Jan Myers, pp. 3-6
E. P. Pritchard, pp. 7-9
The first paper in this special anniversary issue is a contribution from E. P. Pritchard, a staff tutor in Government from the Department of Extra-Mural Studies (Birmingham) and focuses on democracy and competition in consumer co-operatives. In his opening remarks, he questions whether the principle of democratic control is practicable in a competitive environment. The premise of his argument, though, in this paper is that rather than “being a hindrance to effective competition, [democracy] should become the basis of the movement’s competitive strategy” (p. 7). In order to explicate this position, he starts with a view on the nature of democracy from the point of view of theconsumer. Yet, he suggests that surveys have shown that meeting the needs of the customer and customer satisfaction is not “a characteristic of the movement as a whole”. Furthermore, that there is a lack of distinctiveness between co-operative societies and independent retailers, and that rather than compete with others through imitation, there is a need to reclaim something distinctive: “the democratic principle of starting from the point of view of the member”.
John Hughes, pp. 10-23
Our second article, from John Hughes, also looks at retail co-operative trading but takes a broader perspective by considering what might need to be done in the context of the 1970s. John Hughes was vice-principal of Ruskin College, Oxford and this paper takes both an historical look at the movement but also its development needs. While eschewing the old traditions, he concludes with a “modernising” view of principles of the social objectives of consumer co-operatives and co-operatives as providing a democratic challenge to large corporates.
S. P. Clarke, pp. 24-26
In answer to some of Hughes’ argument, our next paper provides an alternative view. S. P. Clarke decries the need to supersize the sector. Rather he asks a series of questions linked to size, and if not super-societies then what, and points to the simplicity of focus on a lack of size rather than a surfeit of good policy. He advocates that the “doctrine of ‘Get Big’” be replaced by “Be Better” with a focus on internal efficiencies and good practice, which supports a range of societies of “adequate” size. There are more than echoes of continuing debate in UK’s retail sector today, where The Co-operative lies in sixth place in the top ten of largest supermarket chains (BBC, 2017; IGD Retail Analysis, 2017).
Esther Quinn, p. 27-29
A focus on internal good practice is examined in the commentary provided by Esther Quinn who speaks from long experience of industrial relations and trade union movement (the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers — USDAW). Her short article both laments the perceptions and experiences of customer service provided by co-operative shop assistants of the time and the attrition rate of employees. From her Union perspective, she does not provide much in the way of respite from critique. While recognising the mutuality of the co-operative movement and USDAW, she bemoans the lack of employee representation and the perceived apathy of co-operative shop assistants, which she concludes are barriers to the ideals of the co-operative movement.
W. P. Watkins, pp. 29-34
W. P. Watkins — a life-long co-operator — focuses on workers’ participation, which he sees as “increasingly effective” (p. 29), albeit “down to zero” in some types of co-operative enterprise. He bases his essay on the premise that worker participation is “grounded in the co-operative principle”. Watkins advocates for worker co-operatives as part of the wider international alliance of co-operatives rather than segmentation of different organisational forms and concludes that they have a vital and contemporary role both in promotion of democratic and participatory management, and also in “progressively reinforcing the superiority of Co-operation to private and capitalistic competition… as a system of supplying society’s wants” (p. 34).
John Gallacher, pp. 35-37
The final paper continues on the theme of workers’ participation but with a focus on consumer societies. Our author — John Gallacher, later Lord Gallacher, admits that when he was taught that consumer co-operation was the highest form of co-operation as “it did not suffer from the defects of other lesser types” (p. 35), he took this at face value. Thirty years on and writing in changed economic and regulatory conditions (1976), he states; “I no longer believe in the consumer theory” (p. 35). In this context, he describes the increasing power of organised labour and, given this, asks the question why workers might want increased responsibility in decisionmaking.
Society for Co-operative Studies, pp.38-39
By Nigel Todd. Reviewed by Michael Duckett, pp. 40-43
By Ron Roffey and Peter Collier. Reviewed by Richard Bickle, pp. 44-45
By Ronald George Garnett. Reviewed by Jan Myers, pp. 46-48
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