2.1 The first person we met was the chaplain, who introduced us to the Christian nature of The Partnership.
2.2 "Is it possible to achieve this result with non-Christian partners?" I asked. The chaplain thought for a while and said more to himself than to us, "The Partnership is Christian, Iíve never considered it in any other light. Perhaps it could work with non-Christian partners. Iím not sure if it would hold together without the Spiritís guidance and love."
2.3 As we walked he continued, "There would be no place for me in a non-Christian partnership, except perhaps as some sort of optional extra."
2.4 "When The Partnership was first formed 150 years ago, it was founded by Christians and it has been predominantly Christian ever since. In the early days the partners all attended their own local churches, but as time passed meetings at our chapel became more and more regular and grew in numbers until all the partners and their families became regular attenders here. There occurred this integration you see of work with God - a merging of one compartment of life with another. To answer your question: No, I do not believe the result we have here could be achieved with non-Christian partners."
2.5 "We have, for example, two highly skilled partners working in a very poor country among the poorest and most powerless there. Because The Partnership has approved their activities, they remain our partners. Their drawings are commensurate with their individual differences and they receive their full share of the surplus. I know however that they are giving far more than most of us think they should toward their work, and this is a real problem for us. The problem is how to stop these people from giving away their very lives. We support them whenever they ask for anything since from experience what they ask for is invariably justifiable. The other partners have come to the position of accepting that if any partner wishes to give away the whole of their surplus, then that is their right. But when you see the way they live ... hardly different from those that they are serving... "
2.6 I queried their general field of endeavour and how they keep Partnership resources out of the hands of corrupt governments. At this his face brightened and he responded: "We have learned various techniques over the years to overcome these problems. The underlying principle is that the person who earns money is responsible for spending it, thus The Partnership has a responsibility to ensure that the money allocated to a certain group of people reaches its mark intact. One technique that we have used to successfully get money directly into the hands of the poor, and at the same time achieve some significant goals, is to study the local skills and materials and then send our partners enough money to buy direct. If this technique is successful, then none of our money goes through the hands of corrupt people."
2.7 "When recipient governments are alert to the above approach and corrupt officials will not allow our money in without graft, we do not usually send money except perhaps through the underground church if it exists. A technique then is to send in a team of people - sometimes we employ consultants in specific fields - to work directly with the oppressed people and to literally help them to help themselves. The produce of our labour still gets to its target intact. This method is slower and less efficient but similar in the long term."
2.8 Near the chapel was a neat little house we assumed to be the chaplainís. He corrected us, "No, I like most of the partners have my own private home. This house is for emergency accommodation. Just last week a colleague had a young man in his early twenties on his doorstep - he was without a job, had no supportive family, and was in trouble with the police for a minor offence. He had no home and no place to live. There seems to be more and more of this type of person in all large cities doesnít there? Heís living here now and we are starting to assess the extent of his damage."
2.9 "The partners are largely a happy people with healthy co-operative interlinks with each other and spare links for others. They have brought a number of broken people in over the years - people who have been hurt and whose links, that should be open and waiting for others, have turned inwards as a means of self-protection. It has happened so often now that the process has been accepted as more or less routine - not that it is routine since each person has to have specific problems solved. What happens is, continuing on the analogy, the partners extend spare links to the damaged personís links in an effort to repair the damage. With the passing years the partners have become quite good at extending themselves in love, especially as some of the partners have come into The Partnership via this very house, and it occurs now without comment. I am certain that they would be the poorer if they discontinued this form of outreach - and I mean this in the literal as well as the psychological sense."
2.10 "We have seen an ongoing miracle of multiplication: in the feeding of the five thousand Jesus did a miracle of multiplication; similarly, in the rehabilitation of a person to a balanced productive life the resultant output from that person usually far exceeds The Partnershipís input."
2.11 The chaplain hammered his point home, "In explicit terms, the contribution of those partners that entered The Partnership via rehabilitation has far exceeded the relatively small amount devoted to their rehabilitation. Not that this is the motive, far from it, it just happens to be the usual result - the partners donít give cost a very high priority in rehabilitation work, rather, once having made a commitment to a person they honour that commitment."
