The digital age of cooperatives and a bit more buccaneering

I have just returned from the 2017 cooperative council’s innovation conference in Oldham with a lot of ideas on mutualism and a potential renaissance of cooperative ideals in my head.  While I would not dare attempt a potted history of cooperatives – are they 500 years old and Scottish, over 150 years old and from Rochdale or more exotically are the articles of agreement of 17th century pirates in the Caribbean an example of cooperatives –  I have been inspired to think on their future.

Certainly the reasons for forming a cooperative historically tended to be the same and many centuries later are relevant to growing numbers of our citizens and communities:

  1. To gain access to food, oppose and avoid exploitation by merchants seeking unfair profits on basic necessities. This certainly seems valid; if you have the resources then just ask Alexa for a few figs or a guava and she will have it delivered, possibly within the hour by drone.  If you don’t have the money and live in an excluded community you may struggle to find affordable fresh fruit, veg or meat.
  2. To gain access to fit accommodation at an affordable price. In an age of increasingly unaffordable houses and potentially a shrinking stock of social housing this feels very relevant.   In 21st century Britain it feels like we need new an innovative ways of building more fit and affordable housing and giving people access to it.  The medium of the internet may be new but the idea of housing as a social need not a commodity to invest in or an asset to exploit seems more relevant than ever.  If we dont then there may be an exodus of the young from our cities.
  3. To avoid exploitation and promote the common good in work, education, health and social welfare including sickness benefits and pensions. In the age of a potentially ever more fragmented society zero hours contracts, self-employment, online working, aging population, ever more mobile populations and increasingly self-funded education it feels like this is more relevant than ever.  If the state is not providing what you and you community needs you may need to take on responsibility yourselves.

I really don’t know what the future will hold, but I came away a little more hopeful that the mega-corporations and national politicians may not get it all their own way as government shrinks.  There is a history of cooperation at local level and with modern digital platforms it may be enough to restore some balance to a situation that currently seems very one sided.  Perhaps we also need a little more buccaneering local spirit to fight the globalised and, pan-national entities imposing their view of the world on us.

In case you don’t believe me on the pirates they had a workers share scheme, death and sickness benefits, health and safety rules, code of conduct at work and a clear disputes resolution process.

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