Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A Message to America

Picture an American President seeking re-election. He inherited a devastated economy and a demoralised society left to him by the previous regime. He has made a start to repairing the damages, to rebuilding the nation. But he needs more time. Meanwhile, his enemies line up to crush him. His supporters waver. What is he to do? 76 years ago today, as he approached what pundits predicted would be a tightly contested election coming at the end of his first term of office, President Franklin D Roosevelt, gave this message to the people of America:

“We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle.

[For] years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. … Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master. …

Here and now I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless – that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief – to purge the rolls by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed would be cared for when, as, and if some fairy godmother should happen on the scene.

You and I will continue to refuse to accept that estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side.”
Amen to that.

[FDR’s message is as relevant today as when it was delivered on 31 Oct 1936, for anyone, anywhere, combating those forces of organized money who indulge the rich and disparage the poor. He went on to triumph in the 1936 elections by winning forty-six states to his opponent’s two. For the full text of the speech, go to:]

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Powerful Can’t Hide (by Ann Walker)

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

The wrongdoing of the powerful always seems beyond the reach of moral challenge – until the people stepping forward to condemn it tip the balance in favour of justice. The UK is now witnessing the Savile moment, with influential people taking turns to excuse themselves for seeming to tolerate Jimmy Savile’s decades of abusing vulnerable people. Many more will be squirming as more questions are being asked.

The avalanche of revelations causes all sorts of reactions but perhaps we can find some hope in this and other current news.

No one responded sympathetically to solitary girls’ reports of Savile’s predatory behaviour. Some girls were even punished for speaking out. Eventually though, their stories were pieced together and we’ve seen the rapid destruction of Savile’s reputation along with his pretentious headstone. Examining his behaviour is shining a spotlight onto a number of celebrities as well as some of the institutions that are central to the British establishment. These include the BBC, the NHS and the police.

We can set this story alongside the vindication of bereaved Hillsborough families who have fought tenaciously for decades to reveal the truth. In sport, Lance Armstrong has fallen from grace after years of bullying and cheating. Now there are investigations into public allegations that ex-officers from the armed services may have broken rules to lobby ministers over the procurement of military equipment.
All this reminds us that influential people can be held to account. Citizens who have been resolute in questioning the powerful are seeing the results of their collective campaigning.

Causes can sometimes seem lost or hopeless but when people join forces to question the powerful, we can root out corruption and do something to rebalance the inequality of influence that has let people abuse their positions in all sorts of ways. It would be naïve to suggest that there’s been a major shift in power structures in recent weeks, but there is undeniable progress.

Tackling inequality of influence is a massive task, but we should draw on the inspiration of what people can achieve when they keep up the pressure for justice and change. Adopting a cooperative problem-solving approach is very timely.

[Ann Walker is Director of Education, WEA]

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Cooperative Problem-Solving: the key to a reciprocal society

[On 12-13 September 2012, a group of academics, students, and leading figures from the cooperative and community sectors met at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, to discuss why and how cooperative problem-solving should be more widely understood and utilised. We agreed to issue the following position statement, to provide a basis for collaboration between educators, civic activists, and policy makers.]

1. There is a growing awareness that many problems in society cannot be adequately dealt with by relying on a few to make collectively binding decisions without involving others, leaving poorly resourced individuals to tackle them on their own, or asking people to vote on options without any informed deliberation.

2. Evidence built up over decades from cooperative management, participatory engagement, and restorative practices have shown that better outcomes (e.g., business success, community safety, environmental enhancement, education attainment, social cohesion) can be secured when the people affected are enabled to cooperate together on equal and reciprocal terms to decide how to solve the problems they face.

3. The increasing acknowledgement of the value of ‘cooperative’, ‘mutual’, ‘co-productive’ approaches, however, is not always backed by sufficient appreciation of what the essential elements of cooperative problem-solving really are, or what it takes to implement them effectively. Therefore, decision makers, irrespective of the sectors in which they operate, should ensure that any verbal embrace of cooperative working is matched by a genuine commitment to apply cooperative problem-solving without leaving out any of the following four key features:

4. First, all those affected by the problem in question and any proposed solution should have the opportunity, with the help of a facilitator, to express their concerns. Under conditions of openness and equal respect, everyone who has a relevant point to make should be given a hearing, and no one who is abusive or seeking to dominate discussions should be allowed to disrupt proceedings.

