Preston Meets Mondragón: Worker ownership and democratic businesses for Preston

A symposium held at the University of Central Lancashire on the 25th July 2018

Report by Julian Manley, UCLan.

The Day

The Preston Co-operative Development Network (PCDN), the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and Preston City Council (PCC) brought together an exciting programme to accompany the continuing development of the Preston Model as a way of transforming society through the creation of worker-owned co-operatives according to the principles and values of Mondragón.

Mondragón is the foremost example of how co-operative work on a large scale can transform communities and provide social and financial capital that also works towards resilient, participative and democratic communities. Anyone in doubt should watch this video, provided to us by one of our speakers on the day.

The People

The audience consisted of a varied cross section of stakeholders and professionals from political, academic, business and community backgrounds from Preston and elsewhere. The speakers were Julian Manley (Chair PCDN), Matthew Brown (Leader Preston City Council), Sue Smith (Professor/Director Centre for SME Development UCLan), Ibon Zugasti (Territorial Development Manager, LKS Mondragón), Michael Peck (North America delegate, Mondragón) and Ander Etxeberria (Head of Co-operative Dissemiantion, Mondragón), ably assisted by members of the PCDN who chaired the sessions: Debbie Shannon, Gordon Benson and Gareth Nash. Also speaking was Kay Johnson of the newly formed The Larder Coop, the first worker-owned coop developed under the auspices of the PCDN. The Larder put together a fantastic lunch for the delegates based on their founding principles of healthy, sustainable and local food. You are what you eat!

The Larder - food for the Preston Model
(picture credit- TheLarderLancashire, facebook Page).

The Ideas

Matthew Brown and Julian Manley set the scene by describing the Preston Model and the role of co-operative development within that model. Their talk explained how the PCDN exists to promote the creation of co-operatives in Preston to fill the economic gap that exists when Anchor Institutions have to look elsewhere to buy essential goods and services. The PCDN gives information, advice and training to would-be co-operatives and helps them to support each other co-operatively through the Network. There is also a need to encourage employee buyouts where companies are in danger of closure and a desire and drive on the part of the university to provide co-operative education and encourage the development of business plans for new co-operatives in Preston supported by the triangle of PCDN, UCLan and PCC.

Ibon Zugasti gave some inspiring examples of how the Mondragón experience – social in ends, social in means – is being adapted rather than replicated throughout the world. The projects come from all over the world, from Northern Ireland to Uruguay. In Montreal, for example, LKS Mondragón are helping to identify opportunities for social manufacturing ventures, opportunities for collective and social manufacturing development in Montréal and implementation strategies in light of Mondragón’s experience around the world.

Michael Peck, through video link to the USA, was able to ignite the audience with his infectious enthusiasm in describing how the ‘1worker1vote’ movement in the States is working, in Cincinnati, for example, to create Union Coops (pdf link). This version of worker-owned coops manages to combine Mondragón best practice with traditional union principles and workers’ rights. Much of what Michael had to say resonates with trade union culture in the UK.

Ander Etxeberria gave a talk that emphasised the roots of the Mondragón experience in education, how the founder of Mondragón began by creating a technical college in 1943 and it was a full 13 years before the first co-operative ULGOR was created. According to Arizmendiarrieta, the inspiration behind the Mondragón experience, “It has been said that cooperativism is an economic movement that uses educational action, while the definition could also be altered to affirm that it is an educational movement that uses economic action”. For Preston, this teaches us patience and for UCLan this gives us hope!

Mondragon and Preston Model

Participation

Following the talks, delegates divided into three groups: Local Democracy, Business and Academic to talk through some of the implications for Preston and to formulate ideas, reflections and actions to take forward, summarised below.

LOCAL DEMOCRACY

  • Brokerage: Importance of the role of ‘Broker’ to create links between identified gaps, needs of the city and the development of coops and local businesses. Raising awareness about the gaps in the existing supply chain and how emerging coops could fill them.

  • Environment of support: Promoting existing examples of coops in Preston to encourage similar uptake; showcasing case studies to promote the added value of coops and identify good practices; nurturing existing and developing coops to encourage their growth

  • Conversion: A starting point could be Simply Buyout Guide which provides information for those wishing to sell their business or for employees interested in carrying out an employee buyout

  • Funding: Increasing access to funding; developing a local Bank; keeping in mind Mondragon’s recommendation about not providing funding without accompanying training

  • Public purchasing: Encouraging the inclusion of social and environmental criteria in tenders; engaging with businesses/coops to raise their awareness about how to do businesses with the anchor institutions; training with businesses/coops around public procurement processes

  • Competitiveness: Cooperatives as businesses have to be competitive

  • Education: Role of university in increasing knowledge and awareness with student base, but also the wider community of Preston.

  • Impact: How do we monitor impact? How do we measure the added value?

Notes taken by Johanna Deconinck (PCC)

BUSINESS

  • Narratives and language need to be tailored to different audiences – e.g. business management discussion and values arising from that.

  • About embedding values and therefore look long-term.

  • The difficulties of Businesses not having time to devote to non-business related activity.

  • Possible funding mechanisms (for both supporting the development of co-ops and co-op start-ups – looking for from similar value-led organisations -e.g. “solid fund” (open to worker co-ops); “Platform 6”, RSA funding, Plunket Foundation.

  • Maybe the time maybe right due to “post Brexit” and “Austerity” for different business systems with social responsibility.

  • Coops might appear quite complex business form but are not – suggestions to include “local business for local people”, autonomy and self-reliance, “sweat equity” – working hard for all, supportive context with a family structure, Flexible, stronger together, democratic values led.

  • Possible collaboration with existing business which can help promote the development of Coops – such as tenants within Community Gateway, pop-up shop “drop ins” in communities used as “hubs”,  promoting via events, business fora etc. Topics such as “Is a co-op right for you?”

    Notes taken by Debbie Shannon (PCDN)

ACADEMIC

  • Need to explore the best ways of getting together to begin the process of working towards a research funding application; agreement that there was the potential in the group and in the subject matter for a substantial application.

  • Setting our targets on the ESRC ‘Governance after Brexit’ 2nd call (should be December 2018).

  • Need to establish international academic partners (eg University of Mondragón) and non-academic partners in the UK (eg Preston City Council).

  • Need to ensure capacity for a broad range of perspectives/disciplines and methods.

Initial discussions brought out the following topics of interest:

  • What are the claims made for co-operatives, what do they say they are doing and what are their stories/narratives? What language do people use to describe co-operative work?

  • Need to decide on scope. Apart from Preston, where else in the UK should we look to?

  • Evidence of the resilience of co-operatives? why, to what extent, what circumstances etc?

  • Study of the evidence of the impact of changes in public procurement.

  • Study of social transformation, what does that mean and are co-operatives (and/or the Preston Model) a good fit?

  • ‘Pedagogy of Trust’. Is it possible to embed co-operativism in universities, principles and values?

  • How do we make the cultural shift in the general public to make co-operatives more understandable and acceptable?

  • How to measure principles and values, social technologies?

Notes taken by Julian Manley (PCDN)

prest - on

We are learning Basque!

Thanks to Ander Etxeberria, we now know that ‘prest’ in Basque means ‘ready’ and ‘on’ means ‘good’!

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