2.12 We expressed surprise that the chaplain was a partner. He replied that he identified with the goals of The Partnership, that he wanted to be a partner, and that he really had no trouble getting his hours up. "I run a regular course on government and Iíve had a life-long interest in politics. The partners often request short courses on subjects in which they know I have an interest: rehabilitation, industrial justice, the appropriate use of surplus - subjects of interest to co-operators. There are the necessary Ďhow toí courses enabling us to make a better and or cheaper product, but never far below the surface is the underlying co-operative Christian motivation in which I am vitally interested."
2.13 We were starting to get the impression that this man was not too far removed from his remote partners regarding working hours and use of his surplus, and so we asked what most partners used their surplus on. His answer was rather surprising: "Once the surplus is distributed, The Partnership has no further interest in it, except to hope that the partners have sufficient money to meet any unforeseen calls for capital as they arise. The partners have a wide range of interests outside The Partnership. Some are partners in other partnerships run on similar principles. This provides increased security, since if one partnership experiences an economic downturn the other covers the losses, and if the close personal relationships inherent in this type of enterprise get too much it is comforting to know that they have more than one source of income and they are not locked in. Some lobby politicians in the Capital - often The Partnership credits time and or pays expenses for this type of political action if the matters are of a Christian or co-operative or wider religious nature. Others travel to remain conversant with the latest co-operative practice in other places - The Partnership usually only pays for a small proportion of such trips since often the partners merely want to enjoy the company of other co-operators with whom they may perhaps be corresponding in particular spheres of interest."
2.14 The problem of entry of poor, unskilled, somewhat below-average people is one that interested me, and I put the question to the chaplain. "Yes," he said, "this is a real and increasing problem. The outside world is becoming ever more competitive, and with unemployment hovering around 25% these have become a forgotten people that society has chosen to protect itself against rather than to assist in any meaningful way. The partners do what they can while recognising that their efforts are microscopic. On the brighter side, those fortunate few who come in contact with one of the partners and are adopted by The Partnership are almost invariably assisted in very meaningful ways to achieve their potential. The young man who has just come to live in this house, for example, immediately received rent-free accommodation and the offer of work here. If he accepts the work, he will be signed up on a short work contract. If he doesnít accept then during his time here we hope that he will take an interest in some of the activities and then by a loving, caring, stimulation of that interest be led forward. He is starting to realise that he is in a caring, stable environment, that if he asks he can have help and skilled advice at very little cost, and that if he chooses he can work to achieve his potential. Although a proposed partner is responsible for finding his share of the net capital worth of the enterprise, historically it has been found that this is not a bar to becoming a partner and if he doesnít have the initial capital the usual method of meeting this obligation is by contributing his share of the surplus until the debt is cleared."
2.15 "Reverting to the profitable use of surplus," continued the chaplain, "this is a problem that is endemic to all capitalist countries - the argument runs this way: a capitalist has say $lM to invest and he wants 15% interest on his capital; in the first year he buys a business and gets his 15%; the following year he has to invest a further $0.15M at 15% and he manages this; after fifty or sixty years there comes a year when, no matter how hard he looks, he cannot find a place to put his capital that will return him 15%. Now it is obvious that this time had to come since otherwise there would have to be a market expanding at the rate of 15% continuously. We have in this partnership developed an alternative to the unlimited market requirement by opening the cycle - our surplus is distributed to partners and therefore we donít have the reinvestment pressure - we watch our demand curves and ensure that if the demand is relatively small we put in appropriate small-scale plant to produce for that need. We donít manufacture needs by high-pressure advertising. We find what is demanded and then design and build a product to meet that demand. Although we value people more highly than materials, we are realists and good shepherds of both. Christian stewardship is practised in many ways. Look at Figure 1 and the Rules. The surplus has to be distributed to the partners - consequently they have the capability to respond individually or as a group to any need. For example, a partner may spend some spare time and money to satisfy the needs of some outside person or family member. If a need is somewhat larger, a partner may put it to The Partnership and have the need met by direct production for use."
