Imola, Bologna, some say, is the cradle of the co-operative movement in Italy. And, how so when it has produced so many outstanding co-op ‘offspring’. On my visit there I was treated to an IYC event and meeting in the lovely town centre of this co-operative hub in northern Italy. It was a really strong turn out with local parliamentarians, lots of co-operators, and a truly co-operative local Mayor who made a cracking speech about the contribution of the co-operative economy to Imola, and how the principles and values that bind the global movement are so in tune with Imola’s strong sense of local community cohesion. This is a community imbued with a long tradition of co-operative industry. The next day I saw some of it, staring with a memorable visit to Ceramica d’Imola, a first for me – a long established ceramics co-op. I saw some beautiful ceramic artwork stretching over decades. I watched the plates, vases and pots being hand painted by fine craftsmen and women, as well as some delightful and imaginative displays of modern ceramic wall and floor coverings – at the leading edge of ceramic technology (are there any other ceramic co-ops out there? I don’t know of any and these are being sold worldwide).
I was reminded of my early co-op career when I toured CLAI, a co-op producing high quality meat products, especially a variety of excellent salamis and hams.
I saw the meat from butchery through to the drying and curing rooms. My ‘thumbs up’ testifies to the quality of the product at this stage, and I should know! As a Co-operative sponsored Member of the European Parliament for ten years, I was responsible for steering the food hygiene directive through the European Parliament, and my co-op background with the UK’s largest retail co-op helped me to ask the right questions and amend the legislation to protect European consumers.
I was lucky to try some of the great CLAI finished products at a great buffet lunch – look out for their products at your local delicatessen.
Then for something completely different: a ground breaking new energy efficient nursery school. It was rest time for the children when I first arrived, but there is a wow factor to this place with everything about it, from materials to energy usage, from lighting to design, designed to maximise ecologically friendly facilities and energy efficiency – loved it and the pride of the nursery staff was infectious. The sleepy, little faces I saw emerging from the rest rooms are lucky indeed if this is the shape of things to come, and a tribute to an innovative municipality as well as a great co-op.
Having thought I had seen the best in co-op practice that this town has to offer, I was just blown away by my visit to SACMI, a co-op started by nine mechanics 90 years ago. It is now Italy’s largest manufacturing worker co-op, and sells its products in more than 85 countries. It grew out of the needs of Imola’s ceramics industry for presses for ceramic products. It now has two main products – giant ceramic presses, custom made at this huge manufacturing site for the ceramic industry around the world; conversely, it also produces the manufacturing plant used to produce some of the smallest plastic parts – the bottle tops that sell by the millions around the world. Just about every bottle cap that you twist off has been manufactured on a SACMI machine. I have never seen a worker co-op of this size and global impact – a €2.4 billion turnover business of exceptional quality and still driven by, and very proud of its co-op heritage. What a stimulating day. Northern Italy gave the world the model for social care co-ops; it has given us a lot more too.