Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where’s the action?

Chris Nicholson looks at the agenda for co-operatives following Nick Clegg’s call for John Lewis capitalism.


Nick Clegg’s speech on the “John Lewis economy” at CentreForum yesterday certainly hit the headlines, writes Chris Nicholson, CentreForum’s director and chief executive.

All three party leaders seem to be falling over themselves to attack “crony capitalism” and define a more responsible capitalism. The effect of the economic crisis has been to lead many to question how our economy is organised. Even the Financial Times is running a fortnight of features on capitalism in crisis.

For some, such as Denis MacShane writing on Progress online, Nick Clegg’s speech is a cause for weary cynicism. Nothing will happen, he says, just as there was no willingness to push this agenda forward under the Labour government.

But that would be a missed opportunity for progressives.

Attacks on executive pay and calls for workers to go on remuneration committees currently seem to be the limit of ambition. Frankly this is little more than a sideshow in giving workers more say in the decisions which affect their lives.

There is now good evidence that employee ownership and participation have a beneficial impact on company performance, pay and employee well-being.

Furthermore, as Patrick Brione and I argue in our CentreForum report Employee empowerment: Towards greater workplace democracy, even where substantial employee ownership is not present government should encourage much broader employee participation, and if necessary legislate to achieve it.

Many on the left and in the trade union movement seem to have a strange ambivalence when it comes to mutuals, employee share ownership and participation. Whilst declaring support, their actions often belie their words.

So the TUC supports co-ops but then seems to oppose the government’s moves to mutualise some public services. The CWU opposes the move to give Royal Mail workers a significant stake in their business whilst supporting the widespread employee participation in BT.

And whilst Labour from Purple to Blue to Compass talk of reclaiming this part of Labour’s tradition the evidence of Labour in government as described by Denis MacShane was that this agenda was ignored.

Nick Clegg’s proposals for a John Lewis economy should then be welcomed by progressives and the government should be pressed to go further on issues like workplace democracy. 2012 is the international year of the co-operative. It should be the year when there is progress in giving workers a real stake in the economy and a say over their working lives

See also:

We need a new kind of tenure for a new kind of housing market – David Rodgers, October 8th 2011

Community ownership must be the focus of Miliband’s Labour – Richard Carr, September 25th 2011

How the Tories’ fake co-op friends are biting a chunk out of the NHS – Pete Jefferys, November 10th 2011

Jowell: Co-op movement standard-bearer for Labour values – Tom Phillips, June 19th 2010

Lambeth Mutual – the co-operative way? – Jim Dickson, March 19th 2010

18 Responses to “Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where’s the action?”

  1. Prateek Buch

    @ChrisANicholson on employee ownership over @leftfootfwd //t.co/q4n2x35f

  2. Pulp Ark

    Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where’s… //t.co/evfu5NMn #Sustainable_Economy #centreforum #Co_operatives #muslim #tcot #sioa

  3. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where’s the action? //t.co/KLXYgB9D

  4. CarlDJones

    Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where's the action?: The effect of the economic crisis has been to lead man… //t.co/Yn6ZeHZs

  5. BevR

    Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where’s the action? //t.co/KNziT4Eu asks @CentreForum’s @ChrisANicholson

  6. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where’s the action? //t.co/qu1D7992

  7. Clifford Singer

    “Many on the left and in the trade union movement seem to have a strange ambivalence when it comes to mutuals, employee share ownership and participation.”

    That’s because there’s a difference between private and public sector organisations becoming mutuals, as explained in great detail by Will Davies here:


    Your examples of unions being wary all relate to public sector organisations, where there is a real fear of – in Davies’s words – “two-step privatisation”. What was refreshing about your report – and Clegg’s comments – was a focus on the private sector that has so far been missing. But now we need to see more detail, because without it I suspect Denis MacShane was being realistic rather than cynical.

  8. CentreForum

    Our thoughts on employee employment @ConHome //t.co/RwkD7ec4 @leftfootfwd //t.co/gasx33wg and @libdemvoice //t.co/lo6emHYv

  9. Denis MacShane

    I am not cynical just gently reminding folk that wheel-reinventing is a useful but not always successful exercise. Nothing would give me greater joy than to see any of the ideas adotped. Over to Nick Clegg and centre Forum to come up with legislation

  10. Other TaxPayers Alli

    RT @leftfootfwd Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where’s the action? //t.co/Qs53XOqn asks @CentreForum’s @ChrisANicholson

  11. Judy Stephenson

    Our thoughts on employee employment @ConHome //t.co/RwkD7ec4 @leftfootfwd //t.co/gasx33wg and @libdemvoice //t.co/lo6emHYv

  12. Anonymous

    It would be nice if we had some capitalism.

    For example, letting the banks go bust, rather than Socialist nationalization. What happens when the state gets involved? Massive losses for the tax payer.

    How about stopping the cronyism? For example, getting the government to do your dirty work and screw customers with higher prices to pay for uneconomical business. For example PV that produce electricity at 800% more than other electricty, and forcing poor customers to cough up. Same as failed British Leyland. Same as failed banks.

    I’m all in favour of mutalism.

    What you want is different. You want to force people with threats to behave as you want to your benefit.

    There is nothing stopping people now from setting up mutual anythings.

    That the Unions that are left, are employee versus the state. The other unions such as the LTDA are taxi drivers versus the state. Fathers for justice is citizen versus the state. …

    Spot the common problem.

  13. googlenews_world

    Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where's the action? – Left Foot Forward //t.co/Gpzhf2Lg

  14. Blarg1987

    I thinkl as some people have stated unions have no problem with mutuals in the private sectr where pay and conditions have been badly eroded and this would restore balance.
    However they are right to disagree with it when it comes to schoools, hospotals and other public services where they are run as a non profit service, to include a finanacial incentive by turing them into mutuals will only encourage greed in services which are by all means there not to make money but to provide a service, to distract fromt ha would be capatalism and I do not know about yourself but I would not want my taxes to pay for the increase in prices this could cause.

  15. Newsbot9

    Oh yes, it’d be “lovely” to have millions more poor. To abolish healthcare and schooling for the poor. To…

    The problem is you.

  16. Bertie Arbon

    Having never been part of union I’m not exactly sure of all their functions but there could some kind of tension between unions and mutualisation. If they are both ways of increasing the welfare of workers many could see them as substitutes not complements.

  17. Chris Butler

    RT @leftfootfwd: Everyone agrees mutualism helps, but where’s the action? //t.co/daXl57bn asks @CentreForum’s @ChrisANicholson

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