• I am grateful to the following for helpful suggestions and comments on a first draft of this paper: Brian Bridge, Ken Coates, Paul Derrick, David Edelstein, Derek Jones, John Kotz, Stan Newens, Roger Sawtell, William A. Westley.

I. Abstract

The first draft of this paper was put forward for consideration within the Labour Movement in April 1975 and was amended as a result of subsequent discussion. The paper examines the present movement for workers' co-operation in the light of the historical development of producers' co-operation in Britain.

It concludes that the relative failure of producers' co-operation in the past has been due to the unfavourable economic environment in which it has tried to function – and that as a result it has been unable to compete with aggressive entrepreneurial capitalism in the accumulation of capital.

Producers' co-operation has already demonstrated undoubted advantages. It is potentially more efficient in the use of labour and less socially divisive; it provides a model for the future transformation of industry in which workers can play a full part as equal partners rather than hired hands; it may also assist in maintaining existing, and creating new employment.

In the present changed circumstances in which the free market economy is breaking down under accelerating inflation and major firms are turning to the government to solve their liquidity problems, it is suggested that workers' co-operation has an important part to play in the regeneration of British industry and that it should be encouraged as a matter of public policy.

There are two major requirements for the growth of the producers' co-operative sector:

1. There must be a demand for, and ideological commitment to workers' co-operation on the shop floor. While this can be helped by government action it must develop primarily by the self-education of workers through their trade unions.

2. The state must create a climate favourable to workers' co-operation in the economy by the provision of capital, advice and specialist educational and technical assistance.