“This book critically analyses intellectual leadership in the university, exploring ongoing efforts from around the world to create alternative models for organizing higher education and the production of knowledge. Its authors offer their experience and views from inside and beyond the structures of mainstream higher education, in order to reflect on efforts to create alternatives. In the process the volume asks: is it possible to reimagine the university democratically and cooperatively? If so, what are the implications for leadership not just within the university but also in terms of higher education’s relationship to society?”
As Tom Woodin points out in his Introduction to the book, Co–operation, Learning and Co–operative Values, the Rochdale Pioneers of the nineteenth century Co-operative movement aspired to ‘re-arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government’. The original seven ‘Rochdale Principles’, internationally endorsed in 1937, included the ‘Promotion of Education’ alongside other principles such as ‘Democratic Control’, ‘Political and Religious Neutrality’ and ‘Open Membership’. Those original Principles were revised in 1966, and included the ‘Education of members and public in co-operative principles’. In 1995, following international consultation within the co-operative movement, the current Principles were revised, and Principle Five was restated as ‘Education, training and information’. I have begun this brief review by emphasising the historical centrality of education to the co-operative movement, which today has over one billion members, because it is important to recognise how the principle of education has been formally retained over the course of one and a half centuries to both support and promote the whole body of values and principles of co-operatives and their members.
Today, in most countries, a ‘co-operative’ is likely to be recognised as a legal entity and have to demonstrate that it is constituted according to the values and principles of the 1995 ‘Co-operative Identity’ statement (ICA 2016. That is to say, a ‘co-operative’, being ‘co-operative’ and extending ‘co-operation’ to others has a carefully defined meaning that should not simply be mistaken for a type of ‘collaboration’ or even ‘co-operation’ in the sense that Marx understood it as constituting ‘the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production’. (Marx 1976). In effect, the co-operative movement has developed and retains a highly sophisticated understanding of co-operation as a set of practical and ethical values that are put into practice through seven principles that still aim to ‘re-arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government’.
Tom Woodin, an expert on the history of co-operative education, has produced an excellent edited collection of contributed chapters that span the theory, history, practice and policy implications of co-operative education. Over 13 chapters, the authors cover a great deal of ground and for readers who are looking for a broad, informed and critical introduction to co-operative education, there is currently no better place to start.
“All political instruction finally should be centered upon the idea that Auschwitz should never happen again. This would be possible only when it devotes itself openly, without fear of offending any authorities, to this most important of problems. To do this education must transform itself into sociology, that is, it must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms.”
We demand real money now for the schoolwork we do.
We must force capital, which profits from our work, to pay for our schoolwork. Only then can we stop depending on financial aid, our parents, working second and third jobs or working during summer vacations for our existence. We already earn a wage; now we must be paid for it. Only in this way can we seize more power to use in our dealings with capital.
We can do a lot with the money. First, we will have to work less as the “need to work” additional jobs disappears. Second, we will immediately enjoy a higher standard of living since we will have more to spend when we take time off from schoolwork. Third, we will raise the average wage in the entire area affected by the presence of us low-cost workers.
By taking time off from schoolwork to demand wages for students, we think and act against the work we are doing. it also puts us in a better position to get the money.
Just a final reminder that the Social Science Centre is hosting a free conference on the theme of ‘Co-operation and Higher Education’, April 26th, 10.30-4.30pm, at The Collection, Lincoln’s museum and art gallery.
“A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” (ICA identity statement)
In my earlier notes, I listed six basic characteristics of worker co-operatives, as approved by the ICA in 2005. I then began to discuss them in terms of a ‘co-operative university’. The basis for these six characteristics are the co-operative movement’s 1995 statement of its identity, values and principles.1
In summary, the values and principles are as follows:2
Voluntary and Open Membership
Democratic Member Control
Member Economic Participation
Autonomy and Independence
Education, Training and Information
Co-operation among Co-operatives
Concern for Community
The ‘World Declaration on Worker Co-operatives‘ (2005) states that “Worker cooperatives are committed to being governed by the above mentioned Statement on the Cooperative Identity.” The values are the basis for the principles; the principles are the basis for action. I encourage you to read the identity statement in full. It is the result of international effort over 150 years to collectively identify the co-operative movement and provide a set of guidelines for its members to aspire to. In his report for the Co-operative College, ‘Realising the Co-operative University‘, Dan Cook states that “Co-operative principles are academic principles. There is arguably a close alignment between co-operative principles and mainstream academic values.” (paragraphs 3.2 – 3.11)
An academic commons
Co-operatives UK’s model constitution for worker co-operatives, includes the following option on ‘common ownership’. It’s also worth noting that common ownership is compulsory for co-operatives who wish to be funded by Radical Routes.3
“The Co-operative is a common ownership enterprise. If on the winding up or dissolution of the Co-operative any of its assets remain to be disposed of after its liabilities are satisfied, these assets shall not be distributed among the Members, but shall be transferred to some other common ownership co-operative(s), or to Co-operatives UK (or any body that succeeds to its function). If such residual assets cannot be distributed in this manner they shall be transferred to some other organisation(s) whose purpose is to promote and support the co-operative movement and common ownership enterprises. This rule may only be amended by Extraordinary Resolution.”
