Tynan, Eirlys (1980). Sunderlandia. Case Study 3; Co-operatives Research Unit, The Open University.



The case study provides a summary of events in the history of Sunderlandia, a building co-operative set up in Sunderland in 1975 which by 1977 was introducing ideas of traditional management.

It concentrates on the perceptions and reminiscences of the workforce and gives their experience of this experiment in co-operation. Biographies of the characters are included to provided contextual information.

The study describes the ideas which informed the setting up of the co-operative, its structure and the composition of its workforce. Issues raised concern the apparent conflict between new working methods and the necessity for economic competence and effectiveness; the conflict between different expectations and rewards sought by participants from different backgrounds.

These arose against the background of general economic recession, more acutely in the building industry. A major enterprise in the purchase of land, design and sale of houses failed to establish a viable base for the company. It is seen as one instance of the poor skills and inexperience on the part of management, operating as it did in this co-operative in a tentative and defensive manner.

The author concludes that while many causes of the economic failure of the co-operative may be found in the exigencies of the building trade the 'democratic' failure of Sunderlandia lay in the lack of skills of those involved to devise proper processes of government and the lack of time or motivation to develop them.

The costs to the working class involved in this experiment is assumed by the author to outweigh the benefits.

The study concludes with a discussion of the power struggles, the stress involved in changing methods and organisational roles, the lack of adequate channels of communication and the ideology of co-operation as a mechanism of control. This is seen to result in the sacrifice of self interest on the part of the workforce with no recompense in areas of competence and control.

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