Open co-ops

Michael Bauwens, founder of the P2P Network and an activist and thinker on the digital commons has developed the concept of ‘open co-ops’ to refer to a new kind of co-operative which operates in a non-capitalist way.

It’s an excellent concept and one that needs to be taken up and developed and implemented by the co-op movement.

His explanation – and arguments about why and how it can develop – is in the film, and here in a nutshell are the four principles of of open co-ops.

  • Common good written into the co-op’s constitution
  •  Multi-stakeholder – all interested parties have a say in the governance
  • Produce commons – things that are owned by all, not just by the co-op
  •  Global, not just within local or national lines

You can read his explanation here too, and some examples of open co-ops in practice from Josef Davies Coates here.

It also seems to built, intentionally or not, on the idea of Parecon developed by Michael Albert, which suggests that workers and consumers together need to decide what is needed in order to provide for the common good through a co-operative alternative to the market.


Cooperation and peasants

Interesting to see the significant role that cooperation and collective management have played in the livelihood of peasants through history – probably the livelihood for the majority of people in the world for the last eight centuries.

“By and large the characteristic of traditional peasants is a much higher degree of formal and informal (mostly localised) collectivity . . . perhaps the need for co-operation in the process of labour or the management of resources for common use . . . it is difficult to conceive of a ‘traditional’ peasantry, outside certain very special situations, without this collective element.”

Eric Hobsbawm, Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz: pp198-9

Stories of work, control and dignity

Whilst the Co-operative Bank saga has rolled on over the past week, I’ve also come across some stories of what co-operation and mutualism are all about: preserving jobs, giving people some control over their lives and restoring their dignity.

There’s a fantastic article by John Restakis on the takeover of a factory in Greece by its workers who, mirroring what happened in Argentina a decade ago, are opening the doors of their closed factory and beginning manufacturing again.

In Argentina itself, a recent look at what happened to the occupied factories a decade on reveals that around 180 factories employing 10,000 people have survived, as well as inspiring a co-operative renaissance in the country.

There’s a new book by Dan Hancox on the village of Marinelada in Spain, another European country being crippled by the financial crisis, where they have created a collectively-run community, accompanied by jobs, hope and solidarity.

And there’s a whole host of stories in Anarchists in the Boardroom, a new crowdsourced book by a Liam Barrington-Bush, that looks at the organisations adopting non-hierarchical ways of running themselves in order to be more human.

Thanks to Rebecca Harvey, Kate Whittle and Julian Dobson for the links.

Lessons from Seth Godin

OK, I’ve just finished reading Purple Cow by Seth Godin. He is one of the the new gurus of marketing. He’s recognised that marketing has fundamentally changed now we’ve moved out of what he calls the TV Industrial Complex, where mass products and mass marketing dominated, and into a world where people don’t need new stuff.

There are lots of things to dislike in his books – not least that he knows that consumers don’t need any more so he says businesses need to provide what them with things that are not about need but enable them to define themselves (you know, ridiculously expensive cars, watches, bags, coats etc etc). And he’s all about individual wealth and accumulation.

But there’s also lots of interesting ideas in there for those of us who want to build an alternative economy – ideas for how our organisations and campaigns can win over new audiences.

The big useful things he points out are:

  • There’s no point in selling a product or idea to everyone – most of them aren’t listening. You need to focus on getting innovators to take it on, people who like new exciting different things. They might then pass it on to others who like new things and gradually it will catch on. It’s through innovators and ‘sneezers’ that you get ideas to spread. So, for the alternative economy, let’s start with people interested in this area and then spread out through people interested in reducing consumption, in open source software, in transition and local community, in Fairtrade, in hyperlocalism … .
  • Micro-enterprises can flourish by developing a product for niche markets – this is perfect for those who think small is beautiful, who support what Kevin Carson calls the low overheard revolution or who have a vision of local enteprises, workshops, factories and fields.
  • Marketing is no longer just about spending lots of money on advertising, it’s about creating a great product or service that stands out from the crowd – that’s remarkable, a purple cow in the midst of a load of normal cows. What’s the alternative economy if not a purple cow in the middle of a mundane samey economy.

If you’re interested in developing alternative economy, getting it out there and getting new people to use and be part of it, then Seth Godin is a useful read.