In the free-for-all over the spoils of the public sector, Tory ministers are playing fast and loose with the concepts of co-operatives and mutuals. They talk blithely about ‘the John Lewis model’. One might smile at the fact that Tories have to raid progressive history, such is the crisis of legitimacy of big business. Rhetorically, one can simply apply the ‘private sector test’. Would ministers apply the right to form a co-op to workers in privatised services, as a recent Unison report proposed? Would the investment managers proclaiming ‘John Lewis style’ academies apply the John Lewis model to private companies?
Genuine co-operative alternatives are making headway. The pressure to marketise grows in parallel with the mounting evidence of failure – the Southern Cross care home operator heads a growing list, as patients, users and medical staff become more confident whistle-blowers – but few want to return to public management as we knew it. There is urgent interest in how to defend public services but managed in a more responsive way.
The co-operative movement, with its practical experience of democratic management, its labour movement traditions and its significant resources through the Co-operative Group (see page 30), is proving a distinctive source of support for alternatives to the marketisation of public services.
In education, a key development is the spread of co-operative trust schools, supported nationally by the Schools Co-operative Society (SCS) and funded through local authorities, which also provide what support services they can on diminishing budgets. There are now 200 co-op schools, with numbers growing rapidly.
Rather than be forced into an academy, schools are looking for alternatives that enable them to realise their public service values. ‘Especially important,’ explains the enthusiastic Mervyn Wilson, head of the Co-operative College, ‘is the way SCS has helped schools develop effective collaboration’ – in dealing with Ofsted inspections, for example, and sharing resources.
Trade unions are becoming warily supportive of the development. SCS is working closely with the unions, which stress the contrast with academies. ‘Academies are about marketisation, whereas co-operative schools maintain education as a public service, funding [it] on the basis of social need,’ says John Chowcat, a leading official in the Prospect union. (The Co-op does sponsor some academies in very specific circumstances, but this is not their main concern.)
What does this mean for local authorities that see the role of the state as both to deliver public services and also to enable the means of delivery to be more responsive to users and staff alike?
Enter the Co-operative Council Network. One of the network’s members is Newcastle Council. Labour councillor Nigel Todd welcomes its formation because it ‘brings the authentic socialist imagination back into the labour movement’. It does so with a stress on opening services to greater involvement from users and staff.
This is what inspires Unison branch secretary and Co-op party member Jonathan Sedgebeer from Telford Council, a new recruit to the network: ‘This is an opportunity to move beyond simply reacting to the Tory agenda [and] setting out our alternative strategy.’ He reflects the position of Unison nationally, which also sees the co-operative model as a basis for intervening in privatised services and helping staff create co-operatives that will improve services as well as wages and working conditions.
‘We are walking a fine line,’ admits Sedgebeer, fully aware that talk of co-ops, mutuals and social enterprises can ‘simply soften the path to privatisation’. Unions, the co-operative movement and councils are exploring ways of locking assets into trust arrangements that prevent private takeovers. They are looking at collaborative – rather than outsourcing – models around very specific services where co-ops or other transparent and accountable social enterprises can improve the service delivery.
‘You work out together what the council and the co-op does best from the point of view of meeting social needs.’ That’s a word of advice from Alison Page, who has six years’ experience of working with Lancaster Council through a recycling company and the charity Furniture Matters. According to the New Economics Foundation assessment of the social return on investment, the partnership has achieved a £5 return on every £1 of public money invested in terms of jobs created in the local economy, the benefits of recycling and savings on landfill.
The word ‘socialism’ in the English language had its origins in the co-operative movement of the 1820s. Its opposite was competitive individualism. In the context of state-promoted competition of wild west proportions, the co-operative movement is opening once again a contested space for developing what socialism means in practice.
Labour's 1983 election campaign has long been used to say it is impossible for a leader like Jeremy Corbyn to win any election from the left. Alex Nunns digs out the truth
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
2 May open meeting for artist-led poster campaign: End Tory Rule
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform