Saturday, 30 August 2008

Clays Lane

Two years ago: I was one of 450 members of the Clays Lane Housing Co-operative, situated in Stratford Newham. The co-operative was Britain’s’ largest and Europe’s second biggest purpose built and fully mutual. I’m not certain how the co-operative originally came to be established or even who its founding member’s were way back in the early 1980s, all I know is that over the years it provided a home for literally thousands. I first stumbled across it when a former girlfriend who incidentally was a member of the communist party’s YCL invited me to a party, on what became known to the many as simply the Lane, neither had it occurred at that time; in my wildest thoughts that sixteen years on; I would not only be resident but an elected member of its management committee – what a small world.
Clays Lane Housing Co-operative was established to address the lack of housing for single people. Initially funded and supported by organisations through the Housing Corporation a government semi-public quango, there were up to 450 contractual tenants, all single people between the ages of 18 and 59. Tenants upon being offered places were required to purchase a £1 share so as to become a full voting member of the co-operative, which entitled them to attend and vote in both annual and general meetings, to elect and stand for the management committee, participate in the co-operatives affairs and receive its services.
The Lane, consisted of an enclave of ten courtyards all named after one of the Rochdale pioneers, founding fathers of the co-operative movement. I was the reprehensive for Banford Courtyard whilst on the management committee and chair of maintenance, but that’s another story. With 57 (Heinz) shared houses in red or yellow brick (containing four, six or ten bedrooms) and 50 self-contained flats. We had a community centre (with a shop, cafĂ©, meeting hall and training rooms) which also housed the co-operatives office and workshops. Located on the top of a hill next to the Eastway Cycle Circuit (previously in an other life, “an old landfill site”, the West Ham Tip). This provided spectacular views across Hackney Marches and the Lea Valley. The estate was designed in theory to engender a strong local community – its motto was “A community – not a housing estate”. The housing was arranged into ten courtyards, each of which held a monthly meeting to discuss issues that may have arisen, receive reports from committee members.
In 2000 the Housing Corporation under the Leadership, of former print workers trade union leader Baroness Brender Dean, instigated a standard inquiry into the affairs of Clays Lane; subsequently it received a report of poor management. It proposed that the co-operative’s house stock be transferred to the Peabody Trust, one of the UK’s largest housing associations, because of its better financial security, and the Government approved the transfer.
In 2001 the co-operative elected a new committee with a majority determined under the direction of the late Dr. John Lynn, an out of work school teacher, to resist and turn around this attempted liquidation by hostile organizations and individuals.
What happened at Clays Lane serves as an example why socialists should reject in its entirety the co-operative vision as an alternative to capitalism?

