Building a Co-operative Country – what, why and how
Firstly, I must say what a pleasure it is to see the co-operative movement in Wales coming together today in an expression of unity and optimism for the future. Not just the future of co-operation, but the future of Wales. And I’m delighted that Cartrefi Cymru Co-operative, as a newly constituted co-op, and as a pioneer in the field of co-operative social care, is able to be a sponsor of ‘Building a Co-op Country’ event – hopefully the first of many such events as we build a positive future – year by year and generation by generation.
As for the what, why and how of building a co-operative country, I will be very brief. I simply hope to suggest some ideas that might be helpful as we inevitably dive into the detail of laws and policies and sectors and organisations throughout the day.
What might a co-operative country look like?
I think it would look like a vibrant and meaningful democracy. Democratic member control is a key principle of co-operation. And for it to be meaningful, it must not just mean voting for remote representatives every four years. Democracy needs to reach down into regions, and counties, and communities, and put the citizen’s voice strongly into the decision-making of our public services, our health services, our schools and universities. And more radically still, it needs to reach into the worlds of business and finance and the media, so much of which is currently way outside of meaningful democratic control.
A co-operative country will have flourishing businesses of all sorts, and it will be part of the global marketplace. But the proportion of businesses run by and for their members will be significantly high. And the number and strength of public banks and mutual societies that serve their members rather than their shareholders will also be significantly high. And citizens will not be voiceless dependents on whatever they are allowed by public officials and professional dispensers. They…we… will be full of the co-operative spirit of self-responsibility and mutual self-help. And our public officials and professional dispensers will be falling over themselves to thank and support their country’s citizen-kings.
Why do we want Wales to be such a country?
Firstly, because it will give us individual and collective well-being. The region of Italy with the highest concentration of co-ops is the region where citizens feel best about themselves and their communities. It’s evidence-based. Democratic control and co-ownership is good for you!
Secondly, because such a country is affordable – both financially and environmentally. As the American creator of time-banking and co-production, Professor Edgar Cahn, once said:
We have what we need, if we use what we have.
Coops and mutuals are a great way of putting what we have into our own hands, and using it for our collective benefit.
And how do we build a co-operative Wales?
Well, let’s start by believing in it, and helping others to believe in it.
Principle 5: Co-operative education, folks! It’s what today is all about.
And let’s put our money where our mouths are. Support energy co-ops. Support housing co-ops. Support social co-ops. Support credit unions. And let’s raise our voices as active citizens everywhere.
The above blog formed the basis of Adrian’s speech to the ‘Building a Co-operative Country’ event in Cardiff on Friday 23rd June 2017.