Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Meekest Link

On the one hand, we have mounting evidence that cooperative working, shared ownership, and economic democracy contribute to better individual health, more reliable economic performance, greater sustainability, and improved social relations (see note 1 in ‘Six Degrees of Cooperation’).

On the other hand, it is still only a minority of potential employers and service providers who take cooperation and workplace democracy seriously; and most people simply do not have the opportunity to work with others on an equal and inclusive basis.

So how are we to bridge this gap between what is good for us and what is open to us?

The response we most often hear is that we need to disseminate information more widely. If only more people knew about the superior quality of life they can attain through democratic cooperation, it is supposed, they would embrace it. Perhaps the dissemination just needs to be done in a more accessible way or with greater panache, but essentially the idea is that once people get the message that it is a better deal, they would go for it.

Experience, alas, suggests otherwise. Many people learn about the cooperative model and its advantages, and yet relatively few of them go on to convert that understanding into new ways of working. And the explanation lies in the fact that it is not easy to set up cooperative structures, organise their activities on a socio-economically sustainable basis, and engage people so that the democratic input of all does not get overtaken by the dominance from an active few.

Instead of trying to build from scratch a truly cooperative enterprise or campaign group, most pick the easier option of joining established organisations, and unfortunately the great majority of these do not give those who work for them or support them an equal say in how they are run.

The onus thus falls on those who are willing and able to lead the development of thoroughly democratic cooperative bodies. We need them to step forward and put in place the organisational edifice that will enable others to join in. But all too often, amongst those who champion equal participation, there is a palpable reluctance to stand up as leaders.

Perhaps it is connected with an over heightened sense of humility – not wanting to be the ones who act as the fulcrum of the operation, the driving force of change. Yet this meekness is quite misplaced. While it is essential for cooperative leaders not to lose sight of the democratic equality that connects them with others in the enterprise, it is also vital that they have the confidence and determination to lead the way in rallying and organising.

If there is one thing the cooperative and commons movements should do above all else, it would be to encourage those with organisational competence and leadership ability to build and promote social, economic, environmental, and political institutions that will give people a real chance to join in to work with others democratically and inclusively in pursuit of shared goals.

Instead of waiting meekly for others to bring new forms of business and public policy bodies into being, they should unreservedly offer themselves as the key link between cooperative aspiration and its conversion into a vibrant reality.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Revolution for Beginners

Revolution thrills the downtrodden with its promise of radical changes. When prevailing conditions are so oppressive and seemingly unalterable, people are desperate for something altogether different.

But like any explosive device, poorly handled revolutions can cause more problems than they solve.

So let us run through a few revolutionary options to give those entranced by the prospect of a brand new world a clearer understanding of how things really work when the bang goes off.

First up, the vanguard revolution that will violently overthrow existing institutions and impose a new regime to sweep aside all oppression and inequality. Always attractive to trigger-happy volatile type as well as to dreamers with a dictator-complex. Tends to be fairly indifferent to innocent people being sacrificed along the way, and intolerant of dissidents, for whom an unpleasant end is usually reserved.

Next in line, we have the anarchic revolution that displaces oppressive ruling power, not by another form of power, but by the complete absence of rule. Every structure for collective decision-making, every system for common endeavours, is disrupted or even dismantled. In the ensuing chaos of everyone-for-oneself, free-riders and exploiters take advantage of radical lawlessness and they alone gain.

Thirdly, brown shirts, black shirts, and Armani shirts all share a fondness for the dressed-up revolution. Always put on the appearance of the purest dedication to serve the nation, ruthlessly target those victimised as scapegoats (mostly minorities), and dramatically alter government policies and structures – but only to serve the commercial, military, and ideological cravings of the string-pulling elite.

Fourth in line, but ever popular, is the quiet revolution. Instead of direct confrontation, this route leads its followers to lots of small-scale alternative enterprises. These show how business can operate in a radically different way. Though they are confined to pockets here and there, they are celebrated as heralds of a new future – which will arrive, some day, somehow.

If the options so far don’t look as though they would deliver the improvements needed any time soon, then at least there is still the ultimate political weapon – the democratic revolution. If those in power deny you a vote in deciding who should be in control of national policies, then the vote is what you press for. If you have the vote, then use it get those you trust to represent your interests elected. If there is no prospect of a party with policies that best enhance the common good getting elected, then work with others to build a party or an alliance that merits your vote.

Plutocrats have for decades encroached on the common good and rewritten the rules at every level to boost their own aggrandisement. It will take a revolution to end their iniquitous reign. But as we have seen, people who talk a good talk about revolutions may be the last people to turn to if we really want to change the world for the better.

Forget about installing another dictatorship, see endless disruption for the nihilistic trip it is, avoid the con-merchants who will invoke God and the Flag to exploit you even more, and put aside idle dreams that a good society can blossom when government stays in the hands of oppressors. Only a large-scale democratic revolution will secure the necessary changes. So start building a wide progressive alliance, engage with citizens in all walks of life, and rally support for policy changes that no party wanting to hold public office can afford to reject.