AltGen, a new co-operative dedicated to showing young people alternative ways of work as an option out of the unstable, unforgiving and broken jobs market, are re-invigorating the necessities of not just valued work, but social justice and equality.
On Tuesday 22nd July, AltGen put on their first event – ‘Create Your Own Work.’ Places sold out, and rightly so, as AltGen position themselves at the beginning of a new movement of alternatives for the under-served young people of the UK. Their website reads:
“AltGen supports 18-29 year olds to set up workers co-operatives as a way of
reclaiming control over our work and creating a more equal and sustainable future.
“We are told time and time again we are the generation without a future.
For the first time ever we are inheriting an economic reality worse than our parents.
“Well every crisis creates opportunity and its time we turned this situation around!
“Lets stop competing and start collaborating. Lets come together and start creating an alternative future.
One where we are in control of our work, get paid to do what we love and have a positive social impact.”
‘Create Your Own Work’ allowed a space to discuss the problems of the current system and the desires we would have of a new one. Further than that, AltGen demonstrated their commitment to inspiring and motivating people’s ideas by bringing in experienced and valued speakers from co-operatives that have had a long and successful journey, to ones just starting out. With their help, audience members began to visualize and logically think about the steps needed to begin their own projects and co-operatives, turning ideas into attainable tasks.
AltGen are an inspiring and much needed idea, which offers young people the ability to regain their independence from a negligent economy and also allows them to fill their work with the moral guidelines the current system is so bereft of. Using the crisis of youth unemployment as an opportunity to build a better, collective alternative is a solid way out of the lonely, competitive rat race which has pulled society further apart.
Below we quote some of the sage advice offered up by one of the speakers, Siôn Whellans from Calverts, which gives us a glimpse into the working conditions and attitude to work there could be for more of us.
“We’re graphic designers and printers. My worker’s co-op was founded in 1977 at the beginning of the last big wave of new worker’s co-ops in this country. The people who set it up, I’m not a founding member – all the founding members have gone now, and they set it up because they were working for an arts organization which decided to close them down and they decided to set up a worker’s co-op, because they thought they could earn a living and do some good stuff.
“A lot of them were involved in political and social activity – the anti-apartheid movement, food, all sorts of things. But in those days the Internet was print and poster design and typesetting. But they set it up in a small way, none of them had any money, all of them were about 23/24. They borrowed a little bit of money, they semi-squatted a place until they could get a landlord to make an agreement with them. They started off with some desktop duplicators and [basic equipment] doing community newsletters and poster making and stuff like that. At the beginning, a lot of them were on the dole and they made the commitment that, as there were 7 of them, if half of them couldn’t get off the dole on some kind of wage after six months they’d stop, and then after a year everyone would stop.
“They traded, they made a bit of money, they bought better equipment. It was always about getting better at what they did. And then they went out, took a deep breath and borrowed money from some capitalists and bought a printing press and really that’s the way the co-op started and it’s the way it’s always gone. We’ve moved three times, started off in Farringdon, did 15 years in Shoreditch to 12 years in Bethnal Green.
“At the moment we have 12 working members. We’re designing and producing website and print. We have decent wages. We have a 35 hour working week – you’re on time and a half after that. Our basic hourly rate is £17.65 an hour. We have six weeks holiday. We have paid sick leave. We have very good conditions.
“Our co—op is also hyper-equal, everybody gets the same rate if they’re in a full time qualified job at the co-op. We don’t have any bosses or line managers. We have no external shareholders. We’re a common ownership co-op – all the assets in the co-op are owned in common. When you come, you come with nothing. When you leave, you leave with nothing. It gets left in there and built up over the years, that’s the idea. It’s a great place to work.
“Part of why I’m here is because it’s important for a grown up co-op like ours to reconnect with it’s roots, we want to make bonds with the new generation but we also want to pass on what we’ve learned about how to do it well and get the things we want which I express as decent work, and there’s an International Labour Market definition of what decent work is, a culture of equality at work – absolute equality. Everyone is equal. The opportunity to develop ourselves, our skills, our capacity as human beings as well as workers and the opportunity to self-manage our working lives which is what we’ve done.”
by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass