Labour can learn from the example of Robert Owen

Thursday, 25th May 2017

• FURTHER to John Mills’s May 18 Forum (The Labour manifesto may not be a winner this time, but long-term . . . ), I suggest a return to our roots to provide a further forward step in our programme.

Robert Owen (1771-1858), for example, pioneered three paths which can, people willing, coalesce into a co-operative commonwealth.

The first was to prove by example that an industrial village, New Lanark, can make enough money to build houses for its workforce; educate children and adults; provide a health service and pensions for retired people, shops selling unadulterated food; wages during a business slump and still pay handsome profits to its shareholders.

Secondly, he showed that working people have to organise into a national force, as witnessed by his formation of the Grand National Moral Union of the Productive Classes, but go much further than New Lanark, and obtain the productive capacity of the country for their own usage.

Thirdly, that co-operation between people could lead to a New Moral World.
Very few manufacturers followed the example of New Lanark. Those in the UK: Saltair, near Bradford by Titus Salt; then Port Sunlight by Lord Leverhulme and Earswick and Bournville by the Rowntree and Cadbury families.

And it was these latter three who helped fund the author of Garden Cities of To-morrow, Ebenezer Howard, purchase  4,500 acres of land and then with like-minded co-operators and land reformers, build the present day Letchworth.

Today, its present population of 34,000, as against 300 at its foundation in 1903, enjoy the benefit of income from its estate to better its infrastructure, in addition to traditional government and local authority funding.

Letchworth led directly to the 1945 Labour government’s decision to build 32 New Towns on Garden City principles. These fell foul to the Thatcherite counter-revolution when sold to speculators from 1979 onwards.

However, Owen’s third path, has become a world-wide phenomena and has approaching a billion people embracing one form or another of co-operative practice; retail, manufacturing, credit unions, banks, agriculture etc – and grows larger by the day.

So could we not bring The New Towns Acts of 1946/7 back into use.
With these we could make good the massive degradation of our built-environment and people’s loss of accustomed welfare when neo-liberal governments sold off the country’s wealth to the financial oligarchy.

Russell Chambers, WC1

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