In the 1990s, Andrew Regan set about stalking the CWS ( Cooperative Wholesale Society) to de-mutualize it. Carpet baggers joined in the hope for a killing. Mutual enterprises were then like the Right Whales, gentle dull, well padded with assets built up by members over generations, easy quarry. In a sense they are commonwealths which when they work tend to equitable benefits. However at the time rapacious attitudes prevailed and unfortunately still do to a lesser degree. Many mutuals such as the AA and larger building societies had been privatized and floated on the stock exchange driven by the functionaries, who were favourably placed to become the main beneficiaries. The membership, plus late carpetbaggers were encouraged to undo the mutual relationship and grab for themselves the accumulated benefits, thus depriving future generations of an equitable dispensation. Is it any wonder that gap between rich and poor has grown! The drive for de mutualization promoted by the directors and opportunist carpet baggers would trigger a vote and usually this was passed , but nearly always with a minority of 3% or 4% of vote against. This probably is an indication of the core support for mutuals, but interestingly when the management of building societies retained support for mutuals, then the votes went the other way. There were a few brave souls who actively campaigned for mutualism. One even stood as a candidate of the Nationwide Building society and won a respectable vote . Having run through the Building societies then the decaying CWS became the target , but it was the Cooperative Bank that particularly interested Regan. The City correspondent of the Murdock owned Sunday Times salivated that the cooperative’s assets would soon be put into “play” on the financial markets. Two cooperative functionaries were found to have betrayed confidential information to Regan. What they failed to do then now has been achieved by the mismanagement of the Bank as a consequence of a hubristic attempt of empire building making the cooperative even more corporate with accompanying fat cat salaries. Peter Preston says that now the Cooperative Bank is on the stock exchange it will be under pressure to behave as any other quoted public company and any remaining cooperative characteristic will tend to drain away.
There is a very clear blog by Ed Mayo on the issue. Pity that he designates those concerned by the details of cooperative and mutual governance as “anoraks”. These as principles, matched with competent practice have the potential to help democratise wealth, the workplace, housing and other areas of the economy. In a time when Take All by the few prevails and with economy failing for many, one might have thought that this a cause needing work on and championing. Can you imagine the those pushing neo liberal supply side economics, self designating themselves as “anoraks”? Perhaps they should be!
And also see Blog : Cooperative Bank bailout a Blow to Mutuality
PS Added July 23; It was reported that Vulture funds have moved in on the Cooperative Bank in the Sunday Times July 21st. Ed Mayo also makes comments and sets out some pertinent questions on his blog.