When the city of Preston is mentioned people usually think of our favourite sons Nick Park, Tom Finney or Andy Flintoff or maybe the debate about the future of our world famous bus station. What is less well known is how a quiet revolution could be beginning here by incorporating ideas from progressive cities in the US who are building democratic alternatives to capitalism and doing so quite successfully.
In the last year Preston’s Labour Council received two visits from Professor Ted Howard from the University of Maryland who showed how in Cleveland, Ohio ‘’not for profit anchor institutions’’ like universities and hospitals have shifted spending on goods and services to the local economy and democratised the ownership of wealth from the grassroots upwards. This strategy created 5000 jobs from Cleveland’s hospital network alone when they increased spending from virtually nothing to over 80% locally.
This stimulus from Cleveland’s anchors not only delivered new jobs for Cleveland residents in locally owned businesses but also saw the beginning of a sophisticated network of worker owned cooperatives in Cleveland known as ‘’Evergreen Co-operatives’’ based upon the highly successful Mondragon Corporation in the Basque Region of Spain. The Cleveland model has been praised from sources as diverse as the Obama administration to Noam Chomsky.
Richard Wolff wrote earlier this month about the decline in Detroit with shareholder owned companies investing there often with the support of tax credits and then abandoning the city when there were greater rewards by paying workers lower wages elsewhere. Based on this experience Cleveland and other cities are adopting new ways of thinking based around principles of democratic ownership to halt further decline.
It is not just Cleveland in which democratisation is emerging. In Alabama, the public pensions system is investing to help create worker owned firms. There are new profit generating city owned hotels and convention centres emerging in dozens of US cities. One quarter of US electricity is generated by locally owned public utilities and coops and 95 million US citizens are now members of credit unions.
In Preston, we are working with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) to persuade our own anchor institutions to increase spend to support local businesses and new worker owned coops. By doing this we hope to secure our own employment quotas, a living wage and a more democratic local economy.
We have already received interest from Professor Richard Wilkinson – author of The Spirit Level who we aim to work with to promote the idea nationally. One central theme often overlooked in The Spirit Level is the necessity to look for alternative ownership models or as Wilkinson says for business to move ‘’from a piece of property to a working community’’.
The problems created by financial capitalism apply as much here as they do in the US. A new network of local authority supported ‘’wealth building councils’’ could be created to promote these ideas. From the US to the UK beginning in Preston a quiet revolution could be beginning to move to ‘’the next system’’. Come and join us in this revolution.
Councillor Matthew Brown is Labour Cabinet Member for Community Engagement and Inclusion on Preston City Council.