With the entire population granularised, compartmentalised, categorised, and generally not talking to each other, I find myself more and more drawn towards cooperative structures, which from the reports of coop members sound like a panacea for living in a pressured, cash, and time strapped society. If the current society forces me into a competitive, individualistic mould, what do I need to alleviate the gross world-wide inequality whilst providing for my family? The list below could provide a blueprint definition for a democratic, secure, interdependent future within the current materialistic framework. It looks at basic human needs first, and expands into further subjects such as education and elderly care. This is my attempt of taking my life into “my own hands”, in a world dominated with grand politics, that serve a narrow minority of people. In the current climate, organising into self-help, interdependent groups, could be a way to make the daily struggle that little bit easier.
Closest family goals:
Roof over our heads
In the South of the UK, living on a low wage is not an easy task. Even if the government helps with the bills, that doesn’t always mean that we could put away money for a deposit. This motivates me to look for alternatives. Housing cooperatives provide a self managed alternative for an organised group of people. This could range from managing a series of buildings – houses and flats alike, managing a block of flats, right up to a self build option of a multifamily house. The economic benefits are at least two-fold: in the short term, there is a chance for lower monthly payments, and spreading the risk in case of the buy or build options. In the long term, the rent can stay on a reasonable level for future tenants. It is often the case with housing coops, that the cooperative is a separate entity from the residents, and thus is not affected by people moving in or out. (insert reference to a housing coop article on official page). In the case of self build, care needs to be taken with the design, so that it allows for long term energy savings, and community building facilities (extra shared kitchen, lounge, garden, etc). A downstairs shop could also be an addition that could facilitate looking after the two following needs. This is an example that inspires me:
Food to eat
Before the green revolution there has been a much greater reliance on growing food locally. Now with global trade, you can buy temperate climate apples from New Zealand any time in the year. The thing is, food is free. It’s the labour, chemical inputs, transport, and the merchant’s profits is what we pay for. Gardening is treated mostly as a past time, but fortunately there is a small trend that’s starting to make change. People realised that they are being duped. The nutritional value has dropped, the chemical residues, and genetic modifications accumulate in our bodies, and the industrial model is creating more global problems than it solves. There are a number of ways cooperative structures can help with providing food economically in a way that “doesn’t cost the Earth”. Buying clubs are a great start for cost cutting, and potentially of packaging reduction. In parallel, growing food “everywhere” – front and back gardens (victory garden style), lawn substitution in towns, and then buying, leasing, or begging for community land. When injected with money and time saving permaculture techniques, it has potential for a resilient, local, healthy food supply. Difficult for a single family, much easier with others. Batch processing and storage of locally grown food, and sharing of work and kitchen resources is a possibility. There is a wealth of resources available to start, and permaculture is my weapon of choice here. Here’s a very nice, short example of a small group of young people taking this matter in their hands:
Wealth building, meaningful employment
Once (or in parallel) the first two needs are satisfied, then its time to look at meaningful participation in the economy. When I mean meaningful, I have in mind real services in the community, not a random job for an investor who decides to set up shop. Worker cooperative is my obvious focus here, but there seems to be a natural progression from the two needs above that don’t seem to be saturated in the market currently. Perhaps due to the lack of my understanding and experience in the subject matter I will pass the shelter-side trades: builders, plumbers, electricians – who after contributing to the group build, still could perform combined work for paying customers. Self employment seems to be an easy choice for people in this trade, so a cooperative option may not always be their preference. The existence of large corporations employing people in these trades, seem to warrant the creation of competing worker coops. Having said that, personally I would focus on food related cooperatives. This is again, mainly due to my lack of understanding of these trades, combined with the permaculture training I’d received last year. Creating a housing cooperative is mainly an economic exercise, suggesting that a starting point for members is working somewhere to be able to pay for the shelter. The idea is though that there is a reduction in the costs of living. This ought to create savings. Cooperative food producing, buying and preserving, (and cooking) is designed to make economic savings as well. If done well, some people in the cooperative will have spare time on their hands with less commercial work needed to be done to support themselves. If interested, they would be the ones to expand say the buying club, and providing the facilities exist, could provide man-hours for staffing a small local food outlet to the community. Perhaps the growers would be able to start selling to restaurants, even in different towns, with a better margin. The Incredible Edible model comes into mind. Anything that happens, will be much easier