Governance and Democracy katarsis survey Paper

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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. For 

example, average gross weekly pay for face workers is currently about £540 compared with 

the UK average of £589.8. (ASHE, 2005) Dividends and bonus payments can be added to this. 

The sick scheme provides for 6 months full and 6 months half pay for all members – this is 

unique to mining in the UK; and holiday entitlement at 38 days per year is the highest in 

mining. Safety with no fatalities and total injuries of 25 per 100,000 work-shifts compares 

with the UK average of 31 injuries per 100,000 work-shifts. Under British Coal an output 

related bonus system had been operated. One of the first agreements within the cooperative 

consolidated these payments into the basic wage, enabling wages to be predictable. Other 

benefits include a 1-year salary in-service death benefit (a provision agreed at the very first co-

operative Board meeting in February 1995.)  


‘Culture-change’ in Cooperative Organisational Space 

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

and trajectories. Respondents gave examples of how, at least initially, the common practices 

under British Coal had been reproduced. Managers continued to expect their orders to be 

obeyed and NUM members still wanted an enemy to fight. Such tensions can be seen to be 

behind the mildly embarrassing 24-hour strike when a manager’s legitimate order was 


In contrast, it is also clear that there is an emerging process of joint working and joint problem 

solving which is clearly the consequence of letting go of these historically based expectations. 

Some fairly dramatic examples of working together to resolve some critical production 

problems were cited. On one occasion, coaling stopped for three months due to a gas incursion 

from old workings. Employees were paid in full during this time and worked together to 

overcome the problem. On another, the cutting machine was buried in a roof fall and – rather 











than abandon it – the members dug it out and refurbished it. This level of commitment was 

seen by all respondents as reflecting how ownership has translated into cooperative survival 

behaviour. Under British Coal, it was claimed, either of these episodes would have led to the 

colliery being closed. Such ‘survival’ behaviour reflects a constant theme in the interviews 

which emphasised that the core aim of the cooperative was to preserve jobs. While these 

various crises have generated a remarkable resilience in the face of potential catastrophe, as 

soon as coaling re-started, divisions re-emerged over revenue distribution issues ranging from 

pay differentials to cost control. This may seem not unlike what occurs in organisations owned 

and controlled in more traditional ways, but these interest debates have consistently been 

situated in a wider socio-political understanding of the need to survive and a collective sense 

of responsibility and ownership of this basic aim. Several respondents remarked on how ‘they’ 

are now responsible for their own destiny. 

More generalised evidence of the emergent work culture comes from a series of seemingly 

marginal but inter-linked changes in how ‘management’ is accomplished. 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. ‘Under British Coal they had to be 

demanded’. These practices are engendered and sustained through the power shift stemming 

from collective ownership and reflect the wider democratic structures and accountabilities. 

Who is the management and what this means has become increasingly difficult to define – no 

longer simply them and us on all issues – as one respondent put it they ‘could talk to Tyrone 

[the company Chair] like a butty’ [South Wales term for a close work friend who you could 

take the piss out of as well as work with]. 


Space and Alternative Spaces 

Our central argument is that 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.  

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