Can the Cooperative Bank be saved?

Congratulations to the Save Our Bank  campaign, who are crowd funding to pioneer a novel approach to recovering the Cooperative Bank as cooperative, by creating a Customer Union for Ethical Banking. In some ways it’s even better than that as the Union is to be a multi stakeholder cooperative which includes the bank’s  workers , and also has the support of the Unite Union. The plan seems to make full use of electronic and network technology to faclitate membership involvement. An aim is to gradually build up a mutual shareholding in the bank. This has also has the support of the Ethical Consumer magazine.  Despite reservations here (blog/notebook)  about privileging the category of customer/consumer over other categories such as members and workers, they have never the less done a fine job,  moving to accommodate this criticism. Customers have a purchase over the market in proportion to their capacity to pay, governance of mutual enterprises are based one person one vote. All too often this is a dead letter. This concern will not doubt be dismissed as quirky. When these principles are operational the enterprise will tend to be more equitable and democratic .

We can lie down and be passive as our commons are destroyed, be they the environment, NHS, public sector, housing associations, cooperatives and mutuals, allowing the process of privatization.  Putting these assets into play on the Financial markets is a modern form of enclosure, this process always favours those well placed and already wealthy, with a following tail of petty beneficiaries but which usually does not reach beyond half the population.  Resistance to this process can be oppositional, based on protest or it can be proactive and based on counter positional activity, so constructive. Both are desirable

Setting up the Customer Union for Ethical Banking gives this a formal organization set up as a democratic enterprise. The objective to bring the Cooperative Bank under a significant element of cooperative governance will be a challenge. The Bank never was a cooperative but a PLC owned by the consumer Cooperative Group which remains a cooperative in a nominal way. The cooperative Group has a 20% stake. The CUEB will need the support of other stakeholders to have any influence. The very act of setting it up gives a platform that can be built upon and a change of circumstances might facilitate its aims. The enterprise plans seems to have the contingency that if the Cooperative Bank cannot be recovered as such, then other ways of recovering a cooperative banking will be explored. Whatever the outcome this is a brave and imaginative pioneering enterprise which we are obliged to try to support rather than just remain passive victims of financial corporate agendas. Let us try taking the initiative  to shape a better future by doing, even if it starts on a modest scale. This process is what is called action research for an evolutionary reconstruction (Alperovitz) towards a democratic economy. We learn by doing! We need a paractical movementent of counter enclosure to create new commons for socially and ecologically benign outcomes.

The Occupy movement generated  excitement and froth and now has faded.  The Union for Ethical Banking may be an idication of an evolution of the Occupy sprit into something more prosaic but practical.

PS.   19/2/2012    After thoughts

The Cooperative Group, having wtitten off its interest in the “Cooperative Bank” selling its small remaining shareholding off.  It seems to have done this without regard to anyone wanting to cling onto the bank remaining anything coop.  The Customer Union for Ethical Banking holds a few shares. The  CUEB is constituted as a Coop.  Its hope is that customer power can have an influence over the “Coop” Bank, these number in the millions of whom about 1500 belong to the union.

Their long term hope is that more will join the CUEB and that members will build up a shareholding in the “Coop” Bank so becoming very junior partners with the vulture hedge funds that own the bulk of the shares.  The union hopes that the “ethical” brand might give them some purchase.   Like slave traders, one would imagine that the prime reason for vulture funds to aquire the “Coop” Bank is to extract profit. Their considerations will be informed by this and any extraneous influences will be considered in as much as it does not damage their main aim.

Does the Customer Union for Ethical Banking have any chance of recovering the bank as anything significantlly coop? The Bank was never a Coop, but a PLC owned by the consumer coops.  The union seems to hope that a strategy of homeopathic coopertivism might have an influence. It seems that Cooperative UK is supportive. Does this sow confusion about what cooperatives are?  Already the ideas of what cooperatives are among the public is shallow, why cooperative, what are the benefits, what are the possibilities?  Unfortunaly apathy predominates.

The best hope to recover the Coop Bank is a chage in the political circustances though this is not certain.






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