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Let’s hear it for the “right to own”

John McDonnellThis is more like it. From the BBC:

The Tories have offered a Right to Buy, Labour would seek to better this. We’d be creating a new Right to Own,” he [John McDonnell] said in a speech in Manchester. He said the “biggest hurdle” facing co-ops and other small businesses was getting initial funding from high street banks.

No other major developed economy has just five banks providing 80% of loans. We’d look to break up these monopolies, introducing real competition and choice. Regional and local banks, prudently run and with a public service mandate, have to be part of the solution here.

Mr McDonnell is also considering adopting the Italian government’s policy of offering funding to help employee-owned enterprises to get off the ground.

“With consortium co-operatives providing an effective means for new businesses to share and reduce costs, we’d look to support these at a local level, working with local authorities, businesses and trade unions,” he said.

This is excellent. It was frustrating that the 2010 and, to a lesser extent, 2015 manifestos paid lip service to the radical potential of the cooperative movement, but did effectively nothing with it. To put in front and centre in our critique of Tory economic policy makes them difficult to pigeonhole the party as fans of state-owned industries. As Greg Hands put it in his response to John’s speech, “Now we know the truth: Labour is planning another debt-fuelled spending spree and a huge tax bombshell on the businesses that have helped to drive Britain’s recovery from the economic mess they left behind.” A complete non-response in other words.

I hope over the coming months this is rammed home as much as possible. ‘Right to own‘ has a nice ring to it, and as we see above the Tories have no real reply.

18 Comments

  1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    Well personally I’m losing the will to live now and speaking as someone who has the misfortune to live in our sleazy tax dodging MP; Jim McMahon’s, “Cooperative Borough,” which in practice is nothing of the kind and involves nothing at all resembling mutualization and in which our 60 local counselors, (who can longer even vote on financial issues without first getting a tedious, time consuming and expensive professional accreditation,) have effectively been told by him and his mates that there services will no longer be required.

    “When you think of it, we are a co-operative in our own right, not-for-profit, acting in the public interest, and the vast majority of our workforce and all our council members live in the borough. We didn’t think outsourcing offered any more advantages than having a strong public sector.”

    The main client of the local authority being a relatively small housing association, (First Choice Homes,) who went bankrupt only a few years ago, (the same managers seem still to be in charge,) and who are currently, (the last I heard,) removing all the councilors and the elected tenants representatives from their board and whose former chief executive has just either awarded herself a 12% pay rise or has done some kind financial skulduggery with her pension that has has had the same effect; at the same as they are laying off tradespeople and are indeed outsourcing their work to outside contractors.

    Back on Earth, yesterday I received a letter from the Labor party asking me to consolidate my membership and become a full member with a pleasant picture of JC at the top.

    I was about to put it to one side and think about it when it came unfolded and below JC was another picture of Tom Watson whom I despise, which served as a useful and timely reminder of what Labor has really become, that and our local MPs; Jim McMahon, (only 40% of the Oldham electorate even bothered voting at all,) someone for whom I have yet to meet anyone with a good word to say about him, (that without the tax dodging and his support for Liz Kendell,) Debbie Abrahams, (former NHS manager up to her neck in the Blair privatization programs who supported Andy Burnham and course next door in Rochdale, Simon Danczuk, (who is simply barking; despite having one of the more impressive socialist CVs in my view anyway, who has offered to stand against JC,) and that’s what I’ll really be endorsing if I join the Labor party again.

    You see my problem?

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      For the record and for clarity I would stress that I cannot praise the front line staff and the tradespeople employed by First Choice Homes (with whom I have regular and extensive contact,) highly enough.

    2. Mick Hall says:

      J.P. Craig-Weston

      I felt the same when I joined the LP last year, something I would not have even considered before JC became leader, and I’m a pensioner now so I’ve been around the block.

      Like you I’m exasperated with some local LP representatives. I was totally shocked at just how moribund my CLP is.

      But get in there, this is a once in a lifetime chance to change the politics of this Nation. it must be seen as a long game. The Blairites filleted the party of its democracy so it is going to be a long road back to democratic accountability, but surely one worth fighting.

      For the first time in my lifetime we have a solid socialist leader at the helm of the LP. Look beyond the local ( I realise this is often ney on impossible,) and look at the bright sunny uplands like Mcdonnell put forth above.

      Please join.

      Comradely regards

  2. John Penney says:

    I can see exactly why, for tactical political reasons John McDonnell feels the need to start up talking about all that Bennite 1980’s “workers Co-operative” narrative stuff . The likes of the New Statesman mob and no doubt the Blairites in the PLP desperately trying to divert the new Corbynite surge Labour Party from actually tackling the disfunctional nature of financialised Big Business ownership capitalism in the UK through serious Left wing measures , are delighted.

