Unity in adversity? : co-operative life in County Durham
This is a study of co-operative life in County Durham, an area in the North East of England deeply marked by the effects of de-industrialisation. The intent behind the study is to explore whether or not co-operation provides an alternative style of working to capitalism, one which enables the worker to secure democratic control and autonomy in the workplace through the application of formally agreed co-operative principles. The study found that in County Durham co-operative enterprise was fragmented and difficult to identify, increasingly located in the wider social economy, often as a response to community regeneration. It was found that co-operative ventures often struggle and suffer from feelings of isolation. This does not appear to reduce the level of commitment between individuals, which remains consistently high, often to the detriment of the health and well- being of the participants. This type of person to person interaction is seen to be the human face of the concept of co-operation. The study concludes that, as a concept co-operation is an unconscious element of human existence, a behaviour pattern that is learnt from an early age and is fostered within cultural practice. At this level it is successful and enables individuals to mediate their existence and to survive, if not always prosper. As an organisational structure, where a set of rules or principles are involved, it is seen to be less successful. Such structures are subject to both internal pressures and external market forces. Dealing with these can lead to conflict, disillusionment and rejection of the structure by members. Co-operation as a concept is invisible because of its success. As an organisational structure in County Durham it remains virtually invisible for other reasons. The process of putting co-operative principles into practice in a meaningful way is seen to be largely beyond the capacity of the fragile organisations that were encountered, other than in a few exceptional cases.