This is a significant point of constitutional clarification. If a university were constituted on this basis, its scholar-members would collectively ‘own’ the means of knowledge production. However, such co-operatives are not private nor are they public in the way a joint stock company is, despite joint-stock companies representing “the abolition of capital as private property within the confines of the capitalist mode of production itself.”
In Capital Vol.3, Marx argues:
‘”In stock companies the function is divorced from capital ownership, hence also labour is entirely divorced from ownership of means of production and surplus-labour. This result of the ultimate development of capitalist production is a necessary transitional phase towards the reconversion of capital into the property of producers, although no longer as the private property of the individual producers, but rather as the property of associated producers, as outright social property. On the other hand, the stock company is a transition toward the conversion of all functions in the reproduction process which still remain linked with capitalist property, into mere functions of associated producers, into social functions.” (Capital, Vol.3 Ch. 27)
What is different about common ownership to joint stock ownership (neither of which are private forms of ownership) is that common ownership socialises ownership of the means of production among its workers. It is held in trust for future generations of co-operatives. Whereas the joint stock company is “private production unchecked by private ownership”, a workers’ co-operative is social or collective production governed by social or common ownership. Common ownership of the means of knowledge production among scholar-members is also therefore a significant step towards a form of academic labour that is not alienated from its product.
“the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour.” (Marx, Capital Vol. 3 Ch. 27)4
In his talk on Marx’s alternative to capitalism, Peter Hudis (around 37 mins in) summarises what Marx deems necessary to eliminate the conditions of alienating value production i.e. freely associated, non-alienated labour.
Extend democracy into the economic sphere, into the workplace.
Workers’ co-operatives. Direct ownership stake and control of the workplace.
Eliminate the social division of labour between ownership and non-ownership. Workers have a direct stake in the outcome of labour.
In control of the workplace, workers would make work less alienating, less harmful.
Co-ordination between co-operatives is needed, nationally and internationally. Democratically elected planning authority, subject to recall.
Depending on the size of the co-operative, governance might be structured in different ways. The Social Science Centre is intentionally small, an experiment that is intended to be replicated rather than scaled up. Mondragon limits the size of its worker co-operatives to 500 members. If the ‘co-operative university’ is to be constituted and governed as a worker co-op, it is likely to be smaller than existing universities. A variation on ‘self-managing work teams’ (see illustration) seems appropriate to a university and reflective of the semi-autonomous quasi-firm characteristics of many research groups that already exist. Committee structures could reflect this form of governance, too, rather than a hierarchy of committees as is currently the case.
The educational mission of the co-operative university is to be determined by its scholar-members. However, based on the history of education in the co-operative movement, we can identify certain themes and practices in the overall curriculum that would effect all its members.
Facer et al (2011) propose three “broad and interwoven currents of aspiration and activity which characterise the emergence of co-operative education from its roots in the 19th century”:
Teaching about co-operation – making visible the alternatives and challenging the social and economic status quo.
Training for co-operation – building co-operative institutions and skills as economic and social resources.
Learning through co-operation – developing co-operative identities, dispositions and habits
Undertaking these activities would, in effect, act as a means of counteracting the uses of higher education for capitalist valorisation, potentially forming a rigorous basis for resistance to capital. It could also act as a way of embedding historical and political subjectivity within the curriculum which would help ensure that the co-operative remains critically self-reflexive. Ironically, one of the criticisms of Mondragon is that workers “do not consider the firms theirs in any meaningful way.” Kasmir (1996) argues that one of the lessons we can learn from Mondragon is that of the “importance of politics, the necessary role of organization, and the continuing value of syndicates and unions for transforming the workplace.” (p.199-200) Scholar-members of a worker co-operative university must regularly question how their mutual work can be reproduced as a critical, social project. “If workplace democracy is to be genuine, it seems that it must be premised on activism.” (Kasmir, 1996, 199)
Three routes to co-operation
I propose three routes to developing a ‘co-operative university’ (or more accurately, an organisational form for ‘co-operative higher education’):
Conversion – systematically convert the values, principles and legal form of an existing university to that of a formally constituted co-operative.
Dissolution – dissolve the ‘neoliberal university’ into a co-operative university by creating co-operatives inside the existing university form. e.g. constitute research groups on co-operative values and principles; design, specify and validate modules and degree programmes so that they embed co-operative values and principles; if necessary, outsource services to an increasing number of co-operative providers; establish the terms of reference for new committees on co-operative values and principles. Continue until the university is effectively transformed into a co-operative organisation from the inside out.
Creation – build a co-operative university from scratch in the same way that a new co-operative enterprise might be established.
Dan Cook has done important preliminary work with his report for the Co-operative College. It begins to address a number of issues relevant to each of these three approaches but with a greater emphasis on conversion of existing institutions. His report is based on the assumption that a “Co-operative University would necessarily meet the legal definitions of a co-operative and a university, simultaneously.” Route three above does not assume this. It recognises that a ‘university’ in the UK is a legal title, but one which has meaning apart from legislation. Historically, a ‘university’ has simply been a body of scholars who convene to undertake research-based teaching and learning i.e. ‘higher education’. The creation route therefore might entail the creation of a co-operative for higher education which does not carry the legal title of ‘university’ in the UK. A legislated university requires a community of scholars. A community of scholars does not require a legislated university. In that case, our question becomes, ‘Is the worker co-operative form suitable for higher education?’
