Monday, 15 February 2010

Cameron's "co-operatives" are but a pale sop to workers' control

Normally, I refrain from coment on election pledges by politicians. Not only are they normally much of a muchness, but they are also designed to appeal to a "centrist" consensus largely manufactured by politicians and the media. Even when supposedly progressive promises do seep through, they quickly become so watered down that they have almost the exact opposite effect to that intended.

And that's if the pledge is kept at all.

However, this particular initiative by David Cameron did catch my eye;
David Cameron has pledged to let public sector workers take charge of key health and education services as he made a bid to win over disgruntled Labour voters.

The Tory leader said rank-and-file staff would be encouraged to form co-operatives and direct their own work within national standards.

He insisted the policy could be as revolutionary as former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher giving people the right to buy their council houses.
In theory, it sounds like an extremely positive endeavour. As an anarcho-syndicalist, I am of course strongly in favour of workers taking control of the workplace and self-managing. However, there is little to suggest that this proposal amounts to even a pale imitation of genuine collectivism. Though she is making the point from the perspective of the Labour Party, hardly a model for genuinely socialist organisation, Tessa Jowell sums up the point well;
Two years after it was founded, indeed, the Conservative Co-operative Movement remains a movement without members, which has never held an AGM. Completely contrary to the democratic values which rest at the heart of co-operation, the two chairs of the movement have been appointed by the Party leader, rather than elected by its members.

If they can't get the small things right, it doesn't fill one with hope that the Tories would have any idea how to bring the principles of co-operation and mutualism – the idea that organisations should be owned and run by their members – into our public services.

Co-operative trust schools are, in fact, a case study of how skin deep the Tories' commitment to mutualism really is. When he launched the Conservative Co-operative Movement, Davic Cameron announced that he wanted to "explore how we can create a new generation of co-operative schools in Britain – funded by the taxpayer but owned by parents and the local community." But when parliament debated co-operative trust schools in 2008, not a single Conservative MP was in the chamber at the time.
The rest of her post is aimed at explaining why "Labour has been doing just that," but this is nonsense. Under Labour, the public sector has become more centralised and more tightly controlled. Morale has plumetted in the wake of successive cuts and ongoing privatisation. Cameron was right about one thing when he acknowledged that "there are millions of public sector workers who work in our public services and who frankly today feel demoralised, disrespected and unrecognised." He was also right in that "the chance to set up employee-owned co-operatives to take over the services so you can be your own boss and offer the public a better service the way you think it should be done, not the way some distant bureaucrat thinks it should be done" is the best way forward in solving that problem.

But we should not be under any illusions that the Tories, Labour, or any other leadership could deliver this. Living up to its promise, it would be a significant step towards communism and that cannot come from above. Cameron's promises are hollow, aimed at diverting unrest away from potentially revolutionary fervour and towards electoralism. As are the counter-claims of Labour.

Properly enacted, workers control genuinely could revitalise public services and boost morale. But that will not happen at the hands of those whose interests lie with the ruling class. The problems of the working class can only be solved by the workers themselves.