Italy’s Worker Buyouts in Times of Crisis

Publication date: 30 March 2017
Research areas: Innovative models
Publication categories: Research Reports
Tags: employment, worker and producer, worker buyout

Recent years have witnessed a re-emergence of business rescues and buyouts of failing firms or of firms with succession issues to cooperatives. In our current times of lingering economic crises and austerity, in particular, worker-initiated business conversions to cooperatives – or workerrecuperated enterprises – are directly addressing chronic under- and unemployment, rising rates of firm closures, and business transfer issues. They also suggest ways of bringing economic control back to the hands of workers and communities via practices of collective entrepreneurship.

This report focuses on Italy’s experiences with worker-recuperated enterprises as worker buyouts (WBOs). They have been facilitated by Italy’s extensive cooperative, business, and labour legislation and enabling environment, spearheaded by its Legge Marcora (Marcora Law) policy and funding framework – a unique collaboration for business rescues and saving jobs between workers, the state, and the cooperative movement. With particular emphasis on the resurgence of WBOs since the latest period of economic crisis spawned by the Great Recession, this report reviews and updates research we have been conducting at Euricseby specifically exploring: the political economic conditions from out of which Italian WBOs emerge; Italian and European policies on business transfers; the legal and financial supports that facilitate WBOs in Italy; Italian WBOs’ economic sectors of activity, geographic spread, territorial concentration, and demographic dimensions; and their organizational makeup and conversion processes.

This report strives to contribute to bridging knowledge gaps concerning business conversions to worker cooperatives more broadly, and Italy’s WBOs and Legge Marcora framework more specifically. It also aims to establish a research agenda for studying worker buyouts that aspires to uncover their long-term potential as solutions by workers to micro- and macro-economic crises and for informing policy and future research considerations. This report brings to a close the Italian phase of a broader research initiative entitled New Production and Worker Cooperatives and the Employee Buyout Phenomenon in the “Innovative Models” research stream spearheaded by Euricse. This broader research initiative seeks to bring into clearer view the dynamics of the conversions of businesses into worker cooperatives and other forms of labour-owned and community-centred firms via an interdisciplinary political economic and sociological research program.