2.16 The chaplain continued, "The extended partnership form of industrial organisation is a vehicle to transport people to a way of life that has more justice, more responsibility, more meaningful personal relationships, greater potential for personal development and rehabilitation and generally wider horizons than competitive industrial forms. The Partnership does not aim at material equality for the partners: Figure 1 in the Rules indicates that partners are paid according to their individual differences. What generally happens is that each partner determines their own needs, and each partnerís income is more than sufficient for those needs - so partners have the capacity to select their own living standard. The result has generally been that out of an abundant surplus of time and money the partners also find ways of meeting needs of others. Naturally, the partners have a vested interest in the well-being of each other and mutual help off and on the job is characteristic, but I think the tendency for the strongest to help the weakest is a result of the conscious effort over many years to emphasise the altruistic side of our natures and suppress the ugly, greedy, competitive side. Goal setting is a continuous process and as jobs get done the partners gain a mutual respect for each othersí skills, those skills are enhanced as they are used and nourished and in this way the partners attain, over their lifetimes, heights in their fields that are to outsiders incredible - but they are just ordinary people who have achieved their potential. The pity is that so many people on the outside never achieve their potential and consequently there is so much human waste. If I were asked to nominate the single most significant group characteristic of the partners, I would say it is their love for each other. The plantís safety record is tangible testimony to this. Mutual care causes careful practices resulting in less accidents than in similar factories outside."
2.17 "When the rest of industry is concentrating on giantism, how is it that this relatively small enterprise can be so very much alive?" I asked. The chaplain considered the question - "I can sketch some of the contributing factors. Firstly and most obviously The Partnership gains a price advantage by refusing to pass on any component of land rent in selling prices because:
2.18 "There has developed a sort of tradition with respect to industrial land. People, some not even partners, combine to leave us our industrial land needs as legacies. Truly I can say that this enterprise is the source of many blessings."
2.19 We were starting to see how useful this man was to the integration of a devout community, but were not content to let such a radical departure from established practice go unchallenged. "How is it," I asked, "that the majority of factories are rented, that rent largely being for interest on the capital cost of the land, and this rent is passed on to the consumer as a component of the selling price ... are you condemning this practice as exploitative?" The chaplain was obviously in his element on the question and I had the distinct impression that he had debated the issue at length, perhaps many times. "What outsiders do is their concern," he said, "provided they obey the law of the land. We also have to obey what we believe to be Godís will in the matter - we donít pay rent on any industrial land and I donít think, on principle, that the partners would approve such a proposal. Furthermore I believe makers are charging what the market will bear, their prime concern being with the sum of their costs, not with any individual component in particular. The question is however largely academic since commodity prices are very low due to the general over supply situation that has been with us for many years and all makers, especially those with small plants like ours, have difficulty getting their prices down to the ruling prices."
2.20 "The second significant factor that I have detected," the chaplain said, "is that the partners welcome advances in technology, since all the produce of the advances adopted accrue to them. In outside competitive industry, employees resist the introduction of labour saving devices because they fear a reduction in or abolition of their incomes, as a result of their employer saving their labour. The same situation does not exist here. If we discover a dramatic labour saving device, the partners welcome it since it means that their options are widened: they can produce the same for less working hours and have greater leisure time, they can produce more with the same labour input if they can sell it profitably - the one option they do not have is to sack one of their number and work the remainder as before. Now this is terribly significant: the greatest weakness and injustice in the employer/employee relationship stems from the exploitation of technological innovation to the advantage of the employer - the option traditionally taken by a competitive proprietary enterprise when they develop a new labour saving device is to sack some of their employees. This point is considered so important by The Partnership that it has been written into the Rules: The Partnership shall not have employees - all work has to be done by the partners except for work that is sub-contracted out. Even the use of sub-contractors is questioned by some of the partners as having the potential to lead to a lot of old partners, incapable of working, living off sub-contractors. This is one reason why the policy has been adopted of bringing as much work in as possible even if this necessitates a small long-term loss."
