Co-operatives in the Internet Age

Like Webb, Carl presumes that the only co-operatives that matter are consumer co-operatives, ignoring other forms such as worker co-operatives. Like Webb, too, he is more concerned with how co-operatives can be used as a political tool than in the real and immediate impact they have on people’s lives. Yet it is through their direct impact in the here and now that co-operatives offer an alternative to the alienation  that results from our existing economic system.  It is an alternative that is, moreover, much better adapted than conventional business models to economic conditions in the Internet age.

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Like Webb, Carl Rowlands ignores worker co-ops. It may be small but the UK worker co-op sector is thriving and out-performs shareholder-owned business. Members of worker co-operatives are acting directly to provide themselves with meaningful jobs. They are in competition with shareholder-owned businesses, competition that indeed creates, as Webb charged, a downward pressure on wages. You can view that as an inherent contradiction if you like, but ask the members of such co-ops what they think and they will be clear: their work has meaning for them. They are not alienated.

Marx recognised the importance of alienation. By dismissing worker co-operatives as individualist, Webb was denying that importance. And yet in a world where technology means that scarcity can be a thing of the past, alienation is arguably the key issue. It’s certainly an issue in the mainstream consumer co-operatives like The Co-operative Group where many workers identify little, if at all, with the ‘values and principles’ of the movement.

Read the full article at New Left Project

 

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