Co-operators to gather for Ways Forward 4

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell will join co-operative and union leaders, activists, writers and politicians at an open conference to discuss the challenges and opportunities for co-ops in the...

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell will join co-operative and union leaders, activists, writers and politicians at an open conference to discuss the challenges and opportunities for co-ops in the 21st century.

Ways Forward 4: Building An Economy For People Not For Profit will take place on 21 January 2016, bringing together trade unionists, co-operators, activists from social enterprises and anti-austerity political parties, and all those seeking to create a prosperous caring society, to explore how a people’s economy can be shaped to benefit everyone.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal to have major parts of the public sector run co-operatively, including the railways, is an exciting departure for leaders of the major political parties,” said Jo Bird of Co-operative Business Consultants, which is facilitating the event.

“It represents a huge challenge and opportunity for the co-op and labour movement,” she added.

“The conference aims to be a catalyst for how we can ensure that co-operative leadership can be made effective and avoid some of the pitfalls that can befall co-operative enterprises. Given the recent crises of the Co-operative Group, many trade unionists and labour activists may need a lot of convincing that co-operation is a deliverable economic strategy but it is critical if we are to challenge the exploitative rule of private profit.

“We aim to bring together different wings of the labour and co-op movement to thrash out these issues.”

Sessions include Replacing Capitalism: Co-operatives and/or State Control?; A People’s Railway and People’s Power in the Workplace; as well as co-operative energy and housing.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell will be at the event
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell will be at the event

“The conference sessions tackle some of the key issues facing co-operative governance,” said Ms Bird. “How can nationalisation be accompanied by co-operative democratic principles in sectors such as energy, housing, education? What would a co-operatively run national rail industry look like?

“What can we learn from the lessons of management capture and those organisations that have successfully resisted it in the UK, and the fledgling co-operative economy in Rojava, Syria?”

Dr Alan Semo from Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) will be speaking on how co-ops are rebuilding war-torn Rojava, and financial writer Frances Coppola, who regularly contributes to Co-operative News, will discuss how – or if – co-ops thrive in today’s global economy, with writer and journalist Andrew Bibby and Co-operatives UK general secretary Ed Mayo.

Other speakers include: Matt Wrack, general secretary at the Fire Brigades Union; Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign & Unite Community, and Molly Scott Cato MEP.

Ways Forward 1 took place in 2014, and was “the first major opportunity for co-operators to voice how they felt about the crisis at the Bank and Group and how the co-operative movement should respond”, said Ms Bird, adding that the last two years have been a “wake-up call” for the movement.

“The last two years have been devastating for the Co-operative Group.

“On the other hand, there has been a huge rise in the number of fledgling societies successfully raising capital through community shares with thousands of members. This demonstrates an increasing thirst for co-operative solutions to the day-to-day problems facing communities.”

Ms Bird hopes the co-operative movement will in future work more closely with the labour and social movement.

“I could see current proposals properly discussed and shaped into coherent economic policies and strategies that people can understand, that place co-operative principles and policies at the heart of the economic debate for years to come,” she said.

Ways Forward 4 takes place on Thursday, 21 January, from 10am-4pm at Central Hall, Oldham Street, Manchester M1 1JQ GB, and is sponsored by Northwest Housing Services, Co-operative and Community Finance, the Co-operative Party, Co-operative Energy and Anthony Collins Solicitors.

Tickets for the event cost £45, including lunch and refreshments and can be purchased online (A late booking fee of £10 will be charged after 5 Jan). Free places available for event volunteers under 24 years old, and all conference attendees are invited to a pre-conference informal dinner on Wed 20 January from 6.30pm at The 8th Day co-op cafe, 111 Oxford Road, Manchester.

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