If Co-operatives UK, or the International Co-operative Alliance agreed to support the creation of such co-operatives for higher education, it could do so based on the principles of ‘democratic member control’ and the ‘autonomy and independence’ of a community of worker-scholars. It would not award government recognised degrees, but it could provide an education at the same level and confer awards that carry meaning, currency and weight beyond the institution.
From each according to their capacity…
In a worker co-operative for higher education (i.e. a ‘university’), we might call workers, ‘scholars’. This does not mean that they are not workers, that they do not work, but is meant to signify (and dignify) the kind of work undertaken by the members of the co-operative. It is also intended to be general enough so as to be inclusive of all types of necessary contribution to the co-operative: teachers are scholars; students are scholars; administrators are scholars; cleaners are scholars; technicians are scholars; caterers are scholars. However, whether these distinct and divided responsibilities remain in a worker co-operative university is to presume the content of the organisation before agreeing its form. To refer to all members as scholars and all scholars as members is one way in which equity among members is constituted.
Whereas in a capitalist university, there is a great diversity of roles and their respective contractual responsibilities (e.g. Senior Lecturer, Professor, Administrator, Undergraduate Student, IT Officer, Finance Officer, etc.), such a division of labour in the institution ensures that the diversity of work within any given role is limited. In a worker co-operative university, as I am conceiving it, there is a singular role of ‘scholar’ but a greater diversity of work and significantly less division of labour. Labour is not divided but is instead communal and direct. According to the individual’s capacity, the teacher is also a student, an administrator, a cleaner, and so on. The most capable members will make the most diverse and therefore enriching contribution to the university. This is not to suggest that the most capable scholars should be ‘over-worked’, burdened with menial work, or that everyone does everything. With a greater number of members partaking in undesirable but necessary work than is ordinarily the case, ‘light work’ would be made of such tasks and it is expected that more time would be available for enjoyable, satisfying and less alienating work. Also, a co-operative university need not do everything that a modern university aims to do.
This brings me to a point which I will elaborate on at a later date: the organisational form should be an expression of the pedagogical relationship between teacher-student-scholar-members i.e. ‘scholars’. The pedagogical relationship is a social relationship which, if appropriate, is given expression through a co-operative constitution. Kasmir (1996) makes this point in her reflections on the ‘myth of Mondragon’, arguing that we must “be skeptical of models that make business forms rather than people the agents of social change.” (p. 196).
The relationship between teacher and student (i.e. scholars) is one of the core principles of Student as Producer, which I will return to soon.
“The idea of student as producer encourages the development of collaborative relations between student and academic for the production of knowledge. However, if this idea is to connect to the project of refashioning in fundamental ways the nature of the university, then further attention needs to be paid to the framework by which the student as producer contributes towards mass intellectuality. This requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced.” (Neary & Winn, 2009, 137)
On co-operative values and principles, I can recommend two chapters by the principle author of the ICA Statement, Ian MacPherson:
“Speech Introducing the Co-operative Identity Statement to the 1995 Manchester Conference of the ICA”. This is published in MacPherson’s One Path to Co-operative Studies, on pp. 201-17.
“The International Co-operative Movement Today: the Impact of the 1995 Co-operative Identity Statement of the ICA”, which can be found on pages 255-273 of the same book.
On the history of co-operative education in general, I found the following interesting and useful:
Peter Hudis’ PhD thesis (in particular pp.256-264) provides a good discussion on joint stock vs. common ownership in the context of Marx’s writing on worker co-operatives.
Articles relating to Student as Producer can be found here, under ‘articles’.
I am also maintaining a bibliography specifically about co-operative higher education.
The 2005 Declaration is intended to “define at world level some basic characters and internal operational rules that are exclusive to this type of cooperatives, which have specific goals and purposes that differ from cooperatives belonging to other categories.” [↩]
We discussed the ICA ‘Statement of Identity, Values and Principles’ at the Social Science Centre. Notes from the classes are here and here. [↩]
This article considers the impact that peak oil and climate change may have on the future of higher education. In particular, it questions the role of technology in supporting the provision of a higher education which is resilient to a scenario both of energy depletion and the need to adapt to the effects of global warming. One emerging area of interest from this future scenario might be the role of technology in addressing more complex learning futures, and more especially in facilitating individual and social resilience, or the ability to manage and overcome disruption. However, the extent to which higher education practitioners can utilise technology to this end is framed by their approaches to the curriculum, and the sociocultural practices within which they are located. The authors discuss how open education might enable learners to engage with uncertainty through social action within a form of higher education that is more resilient to economic, environmental and energy-related disruptions. It asks whether more open higher education can be (re)claimed by users and communities within specific contexts and curricula, in order to engage with an increasingly uncertain world.