According to the Historic Hansard website a Conservative MP put forward this proposal for profit sharing 100 years ago:
"Your Majesty's Ministers are not taking steps to forward the fair and equitable division between capital and labour of the profits of industry by co-partnership which would unite their interests and enormously add to the productive capacity of the country, cheapen the cost of commodities, increase this country's power of competing in all other markets, and give to wage-earners a human interest in life and work and place them on a moral equality with every other class." Basil Peto.
What a shame that his ideas were not taken up then or since, but are now gaining ground.
The passage caught my attention when it popped up on the Historic Hansard page on 15 February 2012. Tangentially relevant to the railways, the speaker turns out to be the son of a railway entrepreneur. I had been reading Eleven Minutes Late by Matthew Engel, a superb book part modern British travelogue and witty accurate social commentary, and part history of the railways and their importance for Britain. (Published by Pan in paperback, revised edition, I read it courtesy of Wavertree Library, Liverpool City Council).
According to Wikipedia, Basil Peto was Conservative MP for Devizes, and the son of railway engineer and entrepreneur and Liberal politicians Samuel Peto. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Basil_Peto,_1st_Baronet The latter has a sympathetic review on Wikipedia but a more balanced one by Adrian Vaughan http://www.adrianvaughan.co.uk/samuel-morton-peto/ and even features in a Doctor Who audio book http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Samuel_Morton_Peto All viewed at 14/02/2012 (which is a link that will no doubt please my Liberal Doctor Who fan friends such as Alex Wilcock and Richard Flowers. Alex blogs at http://loveandliberty.blogspot.co.uk/).
The Birkdale Focus blog by Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne contains much good content on employee ownership, mutuals, and cooperatives, Liberal consistent support for Co-operatives and Labour's lack of effort in Government on mutualism or action to support Co-operatives. Relevant posts include:
http://birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/clegg-liberal-alternative-to-dog-eat.html 4 July 2012 (about the launch of the Nuttall Report).
The Labour Party has consistently put big business (in the last two decades) or big traditional solutions (nationalisation in the past) above employee ownership despite taking the money from Co-op members funded via the Co-operative Group to their pet party. How many Co-op shoppers and Co-operative members know that they fund the Labour Party? In Government I believe Labour did encourage employee share ownership which is good but only one aspect, and not the most radical one.
I've written about the Liberal support for cooperatives from the time of Keynes and Lloyd-George, and Liberals pushed support for mutuals during the Lib-Lab pact in the late 1970s. (See my quotes from John Buchan, 4 September 2011, see also David Penhaligon promoting profit sharing and industrial democracy under the Labour Government in 1975, p. 126; and support for co-operatives in Cornwall p. 275-6 in Penhaligon by Annette Penhaligon (Bloomsbury, London, 1989)). Nick Clegg has spoken recently in support of a 'John Lewis economy' after our national treasure favourite department store. Conservatives – not only Peto – have sometimes done so too. Conservative Governments supported housing Co-operatives that Labour nationally sometimes but not locally did not, until the extreme left had been replaced by more modern or mainstream Labour supporters who saw that the issue was quality of housing and accountability to tenants, not monolithic Council control. Here are comments from Liberal Leader David Steel in the 1980s and activist Gareth Epps early in the last decade that show the continuity in support on this issue. Of course I believe that the Coalition Government, like past Labour and Conservative Governments should do more than it is to go for a model that is increasingly supported (see the number of co-operatives to do with food promoted by the excellent campaigning chefs in Britain in their television programmes) but challenges the easy standard business models.
David Steel 1985
"Our minority two-party system dislocates the economy, but the parties themselves are so composed that they are incapable of promoting national unity of purpose or industrial concord. They are still fighting the class war of the 1920s and 1930s.
These class based attitudes pervade our housing, health and education policies as well as – most directly – our industry. Against this background it has been difficult to get a sane hearing for the Liberal third way of industrial partnership, still less for our new thinking on the need to link the concept of profit-sharing with incomes policy. Yet a policy of pulling together is surely worth trying in place of the policies of pulling apart which have manifestly failed."
'Economic Recovery Through Partnership' chap. 1 in David Steel and Richard Holme Partners in One Nation: A new vision of Britain 2000 (Bodley Head, London, 1985), p. 3. Backed up in the essay by 1977 Nobel Prize winning Cambridge (and former Government) economist, J. E. Meade in the same collection.
Like Peto, Steel shows the benefit of a partnership approach in industry and business over the futile old approaches based on conflict or class.
Epps talks about developments ten years ago that are now commonplace and supported by prominent (and early promoters) such as Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. Community bakeries, pubs and before that shops have all helped to stem the tide of decline in rurual or inner city services a little, so have community allotments. But it is noticeable that writing at the high point of Tony Blair's Labour Government much of his call for action applies equally today under the two year old Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition.
"From housing finance to shopping and even football clubs, and mirrored by 'new economics' developments, the mutual trend has reappeared with a vengeance. While no one would pretend that mutuals could provide in every service area where the market fails, there's clearly a significant role to be played."
" a variety of potential mutual provision from established 'new economics' (credit unions, co-ops, time banks) to things ancient and modern (community shops, even healthcare).
Worker share ownership and democracy reappeared as a strong theme too." P. 16.
Writing in July 2002, Epps could have been writing in Britain in July 2012, the International Year of Co-operatives.
"In fact, many of the challenges presented by 21st century life the impossibility of the housing ladder in much of England, or the difficulties faced by agriculture in getting a decent price for produce present massive opportunities for the Cooperative movement."
Gareth Epps 'Mutual future' (front page tag 'Co-operative solutions' Liberator 282, July 2002, pp. 16 – 17. http://www.liberator.org.uk/article.asp?id=11903877