Chuka Umunna: ‘Co-operatives lead the way to a shared economy’

Co-operatives are the way forward out of the UK’s challenges, according to the Shadow Business Secretary.

Co-operatives are the way forward out of the UK’s challenges, according to the Shadow Business Secretary.

Chuka Umunna, a keynote speaker at Co-operative Congress, said in light of economic difficulties the UK needs to adapt to a changing environment; and co-operatives are the answer.

“You are here because you know we stand taller when we stand together.  It is at the core of the co-operative movement – it is the first line of a history you know well,” he said.

The Labour MP, who visited the Rochdale Pioneers Museum last month, believes co-operative ideas and principles could be key to addressing the “cost of living crisis”, just as they did in 1844. Referring to the Rochdale Pioneers, Mr Umunna said the initiative was one of “economic development – by the people, for the people – as participants in social change.”

He gave the example of successful co-operatives around the world such as Ocean Spray, Mondragon, Fonterra or Dulas. “This is a living legacy of ordinary people who – by coming together – achieved quite extraordinary things”.

The Pioneers’ values are enshrined in the Labour Party’s constitution and are key to achieving the Party’s vision of a One Nation Britain, he argued. Mr Umunna said he envisions a society in which co-operatives played a key role in addressing inequalities, unemployment and sustainable development.

“Co-operatives must be central to our future, to a better and more productive capitalism,” he said; adding that co-ops focus on member value and help to grow local economies.

He also expressed concerns with regard to the Co-operative Bank and the fact that its shares can now be bought and sold. He gave the example of the French mutual Credit Agricole that went through a similar experience and managed to develop considerably without losing its “mutual DNA”.

Although an advocate of competitiveness, Mr Ummuna believes that economic policy in the past years has been too much focused on “the magic of markets”. “That should not be the be-all and end-all. We must also understand the vital role co-operation can play between firms to solve common problems, to the benefit of all,” he argued.

More co-ops could help to create a more broad based economy, promoting the business and spirit of co-operation, thinks Mr Ummuna. He added that co-operatives and employee owned enterprises could also help to enhance economic citizenship.

The Shadow Business Secretary is also exploring other co-operative policies adopted by countries across the world, such as President Hollande’s recent initiatives or the Marcora Law in Italy. “We need more intelligent policy making that can work for a variety of business models, including co-operative models. We must do more to return the business and spirit of co-operation to the mainstream of British economic life and society,” he said.

Mr Ummuna concluded his speech by encouraging co-operators to live up to the standards set up by the Rochdale Pioneers and to promote themselves more, leading the way towards a shared economy and a shared future.

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