Those that join a co-operative, whether a housing, worker, consumer or financial co-operative, agree to support 7 co-op principles as agreed to by the International Co-operative Alliance. In summary these principles are:
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
2. Democratic Member Control
3. Member Economic Participation
4. Autonomy and Independence
5. Education, Training and Information
6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
7. Concern for Community
In 2002 the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC) adapted the following resolution:
1. THAT CHF Canada advocate the addition of the following to the International Co-operative Principles:
Progressive Employment Practices
Co-operatives treat their employees fairly and value their contribution to the co-operative movement;
2. AND THAT CHF Canada seek the support of its partners in the Canadian co-operative movement in advocating this change.
Since 2002 the Canadian Co-operative Association has endorsed this call and representatives of CHFC are confident that in the next review of the co-operative principles by the International Co-operative Alliance is likely to add this principle.
This is in mind when I read about one Canadian financial co-operative—First Ontario Credit Union. At this time there is a strike involving FOCU employees in the Hamilton area. This strike has been a long one, getting to close to the six month period when under the pro-management labour laws of Ontario the employees can be denied the right to return to work.
The major issues are familiar ones—retirement benefits, sick pay and preservation and expansion of full-time employment.
It is hard to not see this strike as being against the spirit of the proposed 8th co-op principle. How can an organisation that claims to be in any sense progressive not have negotiated a contract that addresses the concerns raised by the members of COPE in the months leading up to the strike and continuing to be unresolved?
Co-operatives, including credit unions, should be model employers. Taking part in the ongoing race to cut worker rights and the quality of working life should not be a part of the co-op movement. FOCU is not the only employer in the co-op movement to not treat its workers equitably and fairly. However, this credit union reminds us of the need for co-ops, if they want to be supported by the broader community need to embrace an eight principle—a principle that the national movement FOCU belongs to has endorsed.