Last year saw the very first co-operative fortnight. They say that imitation is the best form of flattery and that was the way Ed Mayo the new Director General saw it when in introducing Co-ops Fortnight he sought to emulate the success the fair-trade movement had achieved in raising its profile with “Fairtrade Fortnight”.
Last years Co-ops fortnight certainly helped raise the profile of the co-operative business model at a time when greater clarity and understanding was clearly required. At the time a day did not seem to go by without a Condem politician bandying the “John Lewis Model” about without any clear understanding of what the model actually amounts to.
This year Co-operatives UK aims to go one further with Co-op fortnight (something of an elastic term - 25th June to 9th July) by launching a petition with the aim of getting 100,000 signatures and thereby securing a parliamentary debate. The issue that the Co-operative movement is raising is the importance of wider ownership. The gap between rich and poor is once again widening. Today half of the UK population own just one percent of the nation’s wealth when a generation ago they owned 12 per cent.
Unlike bankers bonuses sharing ownership with workers consumers and residents spreading ownership and wealth is both good for the economy and for society. So this year Co-operatives UK is calling upon the Government to encourage firms to share profits with, staff, customers and the communities they serve. To promote the community ownership of key local amenities like village shops and local pubs and to enable people to take action on housing, arts, sport, land, finance and green energy and to create a level playing field by removing the legal barriers that make establishing a co-operative business more difficult than a private company.
Of course this is just the beginning public understanding of the co-operative business model is to say the least poor so this is just the beginning of a process of making the model better understood and better appreciated. Of course the co-op model is not suitable for every type of business or service but there is no doubt that the sector could be a great deal larger than it currently is.
Even many people who engage with a co-operative everyday do not always appreciate the benefits of the co-op model. Not something I would hope that could be said of Morning Star readers. As we enter the cycle of the annual meetings of the Peoples Press Printing Society it is worth remembering that the co-operative structure the Daily Worker adopted in 1945 to widen the ownership of the paper has served the business well.
Since it was formed as an Industrial and Provident Society there have certainly been enormous changes in newspaper publishing, not all of them for the better, but the Society has with the support of its members held firm providing a legal structure and a sound basis for publishing a daily newspaper in the most challenging of environments.
A huge number of publishing businesses that have fallen by the wayside over this period and they were not trying to carve out a special political space in support of the working class movement and its allies. It is tough to produce a daily paper when having the backing of millionaire proprietors and large scale commercial advertisers but to do it, with only the support of the Labour movement and its readers, is I think an immense challenge that successive workers and management have faced with tremendous fortitude and one that readers should never take for granted.
I know that for me the Morning Star, as the paper has been since 1966, is a daily voice of sanity in a mad world. It was sixty five years ago that at a huge gathering in the Albert Hall London bus workers leader Bill Jones handed the formal document of transfer of the Peoples Press Printing Society to Bill Rust. An early shareholder, taking the then £200 maximum, was none other than George Bernard Shaw. Soon the Society had twenty thousand shareholders including 266 trade union organisations and 45 co-operatives.
Sadly in fit of sectarianism the Co-operative Union refused the paper membership on the spurious grounds that it might be in competition with the Co-operative Press! Well I am glad to say, as a Director of Co-operatives UK, the modern day successor to the Co-op Union, that The PPPS is now a member and able to take its place with all the other co-operatives at Co-operative Congress.
I hope the PPPS will take its place at this years Co-op Congress from 24-26 June in Birmingham. I very much hope the PPPS will be represented and will share with other co-operators the lessons it has learnt over the years and pass on some advice to younger co-ops the secret of its resilience.
Today the Morning Star shines brighter than ever and that is due in no small part to the work of the members of the Peoples Press Printing Society, both individuals and organisations and their elected representatives on the management committee who have worked behind to scenes to keep the Star, the only daily newspaper owned by its readers, shining!
For more information about Co-op Congress go to: www.uk.co-op/congress and for details of the petition go to www.uk.coop/yourstoshare