Mmegi Blogs :: Robert Oakeshott 1933-2011 (2) Champion of Employee Ownership and Workers Cooperatives
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Thursday 18 January 2018, 13:00 pm.
Robert Oakeshott 1933-2011 (2) Champion of Employee Ownership and Workers Cooperatives

‘Inspiring, infuriating, unworldly yet profoundly concerned about his fellow beings, he defied easy categorisation.’(Being excerpts from Wikipedia and from obituary articles in the Guardian and Economist.)
By Sandy Grant Wed 07 Dec 2016, 16:54 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Robert Oakeshott 1933-2011 (2) Champion of Employee Ownership and Workers Cooperatives

Pursuing an invitation, he visited Swaneng, and asked if he could work there. He joined the staff as a teacher, planner, and author of a textbook in Development Studies, an attempt to explain economics from the point of view of aspiring third-world readers.

In mid-1967 he became the first manager of the Serowe Farmer’s Brigade. A year later he was appointed the founding principal of Shashe River School. Although he was popular locally, he was soon in conflict with the Botswana Ministry of Education.

He resigned after two years of bureaucratic frustration and returned to Britain. His decade in the 1960s made him feel “in more vainglorious moments” that he was a black-Africa buff and an old Kalahari hand, but he approached the place humbly: at his school at Shashe River he dug fields and scrubbed latrines with the rest. In 1978, he published The Case for Workers’ Co-ops, which Jo (later Lord) Grimond described as “a book which all Liberals should read”. The book identified successful co-ops across Europe. Robert was convinced that their strength was the motivation that comes from workers owning a share of equity.

Teamwork, he said, calls for shared objectives, which is not the case where one part of income goes to labour in fixed wages and salaries, and the rest to capital. “It is surely


impossible to believe,” he wrote, “that rational and intelligent people, starting from scratch, would choose such a structure, when organising activities which depend on teamwork for their success.” His life was devoted to pushing, in the most amiably persistent way, the notion that if workers became stakeholders, if the gap between management and labour vanished, and if effort and profit were shared for the common good, human beings would be happier, freer and, just possibly, better off.

Round the world he went, inspecting foundries in Florence, care-providers in New York, coffee-shops in Dublin, to see how they were doing. He was especially pleased to note that the chiquitos, or drinking clubs, of Mondragon had furnished much of the capital for the co-ops there.

Though small, they composed a network of trust. And he mused happily in his book “The Case for Worker’s Co-ops” (1978), that if such clubs could not foster co-operative behaviour in Britain and America, they “might well deserve to be copied on their own account”.

Indeed he could point to major co-operative successes: the worker-owned John Lewis department store, current turnover around £8 billion a year, and in particular the cluster of machine-making co-ops at Mondragon in Spain, founded by five defecting engineers in 1956, now with 85,000 workers and an annual turnover of €15 billion.


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