Reclaiming the Marketplace

Last Tuesday I wrote about the Co-operative Movement and the massive changes working people made to the country through mutuals.  They did this without the support of community development workers and usually with luke warm support from politicians.

The point is the economy is in our hands.  There was never a time when politicians supported the structures the public needs to conduct their business affairs.  How could there be?  If we need institutions we must develop our own.

An Exception

Perhaps one exception is the 1945 Labour Government.  They built the welfare state within 5 years. It is arguably the greatest of the changes brought about through co-operation and the start of its decline.  Two points:

  • We hardly remember Clement Attlee at all.  It angers me when people say Margaret Thatcher is our greatest peacetime Prime Minister, whilst they forget Attlee.  Can anyone point to anything she did that compares with what his government achieved?  The fact people forget Attlee, demonstrates his greatness.  He was no media icon; a man who simply did his job and faded out of history.
  • Somehow the welfare state contained the seeds of its own destruction.  Not because of its costs, if we want it we can pay for it through taxes.  What we have lost is mutuality; an educated public with the vision to create new institutions that worked.  Capitalists replaced them; seeking self-enrichment, not social change.

Does the internet offer an opportunity to find our way towards another period of similar innovation?  I believe it might, provided it’s integrated into the local economy.  So long as the internet is a network of local economies and not one economy centralised in massive servers.

Quite a challenge!  How can we support local economies online?  What are the new structures we need to regenerate our communities today?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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