5. Secondly, those involved should be enabled to hear from and question witnesses, experts, and anyone else currently assigned a specific responsibility to deal with the problem under discussion. This is to ensure relevant consideration is given to what possible solutions there might be, the pros and cons of going along with them, and what constraints there might be to taking any other courses of action.

6. Thirdly, participants should be encouraged to contribute any suggestion of their own, discuss with each other how conflicting positions can be resolved, and explore the implications of mutual concessions and support, before giving their backing to a set of collectively ranked priority actions.

7. Finally, responsibilities and resource implications are to be agreed for taking forward the prioritised actions and for reporting back on their impact in practice. The feedback will then form the basis of a review of the effectiveness of the action plan, and inform whether further changes need to be considered.

8. It is not easy to incorporate all four elements that have just been outlined. Efforts are required to ensure marginalised voices are not ignored. Attention is needed to identify, and if necessary train up, facilitators who can be both firm and empathetic. Tension and conflict have to be sensitively resolved, not suppressed, to bring about consensus. Where large numbers are involved, representative selection or proportionate election may have to be used to obtain groups wherein meaningful deliberations can take place. Above all, power differences have to be managed so that no participant can have an unfair advantage over others in securing support for their preferred position.

9. Whatever the difficulties, the costs of overcoming them are likely to be outweighed by the benefits, because the solutions produced are shaped by people’s needs, unlikely to require expensive corrections, serve the common good rather than the interests of just a few, and are more sustainable because people take ownership of them.

10. To share the lessons on how the approach outlined above can help us deal more effectively with diverse social, economic and environmental challenges, we are committed to promoting learning and research in the development and application of cooperative problem-solving.

[This statement is supported by representatives of the British Youth Council; Community Development Foundation; Community Matters; Co-operative College; Co-operatives UK; Equality Trust; Locality; National Children’s Bureau; National Council for Voluntary Youth Services; Speaker's Corner Trust; Student Voice; Take Part; UK Youth Parliament; Workers Educational Association; Young Advisors; along with academics from Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education; London University’s Institute of Education, Goldsmith’s College, & Royal Holloway College; University of Lincoln; the Royal Docks Community School; Rutger University’s Graduate School of Education (USA); and Waikato University’s Faculty of Education (New Zealand)]

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Monday, 1 October 2012

Who are the Wealth Creators?

People who create wealth in the sense of beneficial resources rarely refer to themselves as ‘Wealth Creators’, let alone pontificate about how uniquely important they are. They teach, they provide care, they protect the vulnerable, they grow food, they make what people need, but they don’t pretend they are superior or merit special attention from society.

By contrast, self-styled ‘Wealth Creators’ strut around and tut-tut incessantly about how they are held back by too much constraint. Liberate them from regulatory red tape, let them keep more of the money they make – so their argument goes – and they would create even more wealth. But supposing that is to happen, the question remains: would it be a good thing?

For these Creators, ‘wealth’ is simply money they are able to appropriate for themselves out of any deals they put together. On this amoral definition of wealth (which underpins the dubious measures of GDP and shares index), owners of factories exploiting child labour working under hideous conditions; bosses who intimidate their workers into handing over to them the vast majority of the proceeds they generate together; executives who make a fortune by peddling harmful and addictive substance; business leaders whose stocks rise with the growing sale of weapons of swift destruction; or corporate chiefs helping to accelerate planetary degradation – they are all successful Wealth Creators.

Hang on a minute, cry the Wealth Creators and their plutocratic chorus in governments everywhere, it is unfair to lump them together with shameless exploiters of slave labour, drug pushers and irresponsible polluters. But what exactly is the distinction we are meant to keep in mind?

The distinction, apparently, is that what they do is LEGAL. But what is legal or not depends on what is set out in law. What one Wealth Creator gets away with while another is held back comes down to statutory controls. And here we reach the crux of why the so-called Wealth Creators want the law off their back.

‘Deregulation’ means they would be left to do as they please. ‘Tax flexibility’ means they are given endless scope to avoid paying their share to support the public good in return for what they have taken out of society. In short, they want to pursue any ends, by any means, regardless of the consequences for other people, and without anyone being able to seek redress through the democratic state.

Next time you hear so-called Wealth Creators muttering in the shadows that they should be left alone, turn the spotlight in their direction. Draped in naked greed, these shameless petty emperors should be seen for what they are.

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