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.


Woodman59 said...

It is absolutely true that cooperation requires more in terms of leadership - but a leadership that will ultimately prove FAR more satisfying, I would suggest.

A great encouragement!

Henry Benedict Tam said...

Thanks. Hoping to promote more learning opportunities to develop cooperative leadership skills in the coming months.