21st Century Pioneering Co-ops – New Frontiers
Ways Forward 5 Conference
Manchester, 20th January 2017
- Hello and welcome everyone.
- My name is Jo Bird, I’m from Co-operative Business Consultants. We organised today’s conference to address roads to a democratic economy – where people and the environment come first.There is no doubt our collective efforts need to be smarter, faster and bigger, thanks to a dangerous team of racist misogynistswhohave arrangedtheir arrival today in the White House.
- Talking of house-keeping. Please could you put mobile phones onto silent. If the fire alarm goes off, please leave through the fire exits.
- Who are we here today? Please raise your hand if you are based in Greater Manchester? the rest of England? Wales, Scotland or Ireland? Rest of the world? Everyone is equally welcome here.
- Around the world, it is co-operatives, not the so called “freemarket”, that are at the forefront of meeting the needs of communities. What does capitalism produce? Zero hour contracts, gross inequality, theft of pension and public funds, hard borders and war. It is co-ops that deliver what people need – clean energy, wholefood, fair trade, decent jobs, good housing, affordable credit, healthcare, education and creativity.
- At our best, co-operatives are living proof that another economy is possible. Co-operative Business Consultants has a vision of social justice through solidarity co-operatives. Of economies based on fairness not greed, rights not power, and respect not exploitation. We try to model hospitality not hate, and friendship instead of fear.
- The roads to such a democratic economy include: growing pioneering and authentic co-ops, calling out fake co-ops and supporting progressive social movements
- Talking of social movements, there are anti-Trump protests this evening around the world and outside Manchester Town Hall. Many of my most meaningful meetings have taken place in social movements. It was on street protests in Derry that we shaped our local welcome to refugees.
- As we know, authentic co-operatives are democratic businesses, owned and controlled by their members.
- The co-operative movement in the UK and globally, spans a huge spectrum – only…just… about held together by co-op values and principles. On the left and centre are solidarity co-ops – run for the benefit of many not the few. On the right of the spectrum and beyond, are co-ops like Kibbutz Beit Alpha in Israel who make water cannon and other weapons for oppressive regimes. (Their website boasts their “Riot Control Vehicles… are “proven ‘in action’ in more than 30 countries”.)
- The so called “Co-operative” Bank is a fake. It has been owned by capitalist hedge funds for a good three years. The Bank is guilty of co-op identity theft and should not be normalised as part of the co-op family.
- The Co-operative Group has a shamocracy not a democracy. Only 4 out of 12 Directors are nominated by members. The Group is no longer autonomous and independent because, since buying Somerfield stores in 2008, it is heavily indebted to its lenders (net debt of £667m). It would rather pay an eye-watering 11% interest to banks (on £109m loans) than seek community shares from its millions of members.
- I would like to thank sponsors who helped make this conference more accessible to more people – solicitors Anthony Collins (cheers), Co-operative & Community Finance, Co-operative College, Co-operatives UK, Institute for Solidarity Economics, Midcounties Co-operative, North West Housing Services, and The Phone Coop.
- In today’s debates, we will hear from speakers, invite contributions from everybody, and give the speakers chance to respond at the end.
We’ll start and end the conference today with young and old film-makers. So it is my pleasure to introduce our first speaker Ieva Padagaite. Ieva works with Blake House Filmmakers, the Young Co-operators Network and AltGen.
Shukran, thank you.
Jo Bird co-organised pro-democracy responses to the crises at the Co-op Bank and Group from 2013 onwards, including three Ways Forward conferences and making the case for democratic co-ops in the media.
She is based in both Derry and Manchester, working across the island of Ireland and in North West England. Jo’s co-op experience includes Chair of Co-operative Alternatives’ (Northern Ireland), Co-operative Business Consultants (2007-16), Co-ops North West (2006-13) and Olive Co-op (2003-7) promoting responsible tourism and fair trade with the Middle East. She is licensed to award the Community Shares Standard Mark, and has considerable experience in co-op business advice, business and financial planning, crowdfunding, board mentoring, governance, legal registrations, organising events and study visits.