Trademark anti-sectarian unit of the ICTU. An organisation dedicated to addressing inequality and sectarianism. As a democratic anti-sectarian organisation we thought that Interface Worker Cooperatives had potential to tackle poverty, address inequality and bring workers together to work for joint benefit across the divide. So in the worst recession in 80 years we decided to start a business on an interface in Belfast. Our chance came at the MTV show in 2011.
At last year’s much vaunted MTV showcase in Belfast where Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber took the headlines, a perhaps more significant event was taking place back stage. A group of worker-owners from the Falls and Shankill set about establishing Belfast’s first Interface Worker Cooperative. Since then we have won other contracts, including Tenant’s Vital gig with the Foo Fighters and Stone Roses and we are in discussions with Showinc UK/Ireland.
In February 2012 the coop was successful in its request for support from the Cooperative Enterprise Hub. Jo Bird was appointed and was instrumental in shaping and encouraging the formation of the Coop giving sound business advice but who also understood the values and potential of a democratic workplace. We were also fortunate to have the advice of Tiziana O’Hara at the N. Ireland Co-operative Forum who understands the very real challenges of establishing worker Coops in Northern Ireland.
In May 2012 board members were voted in, the structure, governance & business plan was agreed. Logo designed by Creative Workers Cooperative.....And a lovely job it is too.....and the Website is currently under construction... We have secured further contracts with Trademark, the ICTU, the Creative Workers Coop and Na Croisbhealaí Café highlighting the importance of inter-cooperation amongst coops in developing the business. Cooperative registration was completed in May 2012 and the BCC is now a registered workers cooperative.
We have also recognised the importance of political lobbying - Belfast Cleaning Cooperative won cross party support in a Belfast City Council meeting May 2012. http://www.belfastcity.publici.tv/core/portal/webca st_interactive/78986... 1.49 on film We are currently negotiating for inclusion on the Council procurement list; we don't want a hand out just a level playing field.
Of course it is not all plain sailing. We face issues around sweat equity, ensuring an equal commitment from all members and deciding who does what, when and how democratically? How do we build the business to help new members come of the benefit system and into full time employment? We need agreement on the path the cooperative takes and we need to be sure that all members are working towards the same goals....and they are: Better working conditions, a living wage, dignity at work and living up to the challenges of being a worker and an owner of a cooperative enterprise.
It is the vision and commitment of the founder members of the Belfast Cleaning Society to develop a profitable business that is also a cross community workers cooperative with a strong anti- Sectarian ethos. It is unionised, it is worker controlled, it is democratic and the workers pay themselves above the industry average, whilst re-investing their profits in their future. ti sectarian ethos.