favour injustice driven solidarity (e.g. Viome), conflicts over fundamental labour processes and class dynamics will still abound.

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Conference 36TH ILPC Conference, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Buenos Aires
Pegler, L.J, & Chourdakis, Y. (2018). Cooperatives, labour processes and the mobilisation of the precarious. Presented at the 36TH ILPC Conference, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Buenos Aires. Retrieved from