    I’ve no problem with workers having the opportunity to take over their firm by buying up its shares and running it as a version of the John Lewis Partnership. Unfortunately it should be bleeding obvious to anyone with a historical grasp of workers co-ops that workforces simply don’t have access to the capital to do this successfully in nearly all cases.

    The current problems experienced by the huge Mondragon co-operative movement in the Basque country in Spain in the uber competitive world market should give pause for thought to anyone seeing workers co-ops as any sort of widely applicable solution to the current crisis in the UK or more generally. Mondragon has even outsourced some of its production to China , sacking its own Basque workers, to remain competitive .

    No, John, denying the absolute primacy of the need for renewed direct state ownership of, for instance, the railways, the power and water utilities, the bus companies, the entire NHS health provision, and above all, the major BANKS, as a strategy for an interventionist Left government, in favour of peripheral sound bites about workers co-ops – to please the Labour Right and retreat from the constant bogus scaremongering “nationalisation equals a soviet-style economy” narrative from the capitalist media , is not the way to build the believable radical Left Keynsian, interventionist, economic policy Labour needs for 2020 . Or meet the aspirations of the hundreds of thousands of returned or new Let-oriented LP members expecting a rather more radical approach from Jeremy and his team.

    As a personal experience footnote, as someone long involved in workers co-op development 9in Liverpool in the 1980’s) and someone who worked for ten years as a council economic development officer in Lothian Region , in the 1990’s I had the misfortune in helping the Council (against my professional advice) to fund a seriously misconceived workers buy-out of Monktonhall colliery from British Coal as an alternative to closure. The Lothian Labour Council, bizarrely in collaboration with a cynical Tory government keen to use the “workers co-op ” option fantasy as a means to sell – off unprofitable bits of British Coal with a reduced public, or union, outcry , insisted on supporting the workers consortium. This was despite my advice that their business plan was a joke, and only mining gold could meet its hyper optimistic income projections. The workers co-op lasted about two years before crashing into insolvency and permanent closure – with £30m in losses, and the workers losing their entire investment. “Job done ” as far as the Tory government was concerned. A tactic universally employed nowadays by councils wanting to close their swimming pools/sports centres and libraries – having first had an interregnum as some form of doomed underfunded volunteer-run local cooperative.

    The tragedy of Monktonhall colliery was that I had actually lined up a major international mining company, keen to try out innovative automated mining techniques, and with vast financial resources to spend. This bid was rejected , as not meeting the over-optimistic employment projections of the utterly fantastical workers co-op bid.

    The lesson is clear , and the experiences of numerous other major workers co-operative in the UK in the Benn era show (eg, Meriden , Fisher Bendix) , that the potential for large scale workers co-operatives to transform the UK economy is marginal at best. The large scale answer has to involve outright state ownership of key parts of the Commanding Heights. This does NOT imply the hugely top-down management structures that reigned in the nationalised industries of the post war period.

    But in the end, if a radical Left socialist, or even radical Left Keynsian, government is to turn round our currently dysfunctional , financialised, increasingly foreign-owned, economic sectoral mix, comprehensive state economic planning, with a large state owned and run sector to implement the Plan, is going to be essential.

    1. Mick Hall says:

      What your suggesting is not that different to what Chinese are doing today, is it? (Leaving aside the harshness of work practices etc)

      1. John Penney says:

        In some ways the post 2008 Crash interventionist , pump-priming , of the Chinese government is similar to the Left Keynsianism a Corbyn government should pursue. Though the particular structural domestic context of the Chinese attempts to boost economic activity is very particular to China’s hygrid state and economy form . The Chinese set up currently is a most , probably historically short-lived, peculiar politico/economic hybrid – of a traditional “Command economy” “Stalinist” model now intimately intertwined with an ever growing “wild West” unregulated “red in tooth and claw” capitalism gestating within it. The impact therefore of the essentially ” neo-Keynsian” interventionist measures of the Chinese state to increase economic activity has , on the one hand, indeed kept the Chinese economy relatively buoyant in the face of a growing global demand slowdown, but on the other hand , much of the easy access capital from this Chinese government pump priming has been misdirected into vast speculative bubbles in the huge unregulated sectors of the Chinese banking/financial sector, and speculative investments from the now huge Chinese private sector billionaire class , has covered China in unoccupied “ghost cities” of useless physical infrastructure.

