By John Merritt
The Ways Forward 2022 conference in October set out to explore the key role of co-operation in community-led responses to the climate crisis, “that not only enable us to take action to cut our emissions, but also build the new organisations and businesses that we need for a regenerative future, and do it in a just and fair way”. CAN’s John Merritt went along, and penned this report.
I attended the second day of Co-operative Ways Forward this year, arriving late on the Thursday, and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was an optional first session reviewing the first day.
The first session discussed bringing climate and co-op movements together, and how to make both mainstream – from the ground up, with state support or piecemeal, using any opportunities.
The afternoon sessions focused on the understanding of, and responses to, the cost of living crisis and how they are tied into the climate crisis.
A lot of discussion considered the role of ownership and control in production. It was argued that worker ownership, as against employee ownership, as against community benefit ownership and control, tended towards different outcomes. Being co-operative as an activity rather than being a co-op as an organisational type was also considered. Examples of community co-operation were identified as highly effective, as seen by mutual aid groups during the pandemic, as well as food larders, community fridges and other initiatives – which continue to have many benefits.
CAN remains alert to the question of ownership, control and economic justice. Information, advice and guidance for start-ups and for businesses wishing to convert, particularly regarding the most appropriate model of co-operative for each unique organisation, is a core part of our work.
After the review of day one, the second day main session started off with a look at public commons partnership research by Kier Milburn at the Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung, post-growth economics, for models of economic, social and environmental sustainability, and building pro-active co-operation between co-operatives and trade unions. These more holistic approaches to economic development, that aren’t driven by GDP, shareholder value and high wage measures, offer interesting challenges to the co-operative development movement as the need to change the story on what mainstream success looks like remains a huge undertaking.
The afternoon sessions were given to discussing scaling up distributed co-operation in farming and food, energy and housing cooperatives.
Having a number of clients in farming and food production and distribution, I attended the relevant group and we discussed generating investment and interest when a growing number of farms and areas of agricultural land are being bought up by wealthy individuals and corporates looking at maximising their return on investment rather than maximising the community benefit.
The need to engage those who create local and regional development plans as well as government, to enable sustainability and community benefit development to take place, was identified as a high priority for co-operative development.
Having a long return journey from Manchester to Bournemouth meant I didn’t stay for the final session, but as well as seeing many familiar co-operative development workers, the conference provided the opportunity to meet some new people coming from the environment movement as well as discovering insights I can feed into the CAN marketing and development strategy.