Producing for our own consumption: generalizing the Scott Bader experience

David Braden thinks aloud on how to move towards a community economy, inspired by E.F. Schumacher’s Good Work and his mention of the experience of the Scott Bader coop company:

“On the one hand, there are people who cannot find, or have stopped looking for, a paying niche in our market economy. Those people have unmet needs and unused skills that are potentially a resource for this kind of community production. On the other hand, there are people who have to work full time and spend every dime they make just to live, because they do not have the facilities to produce anything for themselves. If each of us made a small regular investment, in either time or money, in building those facilities for our neighborhood, we could begin making progress toward Schumacher’s dream of a humanized system of production. We only lack the blue print, the imagination and the will.”

He continues:

“The following excerpt is from E.F Schumacher’s Good Work, referring to the Scott Bader Commonwealth with which he worked setting up an employee owned company. Of interest for the purposes of community sufficiency technologies is Schumacher’s description of investments in the capacity of the workers to produce for their own consumption:”

Beginning at page 80, E.F Schumacher writes:

“Scott Bader is more than an experiment, it’s a life style. Yet, in our primary purpose, which has been the humanization of the work process, in all these years we have not made much headway. We are hooked there on a technology . . . and a chemical factory stinks. And it is a process that cannot be humanized.

. . . we thought, we can’t humanize the . . . the hours a week that people work for their living, but what about the other more than a hundred hours a week that they’re anyhow not [working]? There we found very quickly that infinite boredom prevails, . . .

We said, Surely the community can develop activities . . . for utilizing the spare time. And there again, we started by suggesting. Why don’t you build yourselves a community motorcar repair shop? . . . They then built themselves a community motor car shop. We got two old age pensioners to look after it . . . and when a car breaks down, they take the car to their own garage and repair it, and the cost is just the cost of materials. That is an extension of the whole idea of community.

The next thing is, every Englishman has a little garden, so we had a simple idea: really good gardening tools and machines. . . . we got very good people to advise us, and created a gardening machine pool, again run by a number of old-age pensioners . . . and they’ve all become passionately interested in growing things, not just keeping their lawns shorn.

. . .

The next thing . . . is a commonwealth woodworking shop, because they say, We can make our own furniture . . .

. . . on the basis of this little firm having been put on a common ownership basis . . . a new life-style is gradually developing, which may in fact take off the pressure on the need to earn wages, so that we could reduce the working hours, and perhaps we can leave it up to people to choose. But . . . it is still a full time job, and if it’s mindless work it has a very bad effect on the worker. I think if it were twenty hours [a week] it would just be a chore, for a few hours every day, and human nature can stand that.

Scott Bader gives us a blue print, we all have imaginations that need exercise, so all it really takes is the choice to do it.”

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