        A Left Keynsian policy oriented Corbynist Labour Government may well in some forms mimic at least some of the pump-priming, supply side (and demand side) measures of today’s Chinese government. But just as , in the US and UK, the benefits of “Quantitative Easing” for saving the banks, mostly ended up in the pockets of the superrich, and via them, into new speculative and property bubbles, the lesson from China is surely that an interventionist Left government has to ensure that its expansionary measures end up in productivity enhancing and socially useful uses. Richard Murphy’s (Tax Justice Network) work on People’s Quantative Easing via a National Investment Bank points a useful direction for a progressive Left Keynsian government to go.

      2. prianikoff says:

        Workers are only likely to be interested in buying up a failing company if they get financial assistance from the state.

        Coops that try to compete with big business (like the CWS, or Mondragon in Spain) tend to get corrupted and absorbed by the system.

        As Marx pointed out:-
        “If cooperative production is not to remain a sham and a snare” , the cooperative societies need to unite and “regulate production according to a common plan”.

        Rosa Luxemburg noted that cooperatives “constitute a hybrid form in the midst of capitalism -small units of socialized production within capitalist exchange. “

        But coops can be an important transitional form, which teaches workers self administration.

        McDonnell’s proposals could be a useful starting point, but wil need to be much more far-reaching and backed by serious investment if they are to succeed.

        Relying on regional and local banks doesn’t seem like a good way to achieve that.

        Lack of competition amongst the big-5 is not the reason for the banks’ underinvestment in UK manufacturing.

        It’s the low rate of profit and the fact that the banks were bailed out, or nationalised to ensure they stay in private hands.

        There is no effective democratic control over them and the repeat offenders in charge have carried on as before, fuelling a property bubble and speculating on hedge funds.

        If the private investor panic we’ve seen at the start of 2016, coops could be a useful starting point in a fight to stop major job losses.

        1. John Penney says:

          Whilst not dismissing at all your statement that in some cases workers co-ops could be the way forward for some businesses – I think the Left needs to be very, very, wary. The privatisation of individual hospitals in the NHS has already been facilited via one pretty transparently bogus “workers co-op” structure. And it is easy to imagine this “offer” , with short term financial assistance, to workers in particular future NHS hospitals facing closure seeming attractive. in fact this route for NHS hospitals (or failing steel plants, etc) would just be an interim stage to either closure or buy-out by a private Health Care company. This “workers co-op” interregnum route, lest we don’t forget, was a major plank of the corrupt Russian Yeltsin regime’s transfer of its state assets, first to “workers co-ops” – then eventually to the gangster oligarchs.

          That MacDonnell has apparently stated in his “workers co-op” talk that he doesn’t see state ownership on a large scale as part of the UK future, could be I fear, just an early precursor to an endless watering down of the radical Left policy proposals that powered the huge groundswell of support for Jeremy’s leadership victory.

          I hope I’m wrong, but this and John Macdonnell’s earlier daft gaff in proposing that Labour supported Osborne’s economically nonsensical “statutorily enforced balanced budget” bill, does not give me confidence that he has the tactical nous and socialist principle backbone (despite his decades spent as a “Labour hard Leftie”) to face up , in his now much more highly exposed position as Shadow Chancellor, to the unending pressure from the PLP and capitalist press to return to the calm waters of the current (economically suicidal) neoliberal “pro- Austerity Narrative” . Just look what happened to Tsipras’s initially highly Left radical Syriza Party – once the compromises gathered momentum.

          1. C MacMackin says:

            And here we encounter the big reason why I still have qualms about the ‘pull labour left’ approach. While we might like to believe that extensive nationalization is popular, I don’t think that it is except in a few instances (utilities, rail, post). On the one hand, Labour can’t win if it becomes too radical. On the other, you’ll never convince the public to become more radical if you refuse to discuss radical policies. When you’re within a major party, there will always be the (often justified) feeling that the Tories can not be allowed in, which means radical policy tends to go by the wayside in favour of lesser-evilism. Of course, in a first past the post system, similar concerns would arise for a small Left parties, in that they are perceived as stealing votes from Labour. Nonetheless, in many ways that’s an easier argument to win. In any case, Corbyn’s here now so we’ll have to figure out how to work within that terrain.

    2. C MacMackin says:

      Unfortunately, I fear you’re right. The problem is that state ownership has a quite a bad name in this country, at least within the bounds of political discourse. Talking about democratic control of state enterprises is all very well (and what I want to see), but it isn’t something that can easily be made to fit into a soundbite and it could be difficult to convince people that it would actually happen. Between that and the fact that even the Labour Left doesn’t know how to talk about the 70’s, it seems that McDonnell has chosen the easy way out (which puzzles me a bit, because surely he knows that without a more radical and confrontational approach to capital a Corbyn government would be forced to do a Mitterand-style U-turn). In Canada (where I’m originally from) we call nationalized industries (of which more remain than in the UK) ‘crown corporations’ and I remember a political party in Saskatchewan once proposing that they be made into ‘crown co-ops’. While the party had a rather uninspiring ‘neither left nor right’ campaign, that wording struck me because I thought it tidily communicated the goal: public ownership, but with worker and/or public participation in decision making. A similar phrase here would be useful. ‘National co-ops’, maybe?