The cooperative movement began with the application of cooperative principles to business organization as Robert Owen (1771-1858) advocated, considered by some as the father of the cooperative movement, he made a fortune in cotton. Owen believed in putting his workers into a good environment with access to education for themselves and their children. Owen’s philosophy would later be named by Karl Marx; utopian socialism, and indeed Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto; “The undeveloped state of the class struggle, as well as their own surroundings, causes Socialists of this kind to consider themselves far superior to all antagonisms. They want to improve the condition of every member of society, even that of the most favoured. Hence they habitually appeal to society at large, without distinction of class; nay by preference, to the ruling class.
For how can people, when once they understand their system, fail to see it in the best possible plan of the best possible state of society? Hence, they reject all political and especially all revolutionary action; they wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, and endeavour, by small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure, and by force of example, to pave the way for the new social Gospel.”
Marx and Engels where proven right in the fullness of time, the evidence speaks for itself; even Owen’s ideas of “villages of co-operation” where workers drag themselves out of poverty by growing their own food, making their own clothes and ultimately become self-governing ended in failure as finally did Clays Lane. The cooperative model is the creation of a system of society within society, the Rochdale Pioneers, pronounced that their society, should be ‘politically neutral’ and that principle was held for decades almost as a sacred cow; many still advocate that school of thought today. However the one thunder-mental single failure of the cooperative movement; is its mimicking; of the capitalist system’ especially seen in the retail and banking system; dressed up words such as surplus still equals profit, no mater how you look at it, and its weakness will always be, that its surely venerable to predatory plundering, pillaging and marauding from the cold-blooded society; that is capitalism in which innocence and decency prove fatal. In 1997 the Co-operative Wholesale Society held an internal investigation into activities of two senior CWS executives and their dealings with entrepreneur Andrew Regan. As part of a bid defence CWS suggested that Regan in his attempt to gain control of CWS in a £1.2 billion bid to take over, had acted inappropriately, eventually his bid was seen off and the two senior CWS executives were dismissed and imprisoned for fraud. Then the inside story of how Co-operative Bank almost came to be sold for £110 million 14 years ago is told for the first time in a new book written by the Bank’s former Managing Director, Terry Thomas. Mr Thomas, now Lord Thomas of Macclesfield, was MD at the Bank’s Manchester headquarters for nine years after originally joining as Marketing Manager in 1973. And in his autobiography An Inclusive Community with Integrity the Labour/Co-op peer — tells of the shock at being informed by the then Co-operative Wholesale Society Chief Executive David Skinner that the Bank would be put up for sale and of his two-year long battle to reverse the decision. It emerged that one potential bidder was controversial entrepreneur Andrew Regan, the businessman who tried to buy CWS. Lord Thomas says in the book that Regan’s plan in relation to the Bank was to sell it on to the Allied Irish Bank for “a multiple in terms of pounds of what CWS had been prepared to sell the Bank for in the first place”.From its humble beginning; no one will deny, that the cooperative movement helped to sustain many a poor working family with relatively cheap food and services. I remember as a boy the coop milk float was a common sight on our streets, and that people were members of various savings clubs like the one offered by its funeral service, the cooperative introduced into Britain the supermarket, but this only sped- up its own demise on the high street along with a general move to house retail in the shopping mall.
The cooperative business; and business being the operative word here, has survived as a business because its run and organized within the capitalist framework from banking to retail, today The Co-operative Group, which runs the fifth largest UK supermarket chain, agreed to buy Somerfield in a £1.6 billion deal in July.
Co-operative Travel has outlets, which it calls ‘implants’, in 22 food stores, including rival chains such as Tesco and Asda.
The group is opening travel outlets in its existing supermarkets, where refurbishment is taking place. It recently opened an agency in its food store in Peacehaven, Sussex, and further outlets will open in food stores in Glasgow and Swansea.

It would be quite remiss of me not to mention the political wing of the co-operative movement; The Co-operative Party, it describes itself as Britain’s second largest centre left party and has 29 members of parliament and over 300 councillors throughout the country. It was setup at a special Congress in 1917 it was resolved that a Co-operative Representation Committee (soon renamed the Co-operative Party) was set up.
It fought six seats in the 1918 'khaki election' and saw its first MP elected: Alfred Waterson in Kettering. He took the Labour whip in Parliament, as the Movement saw that its interests would be served by an alliance with Labour. An electoral agreement was signed in 1927 and has remained (though amended) ever since. The party has recently appointed Michael Stephenson as its General Secretary a former adviser at 10 Downing Street.
The Truth is that the co-operative party, the co-operative group clearly embrace the capitalist “ethos” whatever they call it, mixed economy, market economy or command economy. It’s best comparable to a bag of liquorice allsorts. The co-operative road is a reformist one, full of potholes and deep crevices, a road which has proven over a lengthy period of time to knock more workers down than hold them up. Society is clearly a number of people living together in community, having daily dealings and relations with each other in our everyday affairs of life, and in that life every living person must be a wealth consumer a condition of our entire existence, it cannot be escaped. Wealth is produced by the application of human energy to material provided by nature. All wealth, as the term is understood in political economy. Even the “working-power” of the battery lying chicken is not an exception, for the chicken is wealth, the product of human energy applied in chicken breeding and rearing. Two things, which are fundamentally necessary to the production of wealth, are labour-power and nature-given material. All normal people within certain limits of age possess one of these essentials of wealth production, namely, labour-power. So to be self-supporting – access to the means of production is a must then, only thing is – the things necessary for wealth production including nature-provided raw materials and machinery are not owned by the majority, but have been grabbed and ring fenced long ago by a few who now own them along with the means of production and distribution, and on this the whole structure of modern society is based and all relations in society take their shape from it. We that do not own the means of production have to sell our labour-power to the owners of the means of living in order to obtain minimal subsistence able to purchase life’s necessities from the coop. This is life’s setup that society situated is divided into two classes - employers and employees; those that possess and those who do not possess. So the two-class nature of society, with property as the differentiating agent, is shown to be founded on the ownership of the means of living by the capitalist class.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very good blog, keep it uop!

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