GM Cooperative Commission
Making Greater Manchester the most cooperative place in the UK
by Cliff Mills
Why does Greater Manchester and its Mayor Andy Burnham want there to be more co-operatives?
First, because co-ops strive to be fair.
It is a type of business which is different from the mainstream. Rather than trading for somebody else’s benefit, co-ops trade for the people who need them, and they treat those people fairly. They aim to provide services and jobs, without exploiting anyone, and without any ulterior or private purpose.
You may not know this, but co-ops were the first to set a minimum wage (1907), and were decades ahead of their time in allowing women to vote, and in issues like working conditions, pensions and limiting the working day.
This isn’t because of philanthropy: it’s because the people who depend on the co-op’s business are its owners and decide what’s best for themselves and their communities. It’s in the DNA of such businesses, which are pro-social and try to do what is right for people.
When the National Health Service and the welfare state were created in 1948, they were built on the foundations of mutual and co-operative organisations, which by their very nature were seeking to meet the needs of the people who relied on them; they set out to deliver fairness.
Second, because co-ops have a history of providing an alternative solution. They were first started in Greater Manchester – Rochdale in fact – when people in extreme poverty were being cheated, sold contaminated food and overcharged. Private business wasn’t meeting people’s basic needs – what people often call “market failure” – and co-ops provided a solution.
Today, there are many areas where basic needs are not being met. Big corporations pull out of sectors like residential care where they can’t make sufficient profits, and continuing austerity makes it hard for statutory agencies and public services to fill the gaps.
So it falls to people in communities, to the many small and medium-sized enterprises which make up much of Manchester’s economy, and to the co-operatives and other types of social enterprise, to respond to today’s crises. When the market and the state cannot meet needs, people find their own solutions; co-operating is a well-trodden path of self-help.
And third, because a co-operative isn’t just a business – an employer, a seller, a provider. It is a set of relationships between people, who want to work together collectively (co-operate), to achieve a common and shared goal for themselves and their communities. It helps to build community and strengthen social relationships. Co-operation is for the common good, not for private gain.
So it’s no surprise that Andy Burnham wants Greater Manchester to get the greatest possible benefit from its co-operative heritage. That’s why they have launched Greater Manchester’s own Co-operative Commission: to make sure that the region benefits as much as possible from this rich heritage, and powerful alternative way of doing business it offers.
In the modern world, mutuals and co-operatives are providing new solutions to old problems. It’s not because they have a magic wand;
At this critical time when it is so difficult for governments around the world to address the biggest challenges of climate change and species extinction, and when big business is bound to focus simply on generating profits, there is an urgent need for businesses dedicated to pursuing the common good: co-operative, mutual and social enterprises.
But if such enterprises are to come about and thrive, we all need to play a part, by supporting and encouraging a different way of doing business. It won’t happen unless you and I all play a part in this.
How can you help?
By responding to the Commission’s call for Evidence. https://www.gmconsult.org/strategy-team/coop-commission/ We want to hear from you about anything that would help to encourage co-operative initiatives, raise their profile, remove barriers, and change minds and attitudes.
Cliff Mills, Anthony Collins Solicitors
Commissioner, Greater Manchester Co-operative Commission