Working together: the Calverts design and printing co-operative
Calverts is a graphic design and printing co-operative based in the East End of London. It was set up as a common ownership co-operative in 1977 by production staff from the design and printing arm of IRAT (formerly the Arts Lab), after an industrial dispute which ended in redundancy for all the workers.
The co-op started trading with working capital lent by the founder members, two A4 Gestetner presses and an IBM golfball typesetting machine. Although all of the original members are now retired, the business is held in trust and the current eleven employees run the business collectively through democratic consensus decision-making. All members have equal pay.
Calverts was named after Giles and Elizabeth Calvert, the radical 17th-century publishers and printers. It has a long history of working with movements of social change, such as CND, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Greenpeace.
Increasingly clients draw upon Calverts’ 40 years of experience to create and produce publications which tell a story using papers made from (amongst other things) seaweed, nuts and seeds.
To many traditionalists the idea of eleven people working together for the same money, without hierarchical management structures, is a recipe for disaster, but co-operatives like Calverts provide tried and tested business solutions by offering direct input from stakeholder groups. This means that, not only do co-operatives offer a better, fairer and more dignified way of working, but they can often meet the needs of clients more effectively than businesses which are focused on returning profits to their private shareholders.