Tuesday, 3 May 2011

When the Workers Take over.......

There was a time when if I began a paragraph by writing that there was an interesting article in the 'Financial Times' I would have hesitated. But last week there was another interesting article that is well woth reading (it is free to read if you register)

It charts the transition of a Fife paper mill, Tullis Russell, from a family business to a wholly worker owned enterprise. As the article explains:
David Russell had thought about an employee trust in the 1970s and had some conversations with John Lewis, but had decided not to pursue it. But Mr Erdal, as he explains in Beyond the Corporation: Humanity Working, his latest book about employee ownership, decided to revive the idea after reading an article in the Financial Times about the employee buy-out of Baxi, a boiler manufacturer that was about the same size as Tullis Russell.

Having talked to Philip Baxendale, the architect of the buy-out, and then visited Mondragón, the hugely successful Spanish network of more than 100 co-operatives, which has been an inspiration to employee ownership crusaders, Mr Erdal became convinced that this was the way forward for Tullis Russell"

The collapse of the economy the preceded that last general election was largely a  of market failure. Companies that had their sole objective as improving 'shareholder value' took risky, daft, short term decisions in pursuit of that false god. If we truly want to re-balance the economy one of the key changes that we need to make is to the model of ownership and governance. The story of Tullis Russell demonstrates that there is an alternative.

It is interesting that one of the models that inspired Mr Erdal was the Mondragon co-operatives. As I have pointed out before this is the model that Jo Grimond championed. His book 'The Common Welfare' outlines their success not just as profit making businesses but as happy and sustainable human entities capable of taking tough long term decision.

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