Decentralisation and social justice

How cooperatives and mutuals must play a major role in the fight for social justice

Social justice is the end goal for any left-of-centre government, hoping to achieve societal change through policy, delivering equality and equity through speeches and manifestos.

The problem, however, is that social justice cannot be delivered from the top down. It is not a policy, but a mindset. It is not a manifesto, but ideas that must flow through communities. Of course, policies do help alleviate issues such as poverty, but that is only dealing with issues at the surface level. For policies to go beyond words written on paper and take effect in the lives of people, you must give them the power to implement those ideas in their own daily lives, implement those ideas in their community and share those ideas with friends and family. And the best way to do this, to empower everyday people, is through utilising the tools already available to us; cooperatives and mutuals.

Justice, handed down by the state, is justice in name only. It is a springboard that can, and should, be used but it is not an end goal. A controlled top-down approach would be far more commonly found in the now-defunct Soviet Union, DPRK or under the CCP, where every aspect of this pseudo “justice” is controlled by the state. What can be given quickly, can be taken away quickly. Social justice rescinded at the drop of a hat is no justice at all, but an ego trip undertaken by careerists that simply want their time in the limelight. To deliver social justice and ensure it not only sticks but meets the demands of an ever-changing Britain, we must set policies and then give people the power to implement change. Set the framework from the top, but then allow the movement to grow from the bottom up.

That bottom-up approach, devolving power to communities and individuals partaking in collective responsibility, is key to acknowledging and overcoming major societal issues. Who better tackle issues of discrimination than those experiencing it? Who better acknowledge issues of inequality than those living through it? While the “Equality Act 2010” is an important piece of legislation, it is only when it is adopted and implemented by the people it transitions from policy to purpose. So why is it, that we don’t harness the power of decentralisation to tackle longstanding issues, and encourage communities to invest in these ventures?

We talk so much about carrying out a “just transition” of the economy and society at large, yet so many will go straight to nationalisation as the key to this, putting even more power in the hands of the few instead of the hands of the people. The Labour Party prides itself on being a democratic socialist party; how does state capitalism fit into democratic socialism? What is democratic about taking power away from the public, and placing it into the hands of bureaucrats? How can socialism, the idea of trying to better society at large, claim to be carried out if we centralise power? That is one of the greatest criticisms of capitalism from the left, yet so many will use the very troupes they claim to oppose.

In 2020, the Co-op Group invested in local communities by opening 65 new stores and creating 1,000 new jobs to help people that lost their livelihoods due to Covid. To delve even deeper, the story of Elaine Codrington is key reading to understand how cooperatives can help support communities across the country, like the BAME community here. Elaine has taken on numerous roles over 20 years as a Co-op member and has been at the forefront of the Co-op’s first-ever ethnicity pay gap report. This is huge, and Elaine has gone on to call upon the government to make reporting like this mandatory for all businesses.

When we place power into the hands of people, we are not just giving them decision-making abilities. We are giving them hope for the future. We are giving them the capacity for growth and the means to pursue their passions, safely and securely. We give communities the potential to grow together, strengthen their bonds and create a society they are proud of, for their future generations to grow up in.

Nye Bevan once said: “The purpose of getting power is to be able to give it away”. That sentiment is needed, now more than ever.

About the author

Jack Meredith

Social Security Spokesperson

Jack is a member of both the Labour Party and the Cooperative Party. He regards himself as a social democratic liberal.