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In March, on the blog of the West Midlands New Economics Group, there was a post about the work of Pat Conaty and others on behalf of ‘the precariat’, the self-employed, often working in service industries such as fast food, for security firms on temporary, even zero-hours contracts, or in the so-called ‘gig economy’.
The precariat includes many workers who used to have skilled or semi-skilled but relatively well-paid and secure jobs, under-employed graduates, working in insecure jobs requiring a much lower education level, migrant workers, and people from ethnic minority communities. Benefits the self-employed cannot access relate to holidays, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave.
He and his colleagues are editing the final draft of two reports:
The TUC wanted a short report of about 25 pages. The publication date has not yet been decided. One option is to do this conjunction with their annual congress.
The longer report includes more new ways of tackling this problem and has a fuller set of recommendations including one on Universal Basic Income. It will be published by Co-ops UK and the Co-op College in September.
In May, the Office for National Statistics estimated the rapidly rising number of employment contracts (see graph below) that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours. Its estimare is drawn from its twice-yearly survey of businesses, combined with estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) of households, which includes the number of people who report that they are on a “zero-hours contract” in their main job.
This report, first published in March 2017, includes the latest figures from the LFS for October to December 2016 as well as new estimates from the survey of businesses for May and November 2016, respectively.
The results from the November 2016 survey of businesses indicated that there were 1.7 million contracts that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours, where work had actually been carried out under those contracts. This represented 6% of all employment contracts.
People on “zero-hours contracts” are more likely to be young, part-time, women, or in full-time education, compared with other people in employment. On average, someone on a “zero-hours contract” usually works 25 hours a week. 32% on a “zero-hours contract” want more hours, with most wanting them in their current job, as opposed to a different job which offers more hours.
The Labour Force Survey defines “zero hours contracts” as “where a person is not contracted to work a set number of hours, and is only paid for the number of hours that they actually work”. The LFS counts people who report that their main employment is a “zero-hours contract” and who are aware that their contract allows for them to be offered no hours.
Pat’s heartfelt words were quoted “God knows something has to be done for zero hour workers, growing ranks of exploited self-employed and those working all hours of the week in the gig economy to make ends meet”. He lists four guiding objectives and recommendations for uniting self-employed workers in the 2016 publication: ‘Not Alone’:
- 1. Recognition of the growing self-employed workforce, by developing organising strategies for self-employed workers, bringing together trade unions and the cooperative sector and operating with the support of national union centres such as the TUC
2. The development of organising strategies will involve consideration of key priorities for action, including:
- Primary sectors, such as the creative industries, care services and the green economy
- Primary services, such as a credit union for freelancers, provision of micro-insurance and related services such as debt collection, tax accounting and legal advice, the scope for platform co-operatives and sources of capital for cooperative business development.
The third and fourth advocate government action:
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) should identify how to create a voice for self-employed workers at the heart of government, learning from the way in which wider small business has successfully become recognized over time, in business policy, regulatory interventions and commissioning design. The Treasury and Financial Conduct Authority should develop an appropriate regulatory treatment for mutual guarantee societies; and the Department for Work and Pensions should explore the potential for business and employment co-operatives for people on benefit.
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Pat’s work on Community Land Trusts was referred to recently in the West Midlands New Economics Group (WMNEG) blog: At the University of Salford, working with Community Finance Solutions, Pat has been developing a national Community Land Trusts training programme that has been running courses since March 2011 for new groups and local authorities. He believes that Community Land Trusts offer a community led ‘bottom-up’ approach to housing issues and creative, ecological developments. There are signs of a growing interest in initiatives long advocated by the New Economics Foundation: local currencies, housing co-operatives and credit unions.
With David Bollier, Pat co-edited a report on how different democratic money and co-op capital systems can be united earlier this year. David worked for years with Ralph Nader in the USA. His summary blog follows and the report may be read in full here. He writes:
One of the more complicated, mostly unresolved issues facing most commons is how to assure the independence of commons when the dominant systems of finance, banking and money are so hostile to commoning. How can commoners meet their needs without replicating (perhaps in only modestly less harmful ways) the structural problems of the dominant money system?
Fortunately, there are a number of fascinating, creative initiatives around the world that can help illuminate answers to this question – from co-operative finance and crowd equity schemes to alternative currencies and the blockchain ledger used in Bitcoin, to reclaiming public control over money-creation to enable “quantitative easing for people” (and not just banks).
To help start a new conversation on these issues, the Commons Strategies Group, working in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, co-organized a Deep Dive strategy workshop in Berlin, Germany, last September. We brought together 24 activists and experts on such topics as public money, complementary currencies, community development finance institutions, public banks, social and ethical lending, commons-based virtual banking, and new organizational forms to enable “co-operative accumulation” (the ability of collectives to secure equity ownership and control over assets that matter to them).
I’m happy to report that a report synthesizing the key themes and cross-currents of dialogue at that workshop is now available. The report is called “Democratic Money and Capital for the Commons: Strategies for Transforming Neoliberal Finance Through Commons-Based Alternatives”.
Frances Hutchinson, James Robertson and Joseph Huber posted papers on the Democratic Money Initiative wiki which also includes the report by David Bollier and Pat.
New to the writer was a 2011 paper by our late colleague Richard Douthwaite: Degrowth, Money and Energy. The subject of degrowth has recently been drawn to our attention by WMNEG’s Jeremy Heighway, working in Leipzig as a translator in the field of renewable energy.
Pat Conaty writes:
“What strikes me about this wonderful paper is how he creatively frames an outline of the new money commons architecture and he approaches this challenge in a multi-level way from global to national to regional. He links insightfully the fossil fuel crisis to the crash in 2008 and also highlights what the late Margrit Kennedy drew attention to, the embedded interest costs in public services and other essential goods.
“What is marvelous about this paper is the way he shows how the work to build resilience through co-operative innovation in community energy, food sovereignty, community land trusts (are implied) and regional currency can be brought together in a synergistic way. He argues for a provisioning system as Mary Mellor and Frances Hutchinson set out so well in the Politics of Money book in 2002. But he also draws attention to the kilowatt hour forms of money and tethering ideas Shann Turnbull has been articulating.”