      In fairness to the Labour team, they are calling for public ownership of the railways, the NHS, and have made noises indicating they’d favour public ownership of water. Their energy policy is a disappointing hodge-podge of co-ops, ‘local ownership’ (which may mean small business ownership–I’m not sure), and feed-in tariffs (i.e. subsidies for home owners). I’m hoping that they might be shifted on that one. Hopefully they’ll come around to public buses (see Owen Jones’ excellent piece in The Guardian yesterday). Also, in fairness, they have talked about a National Investment Bank which could, conceivably, address the issue with co-ops having inadequate access to finance that you raise.

      Ultimately, though, unless co-ops are integrated into a wider state plan (which would definitely require the nationalization of ALL of the big banks) I agree that their radical potential is limited. The BBC article reports McDonnell expressed that ‘the party does not want to return to an era of widespread state ownership.’ But surely state ownership is necessary for some sectors in which co-ops wouldn’t work that well. Off the top of my head: electricity, gas, rail, water, post, telecom, buses, airports, ferries, ports, (all of which are publicly owned in parts or all of Canada), airlines, banks, and any extractive industries. Even restricting yourself to the first 10, that equates to pretty extensive state ownership! In any case, McDonnell’s proposal is hardly the Meidner plan! If you really do believe co-ops are so useful then surely there should be a more aggressive plan for allowing their creation.

  3. David Ellis says:

    The prejudices and delusions, the lack of radicalism and of imagination of the left opportunists are given a good airing here. Socialism is about workers’ control and social ownership not a huge extension of private ownership to workers Thatcher stylee. Small co-operatives and support for small business through cheap credit will most definitely be a part of our programme but not the serious part which is to impose a working class dictatorship over capital not get co-opted into it (itself a delusion as the Thatcher years testify). Marx’s first political struggle was with the old sectarians of the original co-operative movement.

  4. James Martin says:

    It was a good speech by John and very welcome endorsement of the principles of cooperation along with some good historical nods back all the way to the 17th century English revolution radicals. Of course given that John has just given a massive boost to cooperative ideas and practices I fully expect all those right-wing ‘moderates’ who are also a very large contingent among the Labour & Coop part of the PLP to publicly thank him for doing what they have always failed to do themselves when it comes to backing the ideas of cooperatives (except where they involve the destructive internal market of the NHS and academy schools of course).

  5. Bazza says:

    When you think about it even small business can be few people employing others to make themselves rich via the labour of others but I am not pure about this – as long as people are well paid, well treated, and hopefully have a say, it is fine but such companies need to also evaluate and use critical thinking plus research, so we have more dynamic business.
    Listening to the voices of staff from their experiences can enrich an organisation but only if they feel part of the organisation.
    I want people to follow their dreams (coops or private small busines) but to quote John Lennon, they need to “THINK!”
    I think an ideal is to look at genuine gaps in community needs and try to bring people together in coops (more democratic) to meet these needs but a mix of coop small businesses or private small businesses is fine.
    What we need is coops and private business to be FAIR but really it is the big fish that we need to address.
    We need state-led public investment (which the private sector will pour in behind to feed the chain) and more democratic public ownership – some banks, public utilities, pharma, some airlines, mail, rail – with communities and staff having a say – more democracy.
    All work is based on cooperation and the rich and powerful legally nick the surplus labour of the working billions so we shouldm’t be shy about getting our share of our wealth back with windfall taxes on big business plus chase tax dodging corporations and the rich – close the tax havens and the tax loopholes of the upper class welfare state.
    But perhaps all of this will be a transition when successful (and when working class people/working people in every county in the World have the power to do the same) then we will be able to consult working humanity on building a new, fairer, egalitarian, better and greener global economic system..
    Oh and right now Labour needs to get on the case of the vile Tory bullies (elected by 25%) planning to charge vulnerable, weak, refugees and asylum seekers for NHS services (bullies thrive by taking on the weak) but BE WARNED this is a precursor to bringing in charges for the rest of the public.
    To paraphrase the song, ‘IF YOU TOLERATE THIS, YOU WILL BE NEXT!’ Solidarity!

