Business is the engine that creates the wealth upon which the progress of society is built. Yet in recent years we have seen the erosion of trust in corporations and the polarisation of the interests of ordinary citizens from the businesses for whom they work and with whom they trade.

 

The rich have increased their share of wealth whilst global corporations have begun to behave as sovereign nations, but in the interest of their shareholders. At the same time austerity has affected working people most, with a whole new generation of young people facing greater challenges than ever before.

The way the economy is organised, how business operates, and ultimately how wealth is shared among people, is crucial to rebuilding trust with the electorate. Business needs to be trusted by its customers, to respect its workers, and to follow a purpose that serves the common good rather than private interests. Progressives need to be able to present a positive vision of an economy that works for ordinary people.

In the middle 20th century, social democrats turned to the state for economic and social solutions; the subsequent swing to privatisation and marketization left little response from the left. Too often, progressives offer only an alternative, albeit kinder, management of the same economic systems that are seen to have failed. The only radical alternatives being discussed on the left are throw-backs to an equally discredited state-controlled past.

From the food we eat to the homes we live in, our places of work and relaxation, our healthcare, financial well-being and energy providers, cooperatives are an intrinsic part of the lives of our people.

We cannot offer a binary choice between government control or support for a free market. We need to find a policy narrative that connects with and inspires voters by aligning the recognisable social democratic political values of fairness and democracy with a new political plan for organising our economy and society.

A business policy that promotes the interests of citizens before capital could do this. In many EU countries, the history of cooperative and mutual business is interwoven with progressive movements. Many trade union and socialist societies originally founded these organisations to provide services to their members.

The size and scope of the cooperative business sector across the EU is already impressive. From the food we eat to the homes we live in, our places of work and relaxation, our healthcare, financial well-being and energy providers, cooperatives are an intrinsic part of the lives of our people.

More than one in five of our citizens is a member of a coop – twice as many people as those who own shares in listed firms. Nearly five million people work in cooperatives, and these people’s businesses collectively have earnings in excess of X billion Euros each year.

A progressive plan for business exists and is possible to grow. It should include a policy agenda that promotes and nurtures customer and employee ownership of business through cooperatives and mutuals. This could help to develop strong progressive and populist policies that can work for many social democratic and labour parties in the EU.

These People’s businesses :

  • – Work in the interests of their customers
  • – Share widely the rewards of enterprise
  • – Actively engage and involve their workers

It is the Progressive movement who can truly understand them, therefore value, embrace and encourage policies for them.