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A small chain of local shops, Rhythm & Booze, was bought out recently after hitting a difficult patch. This is a shame, because it was a family firm which started in the depression years of Thatcher's 80s. They rode a wave, the rise of serious drinking, to run stores across South Yorkshire and beyond, becoming a big fish in our small pond. Their off-licences were really different from the others. They stocked local real ales and hard-to-find imported beers at cheap prices. Having developed at first as a Barnsley Costcutter store, they attracted attention and got swallowed by a whale of a company, Bibby, which had also gobbled up Costcutter. Bibby Line Group runs an empire-sized operation, overseeing everything from shipping to finance. They have contracts to supply the military, run ships under flags of convenience, and have lucrative branches in tax havens like the Cayman Islands - a favourite destination for the super-rich, who according to a recent report avoid paying tax on around $21 trillion of hidden wealth. Established since the heyday of the British Empire, Bibby is one of the backbones of the commercial world. It's a private company, so it doesn't have to be very public about its activities beyond reporting to Companies House. Is it inevitable, all this? Large companies buying up smaller companies, until just a handful dominate? This is clear to see in industries like brewing and retail. It's a capitalist world, isn't it? Entrepreneurs are glamorised as 'creating' wealth, by being macho, ruthless and not playing by the rules. Bibby is no exception; "The division's strategy is clear and aggressive" boasts its website. The trouble with people who don't play by the rules is that it may mean they have no ethics. A near-psychotic lack of concern for the effect on others seems to be the key characteristic for the thrusting, profit-orientated businessman. Is that just the way it has to be; eat or be eaten? Well, not entirely. Within the capitalist marketplace there are co-operatives. Slowly but surely these are rising from the depths, growing stronger, and they're entirely different beasts. Co-ops follow seven internationally agreed principles, like democratic control - "one member one vote". Compare that to shareholder control, where the amount of your dosh is all that matters. Co-operation itself is another principle. Co-ops don't compete with other co-ops; they work together for sustainable community development. Fine words that big corporations also may use, but here there are committees of ordinary people making sure it happens. Not because it sells more, but because it's the right thing to do. The Co-operative Bank, for example, is the only high street bank to run on ethical principles, strictly not investing in arms manufacture and other questionable ethical practices. They must be doing OK, as they've recently taken over loads of branches that struggling Lloyds had to offload. There are co-operatives running everything from insurance to funeral care. Even Swann-Morton, the famous Sheffield manufacturer of surgical blades, is employee-owned. There are many smaller local co-ops which Now Then has been pleased to highlight over the years. The more of your life you place into the hands of co-ops, the more you opt for democratic control, and worker or consumer ownership. And the less you invest in the cold-eyed captains of capitalism. If you're thinking of running a business or starting any type of organisation, think about co-operatives. They come in all shapes and sizes, and co-operation, not competition is at the heart of their success. Sheffield Co-operative Development Group has three decades of solid experience in helping to found and support co-ops. And the Webarchitects website services co-operative with high ethical and sustainability standards, and is co-ordinating a platform for the city's co-operatives to work together in mutual support with a directory and email list. While commercial businesses compete, 13 million co-operative members are busy helping each other. Guess who will win in the end? )

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