Governance and Democracy katarsis survey Paper

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The Board is comprised of 6 directly elected ‘working’ Directors two of whom have to stand 

for re-election each year. Only two of the existing Directors are members of senior 

management and all have to account for their actions at the company AGM. Annual elections 

to the Board and the extensive formal and informal work consultation processes serve to 

sustain an open discourse and democracy in all the dimensions of relationships within the 

Tower ‘space’. 

It is important to emphasise the significance of this break with past social practice. The 

continued usage of such traditional terms as ‘Directors’ and ‘the Board’ should not be 

permitted to obscure what is a radical shift in power relations with respect to the ownership 

and control of economic capital, for the organisational decision-making processes outlined 

above indicate a quite fundamental shift to bottom up democracy and accountability. The 

members’ votes decide operational policy and the collective enjoys direct responsibility for 

decisions and their consequences; the possibility of blaming distant bureaucracy is a luxury of 

the past. Thus, collective ownership, control and democratic accountability are the source of a 

different social space and community, enabling a redistribution of economic, political, social 

and cultural capital resources. 

For many producer cooperatives, the most troublesome spatial location they need to occupy 

successfully is ‘the Market’ for their goods or services. In this respect, Tower is fortunate for 

their product – anthracite – remains a valuable commodity and, because all the potential 

competitor mines have been closed, there are no effective alternative suppliers in their prime 

market. This product is the foundation of Tower’s power resources both in contract 

negotiation and in the consequent strategic freedom to choose how to deploy the revenue 

stream. The cooperative has been financially successful over its 10 years of operation. 

Perhaps the most ‘novel’ space now occupied by the members is their direct responsibility for 

financial decision-making. Although there is some limited profit distribution (but not every 

year), the vast proportion of the revenue goes on reinvestment and member rewards. The 

balance between these respective needs is not uncontested. More generally – reflecting 

Tower’s symbiotic relationship with the local community – the cooperative supports a range 

of local projects, including rugby, opera, motorcycle racing, schools, a children’s hospice and 

community regeneration. The leading figures are acutely aware of the socio-economic 

significance of all revenue being returned to the locality and, unsurprisingly, many of the 

Tower employees are allowed time off to support these activities. 










Although the provision of jobs was the main aim in establishing Tower, members were also 

determined that this would not be achieved without the provision of the best possible terms 

and conditions of employment. The initial workforce of 239 has expanded to 299 cooperative 

members with a further 100 employed as contractors in face development, the bagging plant 

and in security. Employees enjoy well above average terms and conditions of employment. 

Pay, basic conditions, welfare and safety are comparable with those in other UK mines.  

A complex cooperative ‘work culture’ can be seen to be emerging with distinctive tensions 

and trajectories. There is an emerging process of joint working and joint problem solving. 

Several respondents remarked on how ‘they’ are now responsible for their own destiny. Work 

issues are discussed at the start of shifts, there are regular informal meetings in the single 

canteen, weekend maintenance work is planned collectively and there are fortnightly meetings 

between the underground shift captains and surface managers. These practices are engendered 

and sustained through the power shift stemming from collective ownership and reflect the 

wider democratic structures and accountabilities. 

Thus, the creation of the worker-owned colliery has permitted those involved to nurture and 

develop a range of social practices which constitute a persistent, coherent and significant 

challenge to the existing socio-political and economic order. The analysis of the data involves 

an assessment of the extent to which the cooperative can be seen to be an autonomous, 

different and alternative space. In terms of social movement theory, our suggestion is that the 

Tower venture can be seen as a ‘repertoire of contention’ and that the ‘autonomous 

geography’ created by the activists represents a significant challenge simply because it opens 

up a range of possibilities which permit workers and their communities to take control of their 

own socio-economic destiny.  

What are the contours of Tower’s ‘autonomous geography’? The terrain we are concerned 

with relates, firstly, to the available and potential organizational socio-economic space and

secondly, to workers effective influence and control within and over such space. All social 

space is bounded by history, context and culture (Lefebvre 1991). Of course, space itself does 

nothing: it is always mediated by social action and different spaces are articulated and 

constructed through interactive social processes. Our data suggests that social actors can 

develop and deploy different discourses which ‘imagine’ alternative (or competing) spaces 

which other actors are then persuaded or cajoled to occupy and enact. It is not that ‘new’ 

spaces (which did not “exist” before) have been created but that social actors have refocused 

attention away from one ‘dominant’ space to an alternative possible space which, for a variety 

of reasons, has become visible, available and, perhaps, necessary. In this sense we have 

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