UKSCS Conference 2015: Co-operatives and Commons

An inspiring weekend in Leicester brought co-operators old and (a few) young together to debate radical ideas for social change – both old and new ones. Here’s an account of how it seemed to me from the sessions I attended.

Karin Christiansen and Peter Davies kicked things off with a stimulating dialogue with much debate from the floor interspersed. They ranged over globalisation, climate change, the revival of co-op democracy, the role of co-ops in politics (and of politics in co-ops). That debate got things off to a lively start which meant that most sessions kept up the participatory atmosphere.

Andrew Bibby made the story of the Hebden Bridge Fustian Workers Co-op very relevant to the current situation as both a fascinating history and a source of lessons for now. Maybe the key points are the importance of  an asset locked common ownership rather than co-ownership structure to stop the worker owners being tempted to sell – in that case to CWS. Andrew’s book is a great read and a must for everyone interested in co-ops of all kinds but especially those into worker co-operatives.

Here’s my handout from the presentation I did on Legal Issues: IS Session O’Line UKSCS 05.09 It might be of interest for the web links in it. I tried to deal with the issues around defining a co-operative for regulation under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 and the FCA consultations plus Co-operatives UK’s position on the Bank and a quick trot around legal issues and the Commons. The last point is one that I’m still wrestling with and would like to do more work on.

Josef Davies Coates did a fascinating session on Co-operative Commons exploring the links between open organisations, commons and co-operatives. Josef referred to his own United Diversity project, the work of Bollier and “think Like a Commoner”, and Ostrom’s eight principles for managing Commons. He outlined the Open Organisation Guidelines and explained the links to the open source movement. This is a rich range of material and is valuable to co-operators who want to look at the next stages of co-operative development and at newer ideas about a different approach to property for a more mutual and solidarity based economy. All co-operators need to learn that it’s not just about governance. Culture is also vital. In legal terms the new commons movement combines contractual intellectual property approaches along the lines of Creative Commons and the GNU GPL. That may sound a bit techy but it amounts to using property law to undermine monopoly and to liberate both information and people. That’s a real revolution just like the one that went viral from Toad Lane in 1844.

A Research Round Table on Saturday evening allowed the sharing of information around Cilla Ross’s planned Co-operative Research network.

 In the final session on Sunday morning, Karin was back to talk about her project to use open data to bring co-operatives together and to facilitate improved networks and Co-operation among Co-operatives. That led to a discussion on the need and viability of the project and the best ways forward to make this happen.

So thanks to the UKSCS and especially Richard Bickle for putting together a great Conference with so much stimulation to innovative co-operative thinking.

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