The Worker Co-operative Solidarity Fund (SolidFund)

I’ve just spent a wonderful couple of days camping in Oxfordshire so that I could attend the Worker Co-operative Weekend (#WorkerWeekend). One of the many things I learned about (in addition to a five-hour course on basic financial literacy for co-operatives!) was the Worker Co-operative Solidarity Fund.

The SolidFund was an outcome of last year’s Worker Co-op Weekend and has been discussed intensively on Loomio over the last few months. Although it hasn’t yet been widely advertised, it’s currently accumulating about £2000/month and has the potential to grow considerably if members of all UK worker co-ops and their supporters join the fund.

To give you an idea of what it’s about, the first principle of the SolidFund is:

The Worker Co-operative Solidarity Fund (the Fund) is a permanent commonwealth resource, accumulated through a voluntary subscription paid by worker co-operators and workers’ co-operatives. It may also receive subscriptions and donations from other individuals or organisations who support industrial democracy and collective ownership.

You don’t have to be a member of a worker co-op to contribute to the fund. If you’re interested in supporting worker co-ops, 1 then you can help by joining the fund and through doing so, you can have a say in how it is used. The fund is held on behalf of its members by Co-operative and Community Finance.

Currently, there’s no formal website for the SolidFund (getting that ready was part of the discussion over the weekend), but you can read the mission statement and policies and sign up at these two links:

SolidFund rules: 

Join SolidFund:

The co-operative university: Labour, property and pedagogy

I begin this article by discussing the recent work of academics and activists to identify the advan- tages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education, and then focus on the ‘worker co-operative’ organisational form and its applicability and suitability to the governance of and practices within higher educational institutions. Finally, I align the values and principles of worker co-ops with the critical pedagogic framework of ‘Student as Producer’. Throughout I employ the work of Karl Marx to theorise the role of labour and property in a ‘co-operative university’, drawing particularly on later Marxist writers who argue that Marx’s labour theory of value should be understood as a critique of labour under capitalism, rather than one developed from the standpoint of labour.

You can download this article from the journal, Power and Education.

Co-operative labour attacks the groundwork of capital

Below is a section from Marx, written around the same time that Capital Volume 1 was published (1866/7). It is a useful reminder of Marx’s own activism at a time when he was also writing the most remarkable theoretical work, too.

It is awkwardly titled: ‘The Different Questions‘, written for the International Workingmen’s Association, as ‘Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council’. It’s a short document that touches on a number of things: The importance of gathering reports and statistics about the international struggle between labour and capital; limiting (reducing) working hours; ensuring that child labour (aged 9yrs onwards) is combined with education; the role of Trade Unions, which should be to act “against the system of wage slavery itself” rather than get caught up in local issues; taxation (“No modification of the form of taxation can produce any important change in the relations of labour and capital.”); the army; and co-operative labour:

“Co-operative labour

It is the business of the International Working Men’s Association to combine and generalise the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever. The Congress should, therefore, proclaim no special system of co-operation, but limit itself to the enunciation of a few general principles.

(a) We acknowledge the co-operative movement as one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonism. Its great merit is to practically show, that the present pauperising, and despotic system of the subordination of labour to capital can be superseded by the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers.

(b) Restricted, however, to the dwarfish forms into which individual wages slaves can elaborate it by their private efforts, the co-operative system will never transform capitalist society. to convert social production into one large and harmonious system of free and co-operative labour, general social changes are wanted, changes of the general conditions of society, never to be realised save by the transfer of the organised forces of society, viz., the state power, from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves.

(c) We recommend to the working men to embark in co-operative production rather than in co-operative stores. The latter touch but the surface of the present economical system, the former attacks its groundwork.

(d) We recommend to all co-operative societies to convert one part of their joint income into a fund for propagating their principles by example as well as by precept, in other words, by promoting the establishment by teaching and preaching.

