The performance of worker co-operatives in a capitalist economy: British co-operatives in printing, clothing and wholefoods, 1975-1985

Jefferis, Keith (1989). The performance of worker co-operatives in a capitalist economy: British co-operatives in printing, clothing and wholefoods, 1975-1985. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis aims to contribute to the debate on the role and potential of worker co-operatives in a capitalist economy, and analyses the development of the co-operative sector in Britain since the mid-1970s in the context of an economy undergoing a major crisis and restructuring.

Part One examines competing theoretical perspectives in economics towards co-operatives. This reviews and criticises the orthodox neoclassical and behavioural approaches, before turning to a marxist analysis and developing it in the context of co-operatives' role as small enterprises in an economy dominated by large firms. The analysis concentrates upon co-operatives' market relationships and competitive position as the mechanism through which they interact with the rest of the economy.

Part Two moves from theory to the concrete, and examines the performance of workers co-operatives as commercial enterprises, in three industries (printing, clothing manufacture, and wholefood distribution) which demonstrate contrasting relationships between large and small firms. It includes an overview of the development and characteristics of the co-operative sector, before investigating the financing of co-operative and their commercial performance. This is then explained in the context of the political and economic development of the co-operative sector, of the British economy, and developments in the industries in question. It finds that whilst the performance of co-operative has improved over time, it remains worse than that of competing capitalist firms in terms of wage levels and capacity to generate a reinvestible surplus.

Part Three builds upon this work to identify the important conditions and processes which have contributed to the rapid growth and development of the co-operative sector in Britain, and seeks to develop a broad understanding of the means by which the degeneration of co-operative can be avoided. It concludes that the resurgence and growth of co-operative must be located in the particular form of economic restructuring taking place in the early 1980s. The establishment and survival of co-operatives has been dependent upon support for workers' initiatives by the state, and on the nature of market processes in particular areas of the economy. However, these conditions are transient and the future development of the co-operative sector is crucially dependent upon the long term support of the state and the labour movement.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions