Wednesday, 20 November 2013

For A Political Revolution At The Co-op - Part 1

I'm not really concerned whether the Reverend Flowers is breaking bad, only whether he has been responsible for breaking the bank. The fact of him possibly buying crystal meth or other drugs is, as far as I'm concerned, a matter for him and no one else, and just yet another incidence of a bible thumper being shown to be a hypocrite. There's no more reason people should be criminalised or victimised for buying some drugs rather than buying other drugs such as tobacco or alcohol. It would, however, be just as much concern whether he was incapable of doing his job, because of being under the influence of an illegal drug as a legal one. That from what has been seen does not seem to be the case. He seems not to have been capable of doing his job whether he was under the influence of drugs or not.

The Government, who only months ago, under their Big Society scam were lauding the idea of Co-operatives, have been keen to act in their usual opportunist fashion, and use the incident as a means to beat the Labour Movement over the head. They are proposing an Inquiry. The Labour Movement should not be opposed to an inquiry into how come someone so apparently incapable of doing the job became Chairman of the Co-op Bank, but we should, not be happy that the capitalist state conducts that inquiry. We need a Workers Inquiry into what happened, and it should lead the Labour Movement to recognise failings with the way the Co-operative Movement is set up, indeed with the way the Labour Movement as a whole is set up, and lead us to take action to remedy it. Many of those failings are the same structural failings that led to Stalinism. The solution to Stalinism was a Political Revolution, to remove political power from the hands of a corrupted workers bureaucracy established on the back of statised property, and to bring political control under the workers, as well as to bring day to day control of property under the direct control of workers. We need a similar Political Revolution within the Co-operative Movement, and indeed throughout the Labour Movement.

In recommending to workers that they establish co-operatives, Marx suggested that they should establish worker owned, producer co-operatives rather than member owned retail co-operatives. He wrote,

“We recommend to the working men to embark in co-operative production rather than in co-operative stores. The latter touch but the surface of the present economical system, the former attacks its groundwork.” 

But, there are other reasons for workers to embark on worker owned production rather than member owned retailing, and it demonstrates why bourgeois representative democracy is not compatible with proletarian productive relations. The basis of worker owned, co-operative production requires that workers as part of their work process, co-operate, and the necessary concomitant of that co-operation is that they communicate with one another. Even at the most basic level of production, that co-operation and communication requires that they arrive at some degree of consensus about every day decisions. The fundamental aspects of workers democracy are built into the work process, rather than being something alien and additional to it, in the same way that, for example, workers democracy via a trade union takes place.

To take part in Trade Union democracy, requires that workers do something in addition to their normal work day. Anyone who has been a trade union workplace organiser knows how difficult this can be outside exception circumstances. As a UNISON Branch Secretary, I organised regular workplace meetings for members during lunch times. The Branch even laid on buffet lunches to encourage people to attend, and so they did not lose time getting their meals. Even then, relatively few turned up, though some did come back after having had their lunch break, and help themselves to the free food! The one time we managed to get an almost 100% attendance is when in addition to free food, we held a raffle with a £100 first prize, that you could only win if you stayed for the whole meeting.

But, decision making as part of the work process is not additional time that has to be spent. Moreover, where decision making at a higher level is required, workers having become confident in their ability to make day to day decisions, are more likely to participate fully in such additional activities if they are integrated into the general life of the factory or enterprise, and if workers themselves see that they have a direct material benefit from taking part in that process. In a worker-owned co-operative, the workers have several obvious material interests in taking part in such activities in order to ensure its success. Firstly, if the enterprise is not a success, they may lose their job. Secondly, as owners of the business, each individual worker has an interest in its success, because the more successful it is, the higher the wages it can pay, or the higher the dividend it can pay out of profits. That is another reason that Marx argues for the organisation of such Co-operatives to be on the basis of workers democracy.

“In order to prevent co-operative societies from degenerating into ordinary middle-class joint stock companies (societies par actions), all workmen employed, whether shareholders or not, ought to share alike. As a mere temporary expedient, we are willing to allow shareholders a low rate of interest.”

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