2.21 "Thirdly, The Partnership has demonstrated an ability to release the creativity latent in the partners that would be largely suppressed if they were employees. It is this human creativity that gives so much life to this enterprise. Itís amazing what can be done with relatively small resources when there is a will common to all the partners to do it. Co-operation is catching and it has been our experience to observe over the years even people outside becoming more co-operative during the normal course of business relations. Our representatives, for example, really do represent us - they are not required to sell, but to respond to calls for service. Our managers are elected because we realise that these people can best serve us in these positions. The people we sell to and buy from notice over the years the honesty, integrity and service characteristic of The Partnership. These factors tangibly increase customer loyalty, lower costs and lead to faster problem solving. The human scale of the enterprise is also a factor. Regular customers know the right partner to ask for, which reduces our costs."
2.22 "How do your people survive in the outside world?" I asked. "It seems that your working environment is so unpressured, co-operative and loving that it would be difficult if not impossible for them to adjust to normal employee conditions."
2.23 "This is a real problem," the chaplain replied. "We try to provide our Christian people with a place where they can earn an honourable living without compromising their Christian principles, but the getting of any sort of a job outside has become so hard that we can only help a few people. Also many Christians are still not prepared to accept the responsibilities of partnership in this venture, and since we have no employees we cannot offer them a livelihood. We know the importance of giving a choice to Christians so that they are not forced to work in a heathen and often hostile environment. On the other hand, some of our strongest and best people have been led by the Spirit to resign their partnership and take their capital to a conventional outside enterprise in an effort to bring something of the justice and peace that we know to others. In general though I would say that once a person has truly sampled life in The Partnership as a partner, then being an employee is relatively unsatisfying and, yes, most of the partners would probably never make or want to make a satisfactory adjustment to being an employee. This of course is also true of many people who are currently employees: they have not made a satisfactory adjustment to being an employee judging by our standards. Also most traditional outside employers would find it extremely difficult to adjust to becoming an employee again after having spent many years as an employer."
2.24 "Why did people do this? What motivated the founders to spend so much of themselves on this enterprise when, judging by what has been achieved, they could probably have been very successful employers?" I asked. "The industrial history of this place is very rich," answered the chaplain. "All the records are available but what we really need is a historian to write it up since questions are so often asked about The Partnershipís history. The founders listened to, Ďin my fatherís house are many dwelling-places,í and, ĎI will make you fishers of people,í and the commands of Jesus to feed the hungry and decided it was time to put a little piece of Heaven here on earth. For the people who come from the outside into partnership here it is a place to be, a place to live and work and develop - a place where they can find and give support. Some people argued literally that if they were to be fishers of people, then they needed a place to put the catch. And where did the founders decide to fish? In the same waters Jesus fished - among the poor, the powerless and the oppressed."
2.25 "The founders wanted an environment where no-one is used as the tool of another to be manipulated and exploited, where a genuine Christian fellowship exists, where a weaker or downtrodden fellow Christian can find sustenance through contribution and healing through fellowship, where people value and seek justice, where people have faith in their leaders who are made to be responsible to the partners, and where people are physically and socially secure and able to give from that secure base, and where people bind themselves together for their own protection from the State which too often now is acting as agent for the Oppressor."
2.26 "What about gambling," I asked, "do the partners ever feel the urge to consume their surplus on the racetrack or the lotteries, and does this lead to friction?"
2.27 The chaplain tossed over the question in his mind, "We try to direct our gambling urge into productive areas. There is nothing inherently wrong with the urge to take a risk - what is wrong is the exploitation of that urge by the State on a huge scale in an effort to get something for nothing. We do not have a gambling problem - the partners have more than they want, which takes away the base motive to gamble, and there are always our research and development projects which in their latter stages require prodigious amounts of risk capital. The partners are too busy, too interested in what theyíre doing to gamble like outsiders - itís not against The Partnershipís Rules. The pity is that the State will not help redirect the gambling urge of the people into more productive channels - into the provision of risk capital that is so sorely needed since the general deindustrialisation of industry."
