Written By: - Date published: 3:46 pm, December 2nd, 2011 - 74 comments
Categories: community democracy, democratic participation, Economy, employment, equality, housing, political alternatives, Social issues - Tags: Community Collectives, participatory democracy, vision
This post is intended to do more than merely generate discussion. It’s a proposition seeking action. Its intent is to lay out or sign post (at least some of) the basic or necessary legal and social structures of a Community Collective comprised of both workers and housing collectives that would enable people to assume meaningful control over aspects of their futures.
What follows is based on the successful Community Collective (incorporating both housing and workers collectives) I lived in, in the UK through the late 80’s – early 90’s. Although I think it’s implicit to what follows, it’s probably worth mentioning the following.
Whereas many intentional communities were, or are built around some philosophical or religious focus (and therefore doomed to eventual irrelevance in my opinion), this proposition envisages an eclectic mix of people whose bonds are primarily social rather than ideological. In other words, it doesn’t matter if people are vegan or Christian or devotees of ‘standing on one leg and hopping naked around a big fire under the full moon’. Each to their own. But seeking to push or impose a personal belief, ideology or creed on others is another matter.
Okay. With that, hopefully understood and out of the way.
The Community Collective I lived in was set within the legal framework of the ‘Industrial and Provident Societies Act’. As far as I’m aware, no other collective, intentional community or whatever has used that particular piece of legislation. Which is a shame, because it offers immense advantages and benefits when compared to legislation covering Trusts or Incorporated Societies.
And so that’s the first thing. Use of the ‘Industrial and Provident Societies Act’ is absolutely central to this proposal.
Under that Act, it is possible to set up worke and housing collectives so that people are one step removed from market relations. That means that collective activities or undertakings can be developed in a ‘neutral’ environment – in an environment free from a countervailing current that would encourage or promote selfish traits as a means to gaining a competitive advantage over others in a scamble for market rewards .
Every member of the Collective is a shareholder of any business run, or property owned, by the Collective. This is done by allowing a person to purchase a single ‘nominal’ share upon acceptance as a member. (A ‘nominal’ share might cost $1, does not attract any dividend or bonus; is not saleable, tradable or transferrable and its ownership reverts back to the collective if and when membership ceases.)
Importantly, membership is predicated upon residing within the properties owned or managed by the Collective. Usually, if a person ceases to live in the Collective’s properties for whatever reason, they are no longer members of the Collective, have no say in the running of the Collective and ownership of their share reverts back to the Collective.
When a person applies for membership of the Collective, they are first of all granted ‘provisional membership’. A ‘provisional membership’ allows the prospective member time to decide whether membership is really what they want. It also gives existing members 2 or 3 months to get to know them. Membership is then by consensus of all pre-existing members. Usually acceptance would be based on a degree of social compatibility. That said, there are a number of other factors that will sometimes take precedence over social considerations. Besides the need for an awareness of the financial, emotional and other carrying capacities of the Collective, there might be a need to attract people with particular skills. And it’s also wise to avoid such things as large gender or age imbalances.
If a person becoming a member has savings, then those savings remain theirs. But they are ‘frozen’ and can only be accessed with agreement from other members. Interest from any savings accrues to the Collective. The Collective can request a loan of any member’s ‘frozen’ savings (or any proportion of) at an agreed interest rate and repayment schedule.
The Community Collective is a limited liability entity and every member contributes labour to the business or businesses set up by it. Income generated by the businesses is used to cover expenditures. Expenditures include (apart from the obvious mortgage repayments, business overheads/reinvestments etc) all those expenditures people deem necessary for their material well being. (eg, food, sanitary products, toiletries, nappies, light bulbs, fuel, electricity, doctors visits etc.) There is no payment of wages. Any personal expenditure not covered by collective purchases is taken from any monies ‘left over’ after all agreed upon Community expenditures have been met. Typically, that money might be accessed to buy clothes, for incidental purchases and travel, or a ‘night out’.
