Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Gibson hails Cooperative model

News/Agriculture release

Immediate release  14/03/11

Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands hailed the setting up of the Fenwick Weavers Society, the first documented cooperative in the world, two hundred and fifty years ago today
14th March 1761.

Mr Gibson said that great strides forward had been made since the 18th Century in the Co-op movement and that is remained one of, if not the,  the fairest  models of ownership.

In 2011 a billion workers around the globe control producer and consumer coops.

Rob said that across the Highlands and Islands and beyond the cooperative model is thriving,

" Here in the Highlands two fine examples are Caithness Livestock Breeders, who have turned in healthy results this week in tough times and Highland Grain Ltd of Tore in the Black
Isle the famous suppliers of malting barley to the Scotch Whisky industry . There are many more to celebrate not least the Coop food stores dotted around our towns and villages in the North and new windfarm coops springing up."

"I have long championed the coop movement and note with pleasure that these mutual ideas spread across the world from Scotland. In today's trading world it is coops and mutuals
which are the most stable and sustainable businesses. John Lewis Partners and Waitrose are two employee owned chains that give the highest satisfaction to customers, year in, year out."

"Farming coop have been very successful across Scotland aided by the longstanding support of government and including the SNP Scots Government which have backed the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society Ltd. Even better the support is cross-party and is exemplified by the huge turn out in Fenwick today. "

"Last October I achieved a longstanding personal ambition to visit the Mondragon coops in the Basque Country. Begun in 1956 they now include 256 coops in the Mondragon Corporation with 90,000 members and plants in 18 countries all run by employee owners. Scotland needs their approach here in many fields. In the 1970s community coops were imported as an idea from Ireland, some still function. But the field is much wider and the search for sound business models in an uncertain world can learn from the co-operators of Fenwick and their many
successors right here in our own area."


Copy of Rob's speech (as well as link to the full debate) during the Wille Coffey's Members debate on the Fenwick weavers


Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): I congratulate Willie
Coffey on bringing this debate to the chamber at this historic
time of 250 years after the creation of the Fenwick Weavers
Society, which is the oldest example in the world of a
distributive co-operation for which there is documentary
evidence. The creation of the society was a remarkable event,
which was based on the idea that solidarity between those who
live together can be developed for their best interests and
those of their families and the community in which they live.
Indeed, the weavers society served as a model for others in
more industrial communities and, as we know, the idea spread to
many parts of the world.

It is interesting to consider the Fenwick weavers in the
context of how people respond to crises, because the issues
that they faced in the 1760s were a Britain at war and a
Scottish economy that was affected by import restrictions and
so on, which was also very much the experience of Robert Burns
slightly later. In the end, they, too, supported emigration to
try to free themselves from the yoke that they were under,
which is what Robert Burns wrote about in trying to show up the
landlords who tried to stop people escaping from that kind of

That situation happened again and again. Indeed, the kind of
communities that Robert Owen was involved in setting up in the
new world, in Pennsylvania, and those that Welsh idealistic
socialists set up in Patagonia were very much in the tradition
of trying to create a co-operative community that could stand
up for itself and make its way in the world.

The Fenwick idea has had many elaborations in later times, not
the least of which, as is mentioned in the motion, is the
Mondragon Corporation. It was founded in the wreckage and
carnage of the Spanish civil war in the Basque Country in an
area that had been devastated economically and had a closed
economic system. Don José María Arizmendiarrieta got together
some young men, who got themselves a technical education and,
in 1956, became involved in the production of—I
understand—small heaters of German origin. As the process
developed, they created their own bank, social security,
colleges and universities. Today, there are 256 co-operatives
in the Mondragon Corporation, which have worldwide reach.

Don José María recognised that innovation and education were at
the heart of the movement, as I guess the Fenwick weavers did. He said:

“However splendid the present might be, it is destined to fail
if it turns its back on the future.”

He thought that, through co-operation and solidarity,
innovation would enable workers to meet the challenges of the
ever-changing world. That is a huge testament to the ideas that
began in Fenwick so many years earlier and were carried forward
elsewhere in Scotland and in England.

I am delighted to support whole-heartedly the motion and an
idea in which I have been interested for 30 years. I visited
Mondragon at last in October and saw that it benefited from
ideas that had stemmed from our country and many others in
creating a model in which capital is controlled in a democratic
fashion for the benefit of all. I congratulate Willie Coffey
again on lodging the motion and I wish him and the Fenwick
Weavers Society well for the future.

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