Speaker Notes: Jo Bird (CBC)

Jo Bird’s plenary speech at Ways Forward 6 Conference Co-operative Solidarity

Manchester, 16 February 2018

Hello and welcome. sé do bheatha, salaam 3laykum.

My name is Jo Bird, I’ve been working with co-operative enterprise for 25 years.  I’m a director of Co-operative Business Consultants – we organised today’s conference.

For me, co-operative solidarity means equality and democracy, and working together for the common good – alongside our sisters and brothers in trade unions, political parties and other organisations that share co-op values.

The new president of the International Co-operative Alliance, Ariel Guarco, has sent us all a video message – on CBC website. He builds on his experience with utilities co-ops and factories recovered during Argentina’s economic crises. He says, “We are the only economic model that pursues economic actions based on mutual aid, responsibility, solidarity, equity, equality and democracy. We put the people in first place and this is the reason why we exist.”

As co-operators, we know democracy is not a spectator sport. To support your participation, we have red and green cards. Green means “Yes, I agree”. Red means “er No. I don’t think so”. Are these red and green cards a good idea? Excellent! It works. You are welcome to show your green or red card while I or anybody else is talking.

Let’s see who is here today. Please raise your hand or green card if you are:

  1. A Director of a co-op or credit union – we know how to make co-operatives work in the UK
  2. A member of a coop
  • A member of a worker coop
  1. If you live in a housing coop
  2. Who was in the Woodcraft Folk
  3. A member of a trade union
  • Who here is over 70?
  • Who is under 27?

Everyone is welcome. If this is your first Ways Forward conference – Barbara Rainford has offered to talk with you and answer any questions over lunch.

A lot has changed in the last few months for the co-operative business sector.

  • The General Election was almost won by a mainstream party with the most pro-co-op manifesto in living memory.
  • Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn agreed with Conservative Chancellor Philip Hammond, saying “We are an existential threat to their economic system.”
  • Also, the Co-operative Bank has become 100% owned by hedge funds – yet still misleads people by using the Co-operative name. The crises at the Bank was the reason CBC started organising these conferences, 4 years ago.

I find the situation very hopeful and exciting now. At Ways Forward 4, Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell announced Labour’s plans to double the size of the co-op sector. Last week in Preston, he announced a new Community Wealth Building Unit, partly to support co-ops; and that New Economics Foundation will report on removing barriers to doubling the size of the co-op sector. The Co-op Party will convene an implementation group to feedback the experiences of the co-op sector. Rebecca Long Bailey will tell us more.

Last year, I moved from Northern Ireland to the Wirral, home of one of the oldest Societies. Members of Liverpool Pilots have steered ships on the River Mersey since 1766.

It seems to me that the co-operative business sector is like a flotilla of ships travelling on economic seas. We have flagships, container ships, careful pilots, ferry boats, leisure cruisers, speed boats, house boats, sail boats, life boats, rafts and ship wrecks. We sometimes share crew members. Some boats build and launch new boats. Some boats have leaks. Brexit makes choppy water and uncertain seas.  This conference is one way of signalling to each other, to offer and receive solidarity.

The co-op flotilla gets undermined by incompetent managers, fat cat captains and organised pirates. Bob Cannell calls them players, parasites and predators. Big Finance has an insatiable appetite to privatise the commons – trying to capture all assets held by public and mutual sectors. Collectively, we need better legal and political protection. Their policies must be challenged, contained and replaced.

By the way, the good ship Co-operative Business Consultants is just one part of the flotilla. We can only carry more load with more fuel and crew. I myself aim to win a local council seat as a Labour/Co-op candidate on 3rd May.

This period is our best chance in a generation to mainstream co-operatives and solidarity in the economy. Together we can do this, if we are principled, put in the work and are kind to each other.

Today, we want to discuss ways forward, with respect. We will hear from speakers, invite contributions from everybody, and give the speakers a chance to respond.

It is my pleasure to introduce our first key note speaker, Shadow Business Secretary, Rebecca Long Bailey MP.  Thank you.

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