Written by Huw Irranca Davies, MS for Ogmore Constituency
One of the towering examples of a successful workers buy-out in recent years was the legendary Tower Colliery. Heck, it was so good they even made an opera about it! But we too easily forget the incredible battles at the time to wrest control of the pit from the Conservative government who were just hell-bent on closure.
Yet the eventual buy-out of the pit by the miners themselves with their redundancy money led to another couple of decades of well-paid work for the miners, and has now spun off into other projects giving life to the area. Zip World near Hirwaun – linked to Tower Adventures – is just the latest reincarnation of the life of this buy-out.
So, what if we could replicate the Tower story a hundredfold or a thousandfold in Wales. What if we could do this not just out of desperation and necessity because of something like the pit-closure programme, but out of design, so we gave workers the right and the resources to buy-out the company they work in if it got into difficulties, or parts of the business seemed unprofitable.
Part of the Welsh Labour manifesto for the last election reads “We will provide greater support for worker buyouts and with the cooperative sector, seek to double the number of employee-owned businesses”. Welsh Government is putting significant resources into this, not least through the work of the Wales Cooperative Centre.
Last week in the Senedd I put forward a proposal for a new “Marcora Law” in Wales which would seek to give the rights and the resources to workers to do just that. It gained support in principle from the Senedd, from Labour and Plaid Cymru and LibDem. I will now meet with Ministers to discuss this further.
Many communities across my constituency are heavily reliant on just one or two large employers and if circumstance meant that such a business were to close, it would not just be the jobs that were lost but the very lifeblood of these towns. A Welsh “Marcora Law” would give workers the chance to fully or partially buy out the profitable or essential parts of the business.
It was first introduced in Italy almost 30 years ago. During the financial crisis in Italy (2007-2013), the Marcora law saved over 13,000 jobs and preserved hundreds of essential businesses as newly founded Cooperatives. Crucially, not only were communities and businesses saved, but the new Cooperatives often went on to out-perform traditional businesses, typically with the capital invested being repaid six times over.
Wales already has a successful Cooperative economy with firms such as, Drive!, Splash Community Trust, Too Good To Waste and Natural Weigh, all successfully operating under an employee ownership model. The shares of the company are distributed within the workforce, entitling them to say in how the company is run and ultimately a personal investment in the future of the company. This circulates cash into the local economy and allows them to take pride in the business they are building for themselves.
It’s not a silver-bullet, and not for every situation where a company is in difficulty. But wouldn’t it be great if we could give workers the chance to own their own workplace, and secure their own future. That’s what a Welsh Marcora Law could do!