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From The Socialist newspaper, 24 February 2010


The Eton co-op won't work

HAS DAVID Cameron swapped his top hat for a cloth cap by calling for public sector workers to set up their own co-operatives?

Nancy Taaffe

The co-operative movements have their roots in the excesses and barbaric conditions that accompanied the development of early 19th century capitalism. They emerged as a response and played their part by working people attempting to implement a rudimentary system of welfare, healthcare and education. They also represent an early form of the idea of 'ethical' business.

They were part of a time when trade unions were being forged, Marxism was being debated in working class clubs, and state welfare provision as an idea, was gathering momentum.

Cameron's model

What David Cameron has in mind has nothing in common with the co-operative pioneers. His co-ops would be a backward step, a completely regressive idea.

Ever since the working class won state provision, big business has been looking at ways to cut the bill to maximise their profits. For a number of years now socialists have been arguing that the welfare model put forward by New Labour and the Tories is a pre-world war two model, fragmented, uncoordinated, poorly funded, privatised and based on pot luck provision.

It is a testimony to the legacy of the welfare state and the place it occupies in the working class psyche, that David Cameron has to borrow ideas and images from our history to try and confuse us with what is actually being proposed.

With a nearly £200 billion hole in the public finances Cameron's co-operatives would have little money, and too few workers. As a consequence the service users would probably have no proper service and no democratic control over the service.

If the last 12 years have taught us anything, it is beware any politician using the word "empower" who approaches with a huge scythe!

Council house sales?

It is telling that Tory spokespersons are hanging the popularity of their coops, as an election winner, on the memory of council house sales, which started under Margaret Thatcher. Although many council houses were badly designed and in a woeful state of disrepair, what was needed was more public investment not privatisation.

The loss of council housing is a huge loss to the next generation who are at the mercy of rotten landlords, or forced to share crowded accommodation or stay at home for longer than they should. Or face a life of indebtedness through massive mortgages.

The task of a socialist administration is to develop affordable accommodation, as the Militant-led (forerunner of the Socialist Party) council built in Liverpool in the mid 1980s. There, we built a campaign and mobilised people to fight for it. Our legacy is there in bricks and mortar.

Co-operatives based on a system of want and deprivation often fail, and out of the mouths of Tory politicians are destined to do so.

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In The Socialist 24 February 2010:

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