Citizen Ownership

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From a proposal by: A.D. Rowland (comments invited: [email protected]

Published by http://www.geo.coop

"Citizens' Ownership is a concept in which ordinary people are producers, also consumers and have a regard for the environment. The operative word is 'Stewardship'.

Ownership is paramount; for without this control is a nonentity. Many will be familiar with Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). For our purposes the employees buy up 100% shares of a company. Also they will know of the European Works Council (EWC) a European Union (EU) directive which started on 22nd. September '96. Firms employing 1000 workers or more will be required to form a works council and most of the major firms have had these established for many years. In Germany a company employing more than five employees must set up a works council. The same number is used in Citizens' Ownership. Combining ESOP and EWC is a natural progression.

Citizens' Ownership incorporates producer, consumer and environmental elements thus: one third of the control is responsible to producers (trade union), one third is responsible to consumer groups, one third is responsible to environmental groups. All the elements have identical working conditions and salaries.

The excess profit motive has gone: Consumers will see this profit can come from only one pocket - theirs - although it is obvious some profit is essential to keep the company in business. The environmentalist will see pollution is above profit. It is one of the few self-regulating systems that cannot change into no-regulation.

The workforce is divided in three elements.

1. Producers.

2. Consumers.

3. Environmentalists.

The employees work at their tasks as normal; but each is asked to view his/her job from one of these three perspectives.

The Role of the Producing Element.

The basis of this is much the same as when management and shop stewards meet to solve common problems; often with the help of a trade union officer. The areas they would consider improving production, removing bottle-necks, new methods of working by combining several tasks, automation, health and safety, retraining, shift patterns, internal disputes, holiday shut down, fair pay, etc.

The Role of the Consumer Element.

The consumer element employees would look for any improvements in quality, quantity, likewise, the manufacturing costs are closely monitored. The National Consumer Council could coordinate the various consumer bodies. If there is a need, a consumer auditor organization with mandatory powers could be set up. This change of direction would end low pay and high executive director share options.

The Role of the Environmental Element.

Environmentalists would monitor pollution and seek means to prevent it. This can be expensive, but as the basis of the company has shifted from profit-taking to servicing the community, the objection of costs cannot be cited. It can call in specialist technical assistance from an organization, e.g. 'Friends of the Earth'.

As the Environmental Element is not directly involved in either the production or consumer elements it is able to be impartial in any differences between these elements and provide management material.

Peter Drucker's book 'Management Challenges for the 21st Century' highlights the role of 'knowledge workers' - 'But knowledge workers own the means of production. It is the knowledge between their ears.' In Citizens' Ownership all the workers are just that. This gives them a far greater responsibility than in the conventional company. Restoration of the respect for the craft-workers as a creators of beauty, in all that constitutes our lives; should include an admiration for the buildings that are a part of our cities. Hopefully this will put the vandal to shame. Clearly, this is the end of the Victorian 'hand'. Another role is in Governments who have a second chamber would incorporate this environmental element.

Financing the probable increased expenditure could come from corporation tax which citizens, in effect, pay themselves. The government of the day could set out the various levels of welfare against the rates of corporation tax each welfare option would require. As a rough guide about eight per cent of the national budget is spent on welfare.

Economic democracy would give power to ordinary people via their EWC's. This in turn brings responsibility down to the shop floor. It has been suggested people may not want this burden. In Germany the attendance at the EWC's exceeds 90%. "When people perceive they can do something they rise to the challenge." (Source, 'Social Justice' page 210. Pub. Vintage.)

The best place to start is the privatized public utilities and we cannot do better than quote from the TUC 1986 document 'Industries for People' Appendix one, paragraph five: "On the question of compensating for re-acquiring privatized assets, such as BT (British Telecom), the TUC (Trade Union Congress) has been perfectly clear—and current consultative exercise has endorsed existing policy—that those shares be bought back at the price for which they were sold: in the case of BT, for example, at 130 pence per share. This means that in deciding on how much the securities would be redeemed for, when and at what of interest it would pay in the meantime, the aim would be for the securities to be tradable for around 130 pence—even though the government itself would not be bound to buy them for perhaps 20 years." (http://www.geo.coop; Permission not for commercial or for-profit use. ©2001 GEO, P.O. Box 115, Riverdale, MD 20738-0115 )