Do you like taking orders? Are you happy going to work?

Global capitalism dominates our stormy economic world like a fleet of battleships, exploiting people and the environment. But it’s been sinking at least since the crisis of 2008. Co-operative businesses are something different. They avoid race-to-the-bottom price-cutting and mean tricks like zero-hours contracts. Instead they offer things that commercial business never can – control, culture, community. They inspire and succeed because people want to work together, without any captain’s orders. They want to sail the ship themselves.

In recent years, we’ve seen a surge of new co-ops. Sheffield’s got a good fleet of them, including several housing co-ops, a credit union, The Gardeners Rest pub, Portland Works, Regather Works, Sheffield Creative Guild, Beanies, Lembas Wholefoods, Sheffield Renewables, Shipshape, ROCO, Union Street and Webarchitects. That’s not to mention the massive UK-wide Co-op Group, which has several supermarkets here, and also does insurance, funerals and electrical goods online at decent prices.

It was interesting to attend the annual general meeting of The Phone Co-op, held this year in Sheffield. Something strange happened, almost unknown at any corporate equivalent. The members of this landline, mobile and internet provider rejected a proposed business plan. Instead, they came back later for a special meeting and voted to merge with a larger co-op to achieve a much stronger basis for a successful business strategy. All this happened in an atmosphere not of revolt, but of mutual honesty and respectful disagreement. It was genuine democracy at work, because co-operatives are run by members, not rich shareholders. Many operate a ‘one member, one vote’ setup, and they care about values, not just profits.

If you’re intrigued to find out what co-ops are up to, Principle Five is a comfortable, friendly co-op resources centre in Sheffield. Visitors are welcome. It’s in the same building as Sheffield Co-operative Development Group (SCDG), Aizlewood’s Mill on Nursery Street, which is also co-operatively-run. SCDG is a great help to anyone setting up and running a co-op, along with the national body, Co-ops UK. There’s even a Co-operative College and Sheffield Hallam University offers co-operative management courses.

Any group of people can start a co-op. You don’t need masses of training, but having help is good because the UK laws on co-operatives aren’t easy. In fact, they seem to be deliberately confusing, compared to setting up a limited company. Would it be too cynical to wonder whether someone, somewhere doesn’t want people working together and taking the power of production into their own hands?

From personal experience, after working in conventional jobs, moving to a co-op is a genuinely refreshing change. It took me a few weeks to fully realise, looking around at my colleagues, that we aren’t under orders. We can steer this ship in whatever direction we like.

Monday mornings really can be a pleasure.

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CO-OPERATIVES FORTNIGHT
23 June to 7 July | Across the UK
Every year, co-operatives across the UK roll the banners out to tell the world what’s great about co-operation. Check out the Co-operatives UK website for activities and resources, especially if you’re already in a co-op.
uk.coop/fortnight

CO-OPERATION vs CAPITALISM
Tue 12 June | 7-9pm | Regather Works | Free
Part of Festival of Debate, this event asks whether co-operatives work in practice, discussing a widespread theory that co-ops eventually fail, or turn into profit-focussed hierarchical businesses to survive in the free market.
festivalofdebate.com/june-2018

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