Readers of this blog know that I live in a housing co-operative where all members input into the management of the enterprise. Like all forms of organisation, it is imperfect. The structures that facilitate equitable governance can seem bureaucratic. But once established all members have resort to them and unless everyone agrees that they should be changed, they guide the collective towards prudent and non-exploitative management.

Not surprisingly in these recessionary times, co-operatives are very much in the news. Not just in housing, however. Co-operative businesses are much discussed even by this wretched government as a bulwark against forms of capitalism. One can always hear about the John Lewis model without actually understanding what that means. (John Lewis, arguably is a very special example of a co-operatively-owned business.) The capitalists resist co-operative principles because they cannot extract the profit as a dividend. In the days of de-mutualisation of building societies, these people resorted to ‘carpet bagging’ and rewarded us with Northern Rock. None of the demutualised buidling societies now survive. All have been absorbed into failed or failing banks. Halifax became HBOS, Abbey National had to be ‘rescued’ by Santander (Alliance and Leicester and Bradford and Bingley, too).

Peter Day’s current series of ‘In Business’ on the BBC has been exploring co-operative ownship of firms. Here is a link to the latest programme on co-operatives:

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