Incubating worker cooperatives in the changing world of work

Calverts  is a worker-owned creative design studio and print shop. It was founded by seven people in 1977. It was the product of a conflict between employees and manager-owners of a publishing and printing subsidiary of the Institute for Research in Art and Technology. It started as a ‘sweat equity’ common ownership worker cooperative, designing and printing community, union and political publications. I became a member of Calverts in 1985.

Over the years, Calverts grew meeting its members’ evolving needs and aspirations and investing all its surplus in skills and technology development. It is now a leading print house and design studio, working for universities, consumer brands, arts organizations and publishers. It is still, however, also a ‘movement’ resource, often working pro bono for grassroots community organizations with which our members are involved. It has also remained true to its founding principles of equality. Our members are all hourly paid, on the same hourly rate - from the Finance Director to the Cleaner. We have no line managers, working instead as interlinked team circles, with a General Meeting every month. We have a culture of ‘emergent strategy’, and most decisions are made by consensus, using a mixture of sociocratic and devolved process. We try to avoid conventional voting, except when it is required by statute. This efficient and empowering approach is quite common in UK worker cooperatives, which are in the forefront of cooperative democratic innovation.

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