Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Walking into Discovery Packaging in Dundee is just like walking into any small factory, with one exception. There is no director’s or foreman’s office. In fact, there is no evidence of any boss anywhere. But this is not just any factory. It is what would be called a ‘recovered factory’ in Argentina, where the ‘Sin Patron’ (‘Without Bosses’) movement has involved many such takeovers. A year on from the business failing and the workers occupying and taking control, Discovery Packaging is now being run as a co-operative.
Sitting in the former managing director’s office, now used as a reception area for visitors, is David Taylor, who has worked on and off at the factory for 15 years. He recalls the problems with the management of the company formerly known as Prisme. ‘There was no structure and no professionalism or pride in what we did. God knows how we got the contracts that we did. There were no work sheets, no keeping track of what was coming in and going out the door… it was an absolute shambles.’
In March 2009, all 12 workers at the factory were told without warning that their employers were going out of business with no funds to pay redundancy. A director they had never met arrived to evict them from the building. They refused to leave – or to allow any machinery to be moved – until a settlement was reached.
‘During the first few weeks we had no plans to set up a business,’ says Taylor, ‘but we still felt an obligation to our customers, so we fulfilled orders using material that was still in house.’ This work, along with donations from as far afield as Brazil, South Africa and Australia, sustained the occupation.
After about a month the workers decided to try to take over the factory permanently: ‘We felt that we always ran the company anyway. The directors were never here, the MD was always golfing. We were effectively running his business.’
‘I’ve always wanted to work for myself,’ Taylor continues. ‘When I had a manager that wasn’t as hard working or didn’t have the same vision as me, I hated it. I’ve been with managing directors on so many occasions and I’ve thought to myself: “How can that man run a business? He’s got nothing about him.”‘
So they decided to approach funders, contacting Scottish Enterprise Business Gateway, the Dundee Development Fund and several banks. They were refused, but were bailed out at a decisive stage in the occupation by a lone private investor. The investor put up enough capital to cover start-up costs, rental and down payments on machinery in exchange for a 50 per cent share.
Partly because of their reliance upon this capital, the ownership model is complex. However, Discovery is run on co-operative principles. No dividends are paid to shareholders; all profits are ploughed back into the company. Within the factory, shareholders work alongside a minority who are not shareholders. The wage structure is also complex, but is based on a policy of parity across jobs.
Insofar as Discovery’s origins lie in the expropriation of the firm from its owners, comparisons with Argentina’s Sin Patron movement are irresistible. There was no stand-off with the police and no protracted battle with the law here, as there was in Argentina, but without the initial occupation the workplace would never have been successfully ‘recovered’ from the former owners.
The model of work organisation also has its similarities with the Argentinean movement. People have to work unusually long shifts to ensure the firm’s survival. They have also learned each other’s jobs. But rather than being a deliberate means of eradicating hierarchies, as in Argentina, here it is an entirely practical tactic, enabling workers to maximise production.
Even so, the Scottish workers say the same things about
their work as their counterparts in recovered factories in Argentina. They have an immense pride in what they do. Working without a boss has restored an autonomy and dignity that comes from working for each other rather than for over-paid, absentee owners.
As David Taylor points out, this creates an entirely different way of thinking about working: ‘When we worked for the previous company, I used to hate coming into work. Now I don’t see this as coming in to work. This is coming in to something that is dead hard, but I love doing.’
In Studs Terkel’s classic book Working, he uncovers in his interviews with American workers a common search for ‘daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as for cash.’ With no boss to get in the way, this is exactly what the workers at Discovery are finding for themselves.
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.