In the late 19th century, the rapidly expanding Co-operative Movement went to war with itself over the role of worker co-operation. One side wanted to see the new factories as worker owned, the other saw consumer co-operation as the only true way forward. Sadly, both lost out in the conflict, leaving a movement divided and less diverse than many of its international counterparts. It is only in recent years that serious attempts have been made to find common ground between the two camps.
What the Government needs to learn quickly is that these are not two separate initiatives, just as the very early co-ops drew no distinction. Mutualisation will only succeed if there is genuine engagement with local communities including them having ownership where relevant. Localism needs to include enterprise and worker co-operation has a vital role to play here. The Big Society needs to see this connection or pay the price that the Co-operative Movement has done for its 19th century error.