Because wages aren’t paid and everyone is expected to make a contribution to the income generating capabilities of the Community, a situation is created whereby it is to everyone’s advantage to share skills and knowledge rather then to jealously guard them as would be the case in a competitive market environment.
In short, skill sharing and income sharing go ‘hand in hand’.
As for the physical layout, some groups have built structures from scratch on purchased land, but old schools, hospitals, country manors/mansions, abandoned terraced houses and more have been used and can be configured to offer ample private or personal space. Communal spaces are also created. It makes no sense to wastefully and expensively replicate material functions or infrastructures that are better collectivised or communalised
Communal areas can include laundries, shower rooms, bath rooms, toilets, dining rooms, libraries, work shops, sitting rooms, kitchens, snooker rooms, saunas, [mostly vacant] TV rooms, music rooms, children’s playrooms etc. You name it, if a space would normally serve a social purpose, or serve a material function that would be redundant for a good proportion of the time in an ‘orthodox’ situation, it makes sense to communalise it. In doing so, people have the potential benefit of equipping their surroundings to a far higher standard than would be the norm.
Obviously given the communalisation of many material needs, the total income required by the Community is substantially lower than if the people comprising the Community’s Collectives worked and lived under ‘normal’ atomised conditions.
Leaning on the past to offer illustrative examples of possibilities… each person was only required to engage in the Community’s remunerative activities (the printing business) for an average of about 8 -10 hours per week, if even that much. So a wealth of spare time was available to spend on other activities such as building or maintenance work, childcare, growing food… the list goes on. Or time was utilised to develop creative talents or abilities, or to acquire new knowledge or skills, or share existing knowledge or skills with others.
Putting aside the ‘spare’ time and the requirement to engage in some income generating work, there was other work that needed to be done. For instance, people needed to eat. So every adult was required to ‘sign themselves up’ to one day on the cooking roister. Cooking days involved cooking lunch and dinner for everyone in the Community. Other more onerous or necessary tasks were listed on a separate roister that ran in tandem with the cooking roister. Everyone was expected to assign themselves at least one of those tasks too. Examples I remember were such things as caring for the chickens/ducks (feeding, cleaning out coops and collecting eggs), maintaining the sewerage system, doing the ‘communal wash’ (ie the tea towels and bedding that was supplied to visitors and such like), cleaning toilets/bathrooms, ensuring the communal supplies intended for our personal consumption were maintained…and so on.
A successful Community Collective is no ‘easy’ option. It’s a lot of hard work and requires a lot of energy. But the rewards can be immense.
And this post is far too long for my liking. I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I’ll end it here. Hopefully I’ll be able to flesh out or expand on some of the details mentioned in response to comments and maybe give mention to other matters I’ve not covered in comments too.
Finally, I’ve contacted ex-members of the Community Collective I used to be a part of and some have indicated a willingness to share their experiences and memories of the internal processes…those that worked and those that didn’t…during their times as members of the Community (things such as different decision making processes, conflict resolution processes etc). In short, there is no need to expend energy endlessly ‘re-inventing the wheel’ when there is the potential to tap into a wealth of accumulated institutional knowledge that covers some 40 years and a plethora of different circumstances.
Depending on the response this generates, I’d be keen to arrange ‘real world’ meetings among interested people early in the New Year. (Sooner, if people are keen. I’m in the Dunedin area.) And I want to add. Although it’s me who is putting this idea out there, it is the idea that matters. I’ll lend support and be actively involved where I can, but realistically, I’m aware I have certain preferences that may not accord with the preferences of others. So, if it eventuates that a group of people comes together and decides to act on this proposal and for whatever reason I’m not a part of it, then that’s okay. (And a-hem, who knows? Perhaps there will be enough interest to establish more than just one Collective ;-))
In the meantime, if you comment on this and are okay with me possibly contacting you via email, can you indicate as such with a simple ‘yes’ at the top of your comment? And if you are persuaded that this idea is worth promulgating, then definitely feel free to post it, reproduce it in whatever format, or link to it on whatever social networking site you may use.
And Lynn. If you have read this far and you are still of a mind to create a page for posts of this ilk…