  6. Bazza says:

    Footnote re Tory NHS charges.
    We face a reactionary Tory narrative.
    And as we stand by the poor and in this case refugees and asylum seekers we work WITH the oppressed to try to mitigate the effects and we are defensive.
    But we need a PROGESSIVE NARRATIVE and that should be that we want to live in a civilised society, where we as taxpayers are happy for our taxes to pay for free NHS care for all including refugees and asylum seekers! Love and Solidarity!

    1. Bazza says:

      Further footnote -The Tories seem to be going for failed asylum seekers first but this could instill fear amongst refugees too and of course once a large bureaucracy is in place to support charging then what is to stop the Tories extending it to all of us?
      And this is the ultimate logic of Neo-Liberalism.
      And don’t forget many Tory MPs have links to private healthcare companies.
      The consultation ends at 5.00pm on the 7th of March 2016 and go to:
      https://www.gov.uk/government/consultation/overseas-visitors-and-migrants-extending-charges-for-NHS-services
      Or you can email: nhscostrecovery@dh.gsi.gov.uk
      “IF YOU TOLERATE THIS YOU COULD BE NEXT!”

  7. Excellent idea.

    We do not want state owned enterprises. This has been tried and it was a failure.

    We need worker-owned enterprises. Better still, open co-ops, where all those who are effected by the businesses are owners.

    https://keithpp.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/co-ops-sharing-commons/

    Payment of Living Wage if business makes a profit, non-payment of dividends if refuse, is a step in the right direction, but too easily circumvented by paying obscene bonuses, cooking the books or simply refusing to pay and accumulating a cash mountain.

    If a company is in profit, distribute 10% of that profit each year as shares in the company to be held collectively by the workforce.

    Establish the legal and other support to make it easy to establish co-ops, these to be open co-ops where all effected parties have stake in the co-op.

    https://keithpp.wordpress.com/2016/01/23/can-we-do-it-ourselves/

    1. John Penney says:

      Complete bourgeois Liberal drivel, Keith Parkins. You personally may not want state owned enterprises (who is this “we” you arrogantly speak for ?) , and you may think they have “failed”, Keith, but you are actually entirely wrong that state enterprises “failed” – as an all embracing bare statement of historical fact, either in the UK or internationally. State owned railway and power utility services actually work very well across Europe in contrast to our shambolic privatised railway (and bus) set up – and these state owned companies often in fact run parts of our shambolic privatised railway franchises .

      Also, the Tories seem perfectly happy for European state owned power generators , and Chinese state controlled companies to build (or so far NOT actually build) UK nuclear power stations – even though the future costs of this method will far outweigh a UK government just doing it directly. OK, some state owned ventures did eventually fail. The UK car industry , originally nationalised in stages only to stop it collapsing after generations of mismanagement by its private owners, being a case in point . But plenty of nationalised industries work very well across the World . Our extremely cost efficient , world class, NHS being a case in point.

      Your blanket statement that nationalised industries by definition “fail”- is simply a regurgitation of the bogus narrative of neoliberalism. You should do a bit more research before just mouthing capitalist mass media nonsense.

      As for workers co-ops. They do have a place in a Left-oriented economic plan – but are intrinsically still market-driven mutually competitive businesses – as per the John Lewis Partnership – competing with other businesses, even other co-ops for market share . The only way that the overwhelming power of the globalised market can be combatted by a Left government wanting to build a society with an economic base which prioritises social benefit rather than the short termism of the financialised private sector market place – is via the creation and implementation of a National Economic Regeneration Plan — which can deal with our currently dysfunctional over financialised economic sectoral mix, our grossly distorted regional development /underdevelopment , and the lack of a coherent infrastructure investment and skills training strategy. This implicitly requires that key parts of our economy, particularly the banks, are put under direct public ownership and control – to operate within the priorities of a National Plan. None of this can be achieved simply via the conversion of some companies to being workers co-ops.

      Keith, that you seriously think anything of major socially transformationally significant can be achieved via workers co-ops alone simply shows your politics and understanding of economics to be much more akin to those of the Liberal Democrats, than any association with Left social democracy , never mind socialism. But then so are most of the PLP – so you are in good company with the PLP majority – who simply have no conception of a society beyond free enterprise capitalism, owned and run primarily for the superrich.

  8. Nick Wright says:

    We live in a system of state monopoly capitalism. For cooperative forms of production to be viable in the long term they need state support. To expect this to bel delivered, over the long term and with the state shaped in the interests of the big monopolies and the banks, is a reformist delusion.
    Much can be done in the short and medium term by a progressive government but sooner or later, and sooner if such a government is serious and successful, the question of ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange has to be tackled and thus the issue of who exercises state power is raised.

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