Cooperative investing — trade unions for the neoliberal era

photo: CC0 Creative Commons

Part 1: The century of the working man and woman

In the United Kingdom, the 20th century belonged to the working man and woman. It was the century in which working people found themselves holding if not all the cards, then enough of them to make a decent run of things. Industrial growth was dramatic and ever reliant on the hard graft of the working classes. It was also the century during which organised labour got its act together. The power of unscrupulous employers and rentiers begun to be reined in by that of worker solidarity. In politics, we saw the rise of the Labour Party as the defender of the working classes.

Part 2: A slave to the wage

From here on, I am going to lump together the working class and a significant proportion of the middle class. Let’s call these people the “wage class”. These are the people whose income derives mostly, usually overwhelmingly, from salaries and wages in return for their labour. This encompasses even more people than you might guess. An apparent high-roller with BMWs on the gravel driveway may be so far under water with mortgages and car loans that two months out of work would leave him or her filing for bankruptcy.

Part 3: When work doesn’t pay

There have been two main trends in the UK economy since the 1970s: Firstly, there’s been a huge decline in the relative importance of industry as an employer. Secondly, market reforms were introduced in the 1980s, ostensibly to stimulate the economy through debt-fuelled growth and increased private-sector competition.

Part 4: Get rich by owning stuff

Whilst the wage class has been quietly carrying on much as they have done since 1945, the richer part of society has been very busy. The rich (or aspiring rich) have always understood that not only can you get paid for the time and skills you provide, i.e. your labour, but there is also money to be made by owning stuff. Quite a lot of money, it turns out.

All around the world, labour is losing out to capital

With the liberalisation of investing and finance in the 1980s, owning stuff became a lot easier. Those with the money and knowledge have been making fantastic returns through the stock market, property (see my blog post on this) and the smorgasbord of financial products available to the savvy investor. Digital technology is making access to such products easier than ever.

Part 5: Train up or lose out?

So what’s the solution to the falling value of labour? Successive British governments seem to believe there is only one solution: “Education, education, education” : those were the three things Tony Blair promised to focus on in his 1997 election campaign. The average value of labour is falling, but if you train up, go to university, you’ll land yourself a well-paid job in a high-tech sector. And it’s not just the UK; this has been the policy followed in many developed countries in recent years (with countries like Germany perhaps being exceptions).

Part 6: Beat them at their own game

What we need is for the wage class to follow the example of the rich because, as we all know, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. If the economy is geared so that more and more of income growth from improvements in productivity are funnelled to the owners of capital, we need a way for the wage class to become the owners [Note 2].

A way forwards

I believe that an investment cooperative has the potential to allow members of the wage class to both profit from the benefits of an expanding economy in the same way as their richer counterparts, and to be a new source of influence and power in pursuit of fairer pay and conditions for workers throughout the UK.

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David de Caires Watson

David de Caires Watson

Nuclear futurist, chartered physicist, safety engineer, amateur birder and pedal power enthusiast. Writer for The Kernel mag. Founder of Atomic Trends.