Tuesday, 1 March 2016

A Strategy for Cooperators

Co-operative enterprises, commons advocates, communitarian writers, have all been making the case that the prevalence of exploitative appropriation in society should and could be displaced by inclusive alternatives that respect mutuality and rest on participatory decision-making.

Instead of a powerful elite enclosing ever more resources for their own profit, taking more from the revenue generated by collective efforts, and steering those in government to privilege their personal gains at the expense of everyone else, people should be able to share what nature offers everyone and what they join forces to create on equitable terms.

There are many examples that this can be done, and done well. Cooperative firms have grown in numbers in the UK when the overall economy stalled as a result of the financial crisis brought about by the corporate banking sector; the Mondragon Corporation has over fifty years become the tenth largest company in Spain; the WIR Bank (formerly Swiss Economic Circle) has provided an alternative to established credit systems and now holds 885 billion Swiss Francs in assets; Semco in Brazil has demonstrated how an extensive worker-led approach leads to one of the most successful businesses in the world; and local landbank-based housing projects and community renewable initiatives have appeared in many countries. Yet despite the many positive stories, plutocratic corporations and oligarchs continue to dominate socio-economic life with the support of governments across the globe.

Why is that happening?

Compared with the endless bombardment of adverts from elite-centric corporations and reports from media outlets bought to serve their plutocrat owners, there is but a trickle of information about the alternatives offered by cooperators. When the few who have heard about these alternatives do want to become part of them, they rarely spot an opportunity to sign up to something that will engage them in a meaningful and active manner. And where we have new members managing to join in the work of cooperators, the task of developing and sustaining that work in the face of challenges backed by the vast financial clout, PR propaganda, and political leverage of the corporate establishment, the odds of overturning the latter’s hegemony are far from favourable.

So can anything be done to even out such odds, and turn the repeatedly frustrated hope of advancing towards utopia into a practical synetopia of everyday cooperation?

Here’s a simple strategy for cooperators to consider:

1. Set up a Cooperators’ Franchise Network (CF-Net). Individual cooperator organisations (Co-Orgs) pool their resources through a membership fee to support their CF-Net to do more effectively what they cannot manage on their own. The franchise network will provide: quality/integrity assurance for the franchise’s members; promote the added value offered by genuine cooperator organisations; campaign for pro-cooperator policies with the public and politicians; support the development of existing and new cooperator organisations within the franchise; and offer help to non-cooperator organisations to reform their cultures and systems in line with the cooperator’s ethos). Many cooperatives already belong to their own network, but that still leaves many other cooperator organisations out there without broader support. There is no reason for there to be just one CF-Net. In fact, for the sake of diversity and learning from contrasting approaches, it is better to have a number of robust CF-Nets.

2. The CF-Nets are to collaborate in establishing and funding a Global Cooperators Federation (GC-Fed). The GC-Fed’s key roles will include: agreeing and enforcing rules to promote common assets and guard against demutualisation; developing and marketing a shared cooperators’ brand to raise interest globally; attracting investment on cooperators’ terms to support the long term development of the CF-Nets; and coordinating with other NGOs in securing a level playing field for cooperator organisations.

3. Each cooperator organisation (Co-Org) as part of being a member of its franchise is to commit to continuous improvement in accordance with the core aims of the franchise, and actively promote participation opportunities to their local communities and relevant sectors. Co-Orgs will play an informed part in guiding the work of their respective CF-Net; provide education and training to help those interested in participating in their work as members; and engage all their members in planning and carrying out their activities.

Unless a strategy resembling the one outlined above is taken forward, it is likely that cooperator organisations will remain marginalised and fragmented, never making anything more than a tiny dent in the plutocratic economy. Cooperators all work on the key premise that only by joining forces can we achieve what we are unable to manage separately. Our willingness to pursue the strategy of comprehensive cooperation will be the ultimate test of our commitment.

For more on how the case for democratic cooperation can be made through a number of political education resources, see ‘Synetopia: why, what & how’.


Woodman59 said...

Cooperators operating! Are there any examples of this kind of networking to point to, or is this just innovative thinking at the moment?

Henry Benedict Tam said...

There are established as well as emergent networks, some more focused than others when it comes to nurturing members' development and collaboration. You will find more information from web sources such as: http://www.uk.coop/; http://p2pfoundation.net/; http://www.bollier.org/new-to-the-commons