Lessons in co-operation from a world in lockdown - a blog by Ed Mayo

At a time of heartache, it is still possible and natural to be heartened by those around us. Some of the responses I hear from my calls and contact with co-operators around the world provide moving and meaningful stories.

Here are just a few examples that I have come across - you can read about them in more detail on my blog

  • In the Italian region of Lombardy, the national co-operative alliance, Legacoop is supporting worker co-ops of cleaners switching to working in hospitals, social co-operatives delivering food and tax co-operatives providing free transport for people who are over 65.
  • Also in Italy, with support from co-ops more widely, twelve co-ops have come together to start production of 400,000 face masks per day, with an innovative design that can be re-used up to 100 times.
  • French co-operative banks around Paris have opened up lines of credit worth €100 million for hospitals and healthcare centres.
  • German co-operative banks have led on increasing the limit for contactless payment for customers to 50 euros – practical and helpful.
  • In Spain, Lionel Messi helped to lead a 70% pay cut by players at FC Barcelona, the iconic football co-op, in order to ensure that lower-paid workers receive full pay and protection from being laid off.
  • Desjardins in Canada has announced a discount for car insurance customers who are driving less in a lock-down.
  • Irish credit unions have remained open when bank branches have closed, offering new emergency loans.
  • Co-op insurers in Sweden have placed investments of US$235 million in new bonds to finance public health actions not just in the Baltic region but worldwide. Ylva Wessén, CEO, promises that “Folksam Group is actively seeking investment opportunities that alleviate the social and economic consequences of the coronavirus.” 

In the UK, Nick Crofts, President of the Co-op Group has commented:

"Co-ops have consistently set an example that other businesses and even the Government have subsequently followed. It was Co-op Food stores that were the first to promise help to food banks struggling because of panic buying. Co-op Academies were the first to announce that no child should go hungry because schools were closed. In Wales, co-op taxi drivers are offering free rides to key workers. And right here in Liverpool a co-op bakery is baking fresh bread for food banks and delivering pies to ambulance workers. I know that co-operators are up to this challenge and that our co-operative movement anchored in the communities that we serve will always back those who need it most.”

In Italy, as the prospects of loosening lock-down brighten, the cultural co-ops across the country are promising a programme of public engagement, to rebuild the country.

I had the opportunity to meet the President of Legacoop, Mauro Lusetti, on a brilliantly informative trip to Bologna two years ago. The example he has set in Italy has been immense. This is how he puts it – what Italy has got right:

“We are normal people, who try every day with passion, courage and competence to do their duty, to do their job.....We are women and men who try to make essential services work in warehouses in the streets, in supermarkets, in offices; we are the ones who in social co-operation try in every way to keep assistance alive for all the people who were fragile before the Coronavirus and today they are even more so. The infection will end and as we work every day we try to imagine how to face the world that will come, so that no sacrifice has been in vain.

Of course there are other international examples that are outstanding in terms of co-operative action – as no doubt can be found in other sectors, of civil society, social enterprise and wider corporate action. After all, this is not a competition. Co-ops don’t claim to be better than others on values – they simply claim to live up to their values and so often when I look, I find that to be true.

You can read other examples here and abroad, including recent posts on USA, India and Brazil via Co-op News, in Europe from Co-ops Europe and more widely from the ILO. Co-operatives UK is collecting evidence from our members on the impact of coronavirus in the UK. Sign up to receive our newsletter, or checking out our latest specialist advice.