Seminar 3

Democratic Renewal in Civil Society Organizations

ESRC Seminar Three – University of Leicester

‘Democracy at Work: Co-operation and Civil Society’

Tuesday 29th November, 11-5, College Court, University of Leicester Conference Centre.

It is easy enough to imagine that ‘civil society’ is what happens outside and after work, a sphere which somehow stands in opposition to the economic. But work organizations are also an element of what it means to be a citizen, providing messages and models for hierarchy, decision making, expertise, reward and so on. This seminar will explore the role of the worker owned and controlled organization in producing democracy, in creating senses of empowerment and meaning, as well as encouraging decision making which is oriented towards organizational sustainability rather than shareholder value.

However, both New Labour and the coalition government were keen on co-operative structures for rather different reasons, because they offered an opportunity to move ownership and risk for certain public sector operations to the private sector. The idea of the ‘big society’ integrated the free market with a theory of social solidarity based on hierarchy and voluntarism. Whether supported by Red Tories or Blue Labour, it has been suggested that the co-operative and mutual are then used as a way to privatise public goods by using the idea of civil society as cover.

This seminar will consider both the positive and negative evaluations of a co-operative economy with reference to the renewal of civil society. We will ask about the relationship between co-operatives and mutual and the state, as well as considering whether workplace democracy is a model for wider senses of citizenship. Our speakers will provide analysis and provocation, and we will ensure that there is plenty of time for audience interaction. All with an interest in the area are welcome, but we do have a limit of forty participants so please book to reserve a place.

Our main speaker is –

Ed Mayo

Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, the UK trade association for co-operatives. Mayo rose to prominence as director of the New Economics Foundation, a leading think-tank, looking at ethical market activity, local economies and public service reform. He is also the former Chief Executive of the British National Consumer Council and CEO of the NCC’s successor, Consumer Focus. In June 2003 The Guardian nominated him as one of the top 100 most influential figures in British social policy and in November 2004 commented that ‘from cancelling third world debt to justice for working-class consumers, Ed Mayo is a key figure in social innovation.’


10.30 Arrival and coffee

11.00 Welcome, and context for the seminar – Chris Land (Leicester)

11.15 – Ed Mayo

12.00 – Response and Q&A – Martin Parker (Leicester)

12.30 –  Lunch

13.30 – 15.00 – Main Panel:

13.30 – Academic provocations – Marisol Sandoval and Peter Ackers (15 mins each & 15 mins Q&A).

14.15 – Practical challenges – Bob Cannell and Dorothy Francis (15 mins each & 15 mins Q&A).

15.00 – Tea break

15.30 – Breakout group discussions – ‘What can coops do to promote democratisation in civil society, and how can academics support that work?’

16.00 – Report back from groups

16.30 – Summaries from George Kokkinidis and Gareth Brown


Peter Ackers joined De Montfort University Leicester in September 2015 and was formerly Professor of Industrial Relations and Labour History at Loughborough University. His PhD was a biographical study of the link between Protestant nonconformity and trade union leadership in the Lancashire coal industry. Peter’s intellectual interests centre on the sociological and historical aspects of the employment relationship and how this affects ordinary people and society at large. His work stresses the moderate, constructive character of organized labour, with themes of partnership and pluralism, and challenges Radical and Marxist theories of Industrial Relations.

Gareth Brown is a Teaching Fellow at the School of Business at Leicester whose work focuses on an exploration of the imagination as a contested terrain of production in which struggles around commons and enclosures are central. Gareth is also part of a very large, multi-unit housing co-operative in Leeds.

Bob Cannell is a strategic thinker rooted by operational experience. He has 30+ years practical experience of most business disciplines at most levels in the private, public and third sectors. Bob implemented most of the people management processes at Suma, the UKs largest worker cooperative, where he was Personnel Officer.  Bob has supported and mentored many worker owned businesses as a member of the Cooperative Business Consultants network.   He was the UK representative to the European and World federations for worker cooperatives. He has an extensive overview of worker self-management, a subject which is seriously underdeveloped in the UK and hinders the growth of UK worker co-ops. He also helped write the Cooperative UK Worker Cooperative Code of Governance, the official ‘How To’ management manual for the sector and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Dorothy Francis is Chief Executive of the Leicester based CASE (Co-operative and Social Enterprise Development Agency). She has 30 years of supporting co-operatively run businesses to establish and grow, primarily through her service at CASE where she has been the Chief Executive since 2000 having started work with the agency in the mid-1980’s. CASE specialises in delivering advice, training and business support for co-operatives and social enterprises in Leicestershire and the East Midlands.  Dorothy has directly supported over 200 enterprises to start and develop and has worked with many more to realise and grow their potential. A number of these businesses have now traded for between 15 to 30 years and have grown to provide numerous local jobs and win national and local awards.

George Kokkinidis is a Lecturer at the University of Leicester whose research interests centre on alternative organisational practices and the social organisation of space and commons. Most of his recent publications and works in progress focus on cooperatives and workers’ collectives in Greece and their organisational practices; the emergence and evolution of solidarity initiatives in Greece as part of an anti-neoliberal resistance landscape, and the creation of autonomous spaces.

Marisol Sandoval is a Lecturer at City University of London. Her research critically deals with questions of power, commodification, exploitation, ideology and resistance in the global culture industries. In particular her work has focussed on the political economy of online surveillance, social media, alternative media, cultural labour and corporate social (ir)responsibility. Currently she is working on a study that explores the politics of worker co-operatives in the cultural sector. More information on this project can be found here: Her book From Corporate to Social Media? (Routledge, 2014) looks beyond common understandings of the term social media by providing a critical analysis of corporate social (ir)responsibility in the global media and communication industries.

The Venue and the Organizers

College Court is the University of Leicester conference hotel , 2.7 miles from Leicester city centre., Knighton Rd, Leicester LE2 3UF, 0116 244 9669.

Register here please –

The seminar is being organized locally by Chris Land and Martin Parker from the School of Business at Leicester University, please email, if you have any questions.

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