By Guy Dauncey –
It’s a very small village called Hudswell, perched on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales in the north of England, with a population of just 353 people. It was listed in The Domesday Book, so it’s at least a thousand years old—and for many years it had a village pub, The George and Dragon.
In 2008, however, the big banks in New York and elsewhere took their entitlement to such an extreme they almost blew up the world economy, and as a result, Hudswell’s little pub went bankrupt, leaving the villagers with nowhere to gather and socialize.
And that could have been the end of it—except it wasn’t. Instead, the pub regulars started meeting, and after two years they had pooled enough support to buy the pub for £220,000, renovate it, and run it as a co-operative. They now have 205 shareholders, most of whom have invested between £500 and £1,000 in the pub, 47 per cent of whom live locally in the village.
When the villagers considered their pub, they realized they could do more than serve beer and good pub fare. In its revitalized form, The George and Dragon also now operates a library, and small shop that sells milk, eggs, newspapers, and other conveniences. They have converted some of the land attached to the pub to allotments for local growers, and leased the management of the pub to a mother and daughter who are experienced in the hospitality trade and keen on the quality of their ale and cider.
As a feather in their cap, in March it was announced The George and Dragon had beaten 52,000 other entries to become Britain’s Pub of the Year for 2016, judged on its atmosphere, service, value for money, community focus, and the quality of its beverages.
As well as contributing their money, the villagers and their friends rolled up their sleeves to help with the renovation, and local trades offered their skills at a discount. By establishing themselves as a co-operative for community benefit, their purpose is not to generate private profit, but to deliver a community service. The members each draw a 5 per cent dividend for their investment, and due to their community benefit constitution, they can’t decide to sell up all at once and take their money to the Caribbean.
For the past five hundred years, and certainly for British Columbia’s modern existence, almost all businesses have been based on private ownership, rendering private profit. The drive to increase capital for private gain has been the cornerstone of capitalism. Today, however, more and more people are asking big questions of this assumption. Is this really the best way to run a local or a global economy? It was under that model that The George and Dragon went bankrupt. It was under a different model, with co-operative ownership and the primacy of community benefit, it was restored from the dead and went on to become the best pub in Britain.
Far from the damp cool of Yorkshire’s dales, in the sweltering hot streets of Austin, Texas, a similar story has just played out. Two years ago, the city had three cab companies, whose 800 drivers were mostly older immigrant men from Ghana, Sudan, Jamaica, and Pakistan. The companies charged $280 a week just to get behind the wheel, plus the cost of leasing a cab and putting it on the road. Now Uber and Lyft were in town, operating loosely and cheaply without bothering about things like buying insurance for their passengers.
The taxi drivers’ union was run by a small group of academically-inclined older drivers who were nervous about the talk coming from the younger generation, who wanted to pile the pressure on staff at City Hall to clamp down on Uber and Lyft. The younger drivers seized the initiative, however, and pressured their fellow-drivers to show up at union meetings and become union members. By the time they had 400 members, they decided to circle City Hall in their cabs, honking and surrounding the building, demanding that the city hear their concerns.
In early 2016, the drivers managed to persuade City Hall to require finger-printing and background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers, and the companies paid for a ballot initiative to overthrow the new law. They lost the vote, and subsequently decided to pull out of Austin entirely. The union members then pushed their strongest card, successfully applying to form the city’s fourth taxi company. ATX Coop Taxi launched in October 2016, with 360 members who raised $425,000 in membership shares. Overnight, they became the third largest co-operative in America, and their weekly fee is just $131, half of what the other taxi companies charge.
Their mission includes equal ownership, decision making, and profit sharing, and a commitment to serve the community with the highest standard of customer service, using the most advanced and effective dispatch technology.
So, whether you are a rural villager in Yorkshire planning to relaunch your local pub, or a struggling taxi-driver in Austin planning to have done with private exploitation, the moral is the same: there is strength to be found in working co-operatively, and in pioneering a new co-operative economy to replace the failing capitalist model.
If you’re looking to form a co-operative, call the staff at the BC Cooperative Association in Vancouver, (604) 662-3906. www.bcca.coop. They’re there to help you.
Guy Dauncey is author of Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible, a novel set in Vancouver in the year 2032. It’s packed full of positive, encouraging story like this. www.journeytothefuture.ca