2.28 "We have been lobbying for years to have a Resources Lottery inaugurated. The essence of this proposal is that if a particular risk venture, say the drilling of a well for oil, costs $C, and the price per ticket is $P, and the number of participants is N, so that NP=C, then if the venture is successful each participant would own P/C of it, the government providing the running expenses as a public service out of general tax revenue so that the ownership P/C per participant is strictly adhered to and the lottery is kept simple so that everyone knows the rules. If the venture fails, all the participants lose their investment - if it succeeds, each participant reaps P/C of the net income for ever more. Once this method of mobilising public risk capital is mastered, there could be everything from an Oil Well Lottery to a Hit Single Lottery to help our musicians entertain our people. In this way equity and autonomy could be gradually built up over a few decades and average people, not only those that frequent stock exchanges, could have the option of redirecting their gambling into areas that are, materially and psychologically, more constructive than existing forms of gambling. We have had no success and we know why: there are deeply entrenched vested interests, the State being one, that see in the proposal a reduction in their income; the change in mental set from exploiter to facilitator is not easy for people skilled in exploitation to the extent where they do not even admit to themselves that they are exploiting their own weaker citizens. We have even offered to run such a lottery for nothing and to donate the proceeds to any mutually agreed project, but the law protects the existing vested interests and we have not been allowed to try our proposal."
2.29 "We have partners interested in all kinds of things," the chaplain continued, "from the abolition of torture to improvements in the political system. The partners generally have a simple life-style and high incomes which allows them reasonably wide options individually, or as a group, as the project demands."
2.30 "I thought co-operatives were supposed to be politically neutral!" I exclaimed with visions of political meetings on the shop floor. "No!" said the chaplain: "We treat political and social goals no differently from other goals. If The Partnership decides on a proposed political or social goal, it is pursued in the same way as an industrial goal. For example, all the partners are committed to pursuing the goal of developing a new product that may not be popular with a minority of the partners. If a majority of the partners do not agree to a particular goal, then the minority are free to club together and pursue that goal which may or may not be political. Strong new partnerships have come to be via this mechanism with absolutely no ill-will between the splinter and parent partnerships; invariably positive good-will on both sides occurs partly because many splinter partners retain their old partnership too."
2.31 "The Computer Party is the name of one partnership that developed in this way. It has a negative income, so partners in it have to obtain their livelihood from other partnerships. Some of the people here are partners in The Computer Party too."
2.32 "How do you stop The Partnership becoming an association of relatively rich people keeping poor people out and spending their time devising means of diverting money to themselves?" I asked.
2.33 "This is a serious problem with wealthy partnerships such as this," said the chaplain. "We have to rigidly enforce the rule that there shall be no employees, and this means that all the work has to be done by the partners. As the business grows, the partners have to work harder and harder until eventually they have to face the choice: if they want the business to grow, they must have additional labour - or if some partners get old and contract their labour input to near the legal minimum, additional partners are necessary. Now a person with high quality labour to contribute very often does not have capital as well. They are needed so much that the partners invite them in even if they canít pay their initial capital contribution immediately. Our experience is that an association of partners owning the enterprise including the land, the buildings, the tooling and the business is a happy one. There can be no question that they are far happier than the typical moneyless, propertyless outsiders who have nothing but their labour to sell - and often very poor quality labour at that. Every effort is made to keep the capital per person low so that entry is never prohibitive on this ground. It isnít easy, having done it, to say how we have avoided the worst evils of materialism. Somehow we have developed an attitude of having things serve people, of having people take priority over things, instead of the other way around. I believe that the root cause of this healthy attitude is the Christian influence pervading this place causing the altruistic side of our natures to be emphasised. The partners donít use their time primarily to get more money, they have more than enough as it is; I think they are equally conscious of the need to spend it wisely as they are of earning it honourably. There is an important principle of stewardship involved here: the Christian who earns money has to bear the responsibility of disposing of it. There is of course no question that the partners are rich in this worldís goods, but they seem to get this way as a by-product of achieving their primary goals. For example, in trying to develop or improve a product, especially when the expected demand is small, we marshal our resources, we strive to achieve, and in the process an enrichment takes place: sometimes the demand exceeds expectations giving unexpected profits, or our enhanced expertise has beneficial effects on other aspects of the business again leading to increased profits, and always there is increased group cohesion. The fact that outsiders are prepared to pay for the products of our labour is proof of our effectiveness ."