to sustain, if the first market for the coop is the coop itself. This will ensure bulk purchase (or growing) of stock that will be available for resale outside of the coop. There is really not much out there that provides this service in my vicinity. There is a new grocery store model that has started to pop up in developed countries that features bulk cerials, milk, pulses, vegetables, etc. The packaging is reusable with a monetary return value, the food is sourced responsibly, investment comes from the community, and the workers own the store. This may even be the perfect first coop for social entrepreneurs in this area, with so many affluent, educated people. Other options include the Cleveland Model, which uses local “anchor institutions” (hospitals, universities) as sources of revenue for purpose made coops. All the time, it would be much easier for people in housing and food coops to set up shop, when their basic needs are met and they don’t need to pick any job just to pay for food and shelter. Worker cooperatives is a very important concept, and the only ethical solution in the current corporation dominated world. Of course, housing cooperative members will not necessarily become members in the worker coop and vice-verse, but participating in a cooperative way would be a way forward for me. To me a great, well thought out process is the Cleveland Model of worker coop creation:
Social life built in to the above
We are social creatures. Happiness is largely dependent on social rather than economic factors. Yes, we have materialistic needs, but as studies show, there are limits to the extent to which economic factors contribute to ones well-being. Cooperative structures facilitate the attainment of the basic needs, but if done properly, can and usually are the source of positive, day to day social interactions. Coops are largely build upon trust (although with documents in place to guard against abuse), and it is trust that bonds people into long term relationships. Currently, I go to work with people who I don’t have any ties with. I live in a block of flats with people that couldn’t care less for me or my family. We have to drive to nearest friends.
Bonding between people happens everywhere based on how often we see each other and what selfless gifts we give and receive (less the amount of insults and let-downs). We are material creatures, therefore sharing resources like a building, with an extra kitchen and living space, or sharing a place of work and co-purchasing the equipment, perhaps could allow real friendships to form.
Certainly this presentation would be my inspiration for living and working in a trustful environment:
Expanding to other social needs:
Education of our kids
Although we already have the inner drive to cooperation, there are a lot of people who think that it cannot work in “real life”. The most common arguments against it are: “someone needs to rule”, and “we will never get things done – all we’ll be doing is arguing”. Both of these are myths, constantly being reinforced through the top down model of society, where we are not in charge of our lives. We resign to saying that “someone needs to sort this out”, or “they need to do it for us”, or “the (green, tory, conservative, labour, etc) party is the only one to rule well in the country. What is missing is education and practice, and it starts at school. Real freedom is not lack of rules, or accountability. It actually means being responsible for our homes, our food, our environment, and ensuring that our children have a world to live in. It means that we need to work out our differences and cooperate to build, rather than compete, and ruin. The current education model puts children in neat rows of seats, forces them to listen to a figure of authority, obey orders, show up on time, and learn what they are told to learn. Then it grades them on their ability to recite the exact material at an exact time. This fosters obedience, not learning. People learn out of passion and curiosity. Children learn because it’s stimulating. But they will only willingly learn about what they want to learn. On top of that, a democratic school can help facilitate learning of the ability to work out issues with other people. We all have needs, and preferences, and each one of us have different ones at different times. The best and first example of a democratic school, where young people learn to live with other people is the Summerhill school. There is a great TV drama made on facts from the life of the school, and I would encourage anyone to watch it:
Inclusion and support for the seniors within the community
I don’t feel qualified to speak of this subject, however my parents are getting old. I would like to be there for them, when they need help from others. The same goes for me. Although it somehow is hard to imagine early in life how it will be later, I wouldn’t want to be put in a home away from the rest of the society. Additionally, the TED talk above, about centennials, makes me feel that inclusion is crucial for a healthy, and meaningful life in our senior years.
Many hands make for light work – the summary:
The benefits of a cooperative living are many for the society at large. Even here in the south of England, many families rely on the government to top up their earnings in order to be able to cover the market rates for renting their flats or houses, paying bills, buying food. Where we live, in 2014/15, the local council will distribute over £40 million in housing benefit and council tax cuts.
With help from the council, housing coops could alleviate this cost to the economy permanently. Instead of using two thirds of the entire spending on benefits, the council would be free to either lower the tax bill, or reinvest this money into more social services.
If you think that this is somethings that ticks your boxes, why don’t you drop me a line. Perhaps together we could build something.