Transport cooperatives, so useful to self-employed professionals, do not get to celebrate their Golden Jubilee very often. One of them, Cooperative Avilesina, has reached this venerable age and is an example of “the strength of the union of the self-employed”.
The Asturias region boasts the highest number of transport cooperatives and has a long associationist tradition. One of the specialist transport cooperatives is Cooperativa Avilesina which, having recently completed fifty years of activity (it was created in 1962), is now Europe's oldest cooperative and a great example of survival, sensible use of resources and, in particular, union of self-employed transport workers.
At the beginning of the 1950s, Avilés’ 20,000 inhabitants lived off the fishing industry mainly for subsistence. There were also some engineering industries, which gave certain experience to the area and must have been a fundamental reason for the permanent change that occurred in the history of this Asturian city.
In 1954 construction began of the National Steel Company (Ensidesa), known locally as "la fabricona", leading to the development of many activities and businesses. Fifteen self-employed haulage contractors set up a cooperative to unite forces, increase their job opportunities and streamline their activity. Together they won a contract to remove slag from the Ensidesa blast furnace, hence the number of members grew rapidly.
By 1962 it already had 63 cooperative members and in 1966 Manuel Gutiérrez became the first full-time CEO of Avilesina. Eleven years later, in 1977, he received the “Exemplary Cooperative” diploma from King Juan Carlos I.
Conquering the future
In 1982, five years before celebrating its Silver Jubilee, Avilesina moved to its current, far larger and more practical headquarters, which included offices, a social centre and workshops and services for the members’ trucks.
Back then, local and regional transport were the main activities, so as time passed and work became more scarce in the Asturias region it was necessary to look for it further afield. For example, participating in the construction of a new breakwater at the port of Huelva, a project that lasted five years. Thanks to these jobs outside of Asturias’ heartland, the distinctive blue design of Avilesina’s trucks can be seen throughout Spain.
In recent years its activities have diversified, firstly with the creation of ATC Cobitrans, a company that manages the traffic of customers like Arcelor-Mittal and Ence, later with Casintra, through the launch of a joint venture focused on the bulk transport of Ensidesa, and finally in 2009, with the creation of Intercargo, a joint project with Asturcoop.
Cooperativa Avilesina currently has 150 members, all with no more than one truck, although the possibility of attaching a pair of semitrailers is allowed, which in general consist of a dumper (the majority of Avilesina’s work) and a tautliner or low sided trailer for transporting flat steel products (sheet metal).
The CEO of the cooperative is elected by the Assembly every four years, a position currently held (for the third consecutive term) by Adolfo Sánchez. Small businesses with just one truck continue to have a future; however, experiences such as this show that only union creates a lasting strength.
A transport corporative is essentially the formation of a group of individuals with the same goal. Here are just some of the members that contribute to its working.
-ADOLFO SÁNCHEZ. CEO. 51 years old, CEO since 2001. After three terms he will not be standing for re-election again next year.
-LUIS GABRIEL ALAS. Cooperative member. 32 years old. He joined Avilesina like many young people: By purchasing the place of a retiring veteran. His father was a cooperative member.
-ÁNGEL A. MENÉNDEZ. Cooperative member since 1990, although before joining the cooperative he knew nothing about transport and trucks.
-RICARDO GARCIA. Cooperative member. 61 years old. He was CEO from 1997 to 2001 and returned to his true profession where he has spent all his life, because without his licence he was getting back on his feet again.
-ENRIQUE GARCIA. Administrative Assistant. He has been in the cooperative 39 years officially, plus a year and a half “secretly”. He is something of an institution in the offices.
-BERNABÉ PEREZ. Manager/Coordinator. 61 years old. His whole working life has been associated with Avilesina. After doing his military service, he joined the Cooperative as a member with his truck.