2.34 "Another way we ensure The Partnership doesnít degenerate into a group of old partners with the work done by wage workers or contractors is to rigidly apply the minimum working hours per week rule. Once a partner is unable to contribute the minimum number of hours as laid down under the Rules, that partner must retire which makes room for another partner."
2.35 "This may sound harsh," said the chaplain, "but in practice I understand there hasnít been a single person who has been put out under this provision. The fact that the provision is there and that it has to be enforced is sufficient incentive for old partners to retire gracefully. In most cases a partner who is unable to continue working wants to get out anyway: they have had enough of the problems of partnerships, of trying always to get on with people at close quarters, of agonising over which needs should have priority for the surplus - they have reached the stage often where all they want is to withdraw amicably with their capital to some quiet spot for their retirement."
2.36 "It must be difficult for Christians to behave like this toward one another. Is every partner a committed Christian?" I asked.
2.37 "I would not like to leave you with the belief that The Partnership is some kind of religious order. Thereís nothing in the Rules that says a partner has to be a practising Christian - it just happens that they nearly all are. The founders were Christians, the Rules are Christian in nature even though the word ĎChristianí is not explicitly stated, and The Partnership is really a means for religious people to express themselves in action in practical ways. Not every partner is a committed Christian. There is a sprinkling of other religions among the partners, but I would say that each and every one has the Spirit in them and seeks the will of God. You would have to see the non-Christians working with the Christians to appreciate what I say: in the practical decisions that have to be taken, in the memos that have to be written, in the things that have to be done to make the enterprise run smoothly - in all these things it is impossible to detect who is the Christian and who is not. Over the years the few non?Christians have been accepted as essentially no different from the Christians for all practical purposes: they work as hard, they obey the Rules, they are as altruistic, they are equally trusted; itís only when overtly asked if they are Christians that they say they are of another religion. But if you view religion as the search for truth, and Christianity as a facet of that truth, while other major religions are facets also, then perhaps you will understand how partners with other religions have been accepted. What matters is that people do the will of God, and if they are a little confused in their fundamental thinking and even if they donít accept all Jesusí teaching, I think that if they are aware of what the Holy Spirit is asking them to do with their lives and they are doing it, then they are not far from the Kingdom."
2.38 "How strong is the Christian influence? Does The Partnership accept direction from any religious authority?" I asked. "The Christian influence is strong, very strong," replied the chaplain, "but The Partnership is not aligned with any denomination, and jealously guards its autonomy. Although any suggestion of outside domination would be intolerable, the influence of many Christian authorities is rightly exerted by partners who identify with particular branches of the church."
2.39 "From your work in The Partnership, have you discovered anything significant about human relationships?" I asked. "Yes, I believe I have experienced a fundamental law of human relationships," responded the chaplain. "For a relationship to grow between people, they must have something in common - some material, tangible thing. Consider your own relationships, the ones that are deep and meaningful: isnít it true of each that you have something in common? This is a major reason for The Partnership to be - it is a way of having things in common."
2.40 "I suppose you have received a host of incentives from government and unions to build such a powerful and democratic industry," I said, expecting a long list of benefactors. The chaplain replied tersely "We receive no more than other makers, and often considerably less! Initially some support from labour organisations was obtained because the Rules are biased to poorer people, but when they realised that this is inherently a non-union shop they lost interest. The partners felt no need of labour unions to protect them from themselves, and the union bosses even developed some opposition to the formation of further partnerships since they see no place for their unions in them. Government also lost interest when The Partnership flexed its political muscle and showed it is no puppet. No, the partners had to help themselves."
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From The Partnership, by Graeme Doel.
Converted to HTML by Simon Grant, 2003.