(e) In order to prevent co-operative societies from degenerating into ordinary middle-class joint stock companies (societes par actions), all workmen employed, whether shareholders or not, ought to share alike. As a mere temporary expedient, we are willing to allow shareholders a low rate of interest.”

Is the worker co-operative form suitable for a university? (Part 3)

In some earlier notes, I asked whether the worker co-operative form is suitable for a university in light of how the international co-operative movement defines the ‘character’ of worker co-operatives and the re-conceptualisation of academic labour that this organisational form would imply. I asserted that the university is already a means of production which capital employs together with academic labour to re-produce labour in the form of students, and value in the commodity form of knowledge. A worker owned co-operative university would therefore control the means of knowledge production and potentially produce a new form of knowledge.

I also summarised the values and principles of the co-operative movement as a whole, noting that they are (for most individuals) aligned with academic values and principles. I highlighted the emphasis among worker co-operatives on ‘common ownership’ as a form of property relations which overcomes the distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ to produce an ‘academic commons’. I pointed to the ways in which such a worker co-operative university might be governed, the integration of co-operative values and principles into the curriculum and other organisational practices (cf. Facer (2011[/note] and outlined three ‘routes to co-operation’: conversion, dissolution, creation. Finally, I suggested that the distinction between teacher and student would necessarily be dissolved and with it the division of labour, too. Assuming this was the case, a radically different method of curriculum development and pedagogy would be required. Drawing on Kasmir’s reflections on Mondragon, the Spanish worker co-op, that we should “be skeptical of models that make business forms rather than people the agents of social change”, it follows that the organisational form of a ‘co-operative university’ should itself be derived from the pedagogical relationship between teacher-student-scholar-members i.e. ‘scholars’. I suggested that the basis of this pedagogical relationship might be work I have been involved in referred to as ‘Student as Producer’.

 Student as Producer

“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)

In these notes I want to review the work of my colleague, Mike Neary, who conceived and developed ‘Student as Producer’ and has subsequently led a project to implement research-based teaching and learning across our entire institution. Here, I want to focus on the theoretical development of Student as Producer and consider its suitability and utility as the pedagogical basis on which a worker co-operative for higher education might be developed. In order to do this, I work my way chronologically through several substantive pieces of writing about Student as Producer.

In each reading, I try to glean specific features of Student as Producer as it has developed, which seem relevant to my overarching question: ‘Is the worker co-operative form suitable for a university?’ I do not attempt to fully answer the question in this series of posts, but rather identify points, issues, questions and considerations for further exploration.

Linked to this blog post are seven subsequent sets of notes, covering seven of Neary’s articles and one keynote transcript. Click on the article title to go to each set of notes. It amounts to around 15,000 words and so it may be preferable to read it in PDF format. If you wish to cite them, please treat them as “preliminary notes”. Thank you.

1a. Neary, Mike (2008) Student as producer – risk, responsibility and rich learning environments in higher education. Articles from the Learning and Teaching Conference 2008. Eds: Joyce Barlow, Gail Louw, Mark Price. University of Brighton Press. Centre for Learning and Teaching

1b. Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. Eds. Bell, Neary, Stevenson. Continuum, London, pp. 192-210.

2. Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Eds. Molesworth, Scullion and Nixon. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 209-224.

3. Neary, Mike (2010) Student as Producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde; or, how do revolutionary teachers teach? Learning Exchange, Vol. 1, No. 1. 

4. Neary, Michael (2012) Teaching politically: policy, pedagogy and the new European university. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2). pp. 233-257.

5. Neary, Michael (2012) Student as producer: an institution of the common? [or how to recover communist/revolutionary science]. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences.

6. Neary, Mike and Amsler, Sarah (2012) Occupy: a new pedagogy of space and time? Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2)

7. Neary, Mike (2013) Student as Producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde; or, how to revolutionary teachers teach? [v2] Paper presented at Walter Benjamin, Pedagogy and the Politics of Youth conference, London. [unpublished]