It’s not been all rosy for Fingerprint. Due to a huge downtown in sales, the co-op had to downsize at some point. “Three people offered to step down – they’d be 82 years old now. We paid them out because we’ve planned for that.”
Fingerprint is battling to attract younger members, but Issy is determined. He’s mulling a succession plan that involves young people.
“When we started out we were politically motivated and conscious. We were unionists fighting for our rights. But now to get the youngsters you need to provide political education focusing on the alternative economy. But, it’s a struggle. We’ve experienced a high staff turnover of young new members in recent years.”
Issy worries the co-op concept might die despite his efforts to organise various groups in the community to form their own cooperatives.
“I’d be very proud of Fingerprint if most people in the Western Cape, especially the oppressed and poor people, knew about worker co-ops and how to start and manage one. We thought by this time we’d have achieved that, but we haven’t.”
Issy believes this education must start at schools. Also, good co-operatives leaders and advocates would be required to get the message across.
The members of Fingerprint are proud of how far the business has come. Issy is optimistic about the future of workers’ cooperatives in South Africa.
“Cooperatives have great potential. People just need to take a different stance and be honest. When we speak to communities – and we’ve spoken to many – people are so excited about the concept. But imagine a person who’s always worked for someone else, has likely been treated badly, and all of a sudden they come into owning a business. That requires ongoing preparation and especially if the person is above 30 years of age.”
He has good advice for anyone interested in building a worker cooperative.
“Be fair, objective and control greed. It’s complicated to start a worker cooperative for people who really need them. Training and understanding must be 100 times more intense. And we are doing it and we’ll continue to try,” he says.