The Tories say they want to create “employee-owned” cooperatives within key public services. Under the scheme, participating workers — in, say, a clinic or a school — would be “freed” from the shackles of central government bureaucracy and would be able to have a share of any “financial surplus” that the service generates.
Have the Tories been taken over by 21st century Owenites? Hardly. The plan is about:
• Creating a smokescreen for massive cuts. By hiving partial responsibility for funding off to independently-run “cooperatives”, the Tories can increase their ability to cut central government funding over public services.
• Extending the ideological agenda of “consumer choice” in the public sector — that is, increasing competition between individual units, between schools, between health agencies.
• It is a form of privatisation.
• Increasing the atomisation of workers in the public sector. If more and more public services are run by individual co-ops (or individually managed units), how can that generate anything other than a culture of competition between them, and division between workers?
• Breaking up national agreements between public sector managers and trade unions — that, of course, undermines the power of the unions.
• Undermining still further democratic control over public services. Which is to say nothing of the democracy within these “co-ops”. Will all workers have an equal say? Will service-users have a voice? Or will the “employees” doing the “owning” actually just be top public sector bosses?
This is a warning of very dangerous reforms to come. Public sector unions must stand firm against any aspect of such reform, and begin a much more serious fight now to defend and extend public services.