What do you think of Coops?

In the recommendations of those arguing for greater equality (like the Equality Trust, which I recently joined), cooperatives crop up a lot. Then I rediscovered the Cooperative Party, which is affiliated to the Labour Party. It’s most high profile MP is Ed Balls.

So, from an economic point of view, what do we think of cooperatives? The solution to all our problems?

And, from a political point of view, what do we think about the Cooperative Party? Worth joining? Labour but with more of an explicit committment to equality? Something that could grow big enough to go it alone? Or inhabiting a niche but never likely to break out of it?

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4 thoughts on “What do you think of Coops?

  1. Co-ops. Well, I’ve been waiting to see if I can come up with any informed opinion. Of course I can’t.

    I presume there are all sorts of co-ops – stakeholder power can mean anything. Giving the labour force a say in investment and management decisions is one thing. Then there are the rest of the stakeholders – environmental for example, how do you give all these stakeholders a voice, how is a system designed to arbitrate between competing stakeholders (ie workers and local community)?

    So perhaps it’s about different types for different industries. I think it’s revealing that newspaper searches and indeed academic searches on the subject finds very little coherent arguments against them.

    I can imagine the following from the right/CBI:

    “Dynamic forward planning managers” will have a different set of “strategic capabilities” which may mean they want to implement certain investment decisions which other stakeholders may not agree with. For example, at Mantra Robene decided kids multi-lingual books had seen it’s best days and the company needed new products. So he went researching, went to exhibitions and found the technology, which eventually (after quite an evolution) became RNIB PENFriend, a product to help blind people. Everyone at the company was against it and would never have sanctioned the massive investment that made it possible. Yet, without wanting to advertise, it is excellent.

    The SWP left (whose views should be taken much more seriously than their campaigners normally allow) argue that though co-ops are a welcome improvement, the capitalist system of competitive profit maximising will always place downward pressure on labour and undermine the whole thing.

    Personally, I think they are fantastic and we should all get involved. Especially for finance.

  2. My hunch is that if workers like them and they can function reasonably efficiently, they will emerge naturally, with or without a party. I expect that the day to day running of lots of small businesses is fairly cooperative like, without the formality.

    As to whether we should be joining small outfits rather than the Labour Party proper, of course not. The Labour left is all we have in this country. We need to accept that nothing is perfect, stop being self indulgent and seize the Labour Party back from those that stole it. Building a new party is fantasy.

  3. Hey Tom…

    Cheers for the comment. I agree with you that small businesses tend to have a more collaborative approach than most. But I slightly disagree with the assertion that co-ops will emerge ‘naturally’. The decision over what and how resources are used and distributed at any level (state, corporation, etc) occurs through a political to-ing and fro-ing. Generally, people who find a common interest try to exert some power by creating an institution of some kind – a law, a trade union, a nation – and the power battle ensues. So forming co-ops is a useful way for people to ensure that power is not concentrated in the hands of the few within a firm, and allows decisions over how people work, what is produced, how people are paid etc, to happen with more democracy. Good or bad, that won’t happen naturally.

    As for whether New Labour is the only left we still have in the country, that is worth a proper debate. I agree that Labour were ambushed by the Brown/Mandelson/Blair/etc movement, but there looks little sign of that reversing. In that sense, while creating a new left-wing party is hard, I find the charge of ‘self indulgence’ a touch harsh.

    I think it’s a misleading strategy for the left to try and reclaim ground solely through the electoral system. As I rambled elsewhere, the centre-left gained electoral power when there were strong labour institutions in place, rather than the other way round.

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