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Fighting inequality: what works?

A review of local strategies to challenge the rise of inequality



Mike Savage

Dr Luna Glucksberg, Research Fellow at the III




Prof Mike Savage, Director of the III

This project will attempt to grapple with the rise of wealth inequalities by collecting and examining examples of communities that have successfully challenged processes of systemic dispossession. Where and when, how and why, have groups been able to stand up against the systems and patterns that funnel wealth up and away from local communities? How have they managed to reverse them? What can be learned from these examples? How do we apply those lessons in other locations, under different conditions?

There are many reasons to seek out these examples. On the one hand, it is obviously good practice to learn about successful models of resistance. It is important to understand what works, and how, as well as what does not, from a strategic perspective, if we want to reproduce those successes. On the other hand, it is important to challenge the idea that the future on offer from the current, neoliberal models is all there is. Therefore an important part of this project will concern the narratives and values that people have employed and mobilised to bring about successful change in their local communities.

The project will bring together a) a review of documented practices that have successfully challenged neoliberal models of accumulation and dispossession, including co-operative models, local wealth building strategies, housing cooperatives and examples of UBI (Universal Basic Income). It will then develop b) four in-depth ethnographic case studies of examples of successful practices, of realities that have managed to successfully deviate, and challenge, the dominant narrative.

In doing so we will split the case studies into a consumption and production side. Two ‘production’ sites will be selected for their strengths in changing traditional labour practices, in terms of how labour is structured, allocated and the value generated is redistributed. These will include labour cooperatives and LWB (Local Wealth Building) experiments. Two ‘consumption’ sides will also be considered, one to do with UBI (Universal Basic Income) practices and one looking at housing cooperatives or land holding strategies, looking at how re-imagining housing and income as resources to be shared, rather than individual possessions, may challenge unequal societies.

The locations will include 1) Mondragon, in the Basque Country, as an example of cooperative activity scaled up to influence and indeed shape an entire region away from inequality; 2) Preston, in the UK, as a flagship example of local wealth building strategies which aim to revitalise local economies through the engagement of ‘anchor’ institutions and, amongst many other, their procurement and recruitment practices. It is envisaged that a third location may be in 3) Chile, facilitated by our colleagues at COES (Centre for Study of Conflict and Social Cohesion), and possibly including housing cooperatives and/or indigenous practices of land and resource holding and sharing. The 4) fourth ethnographic location is still to be identified, but it will be connected with UBI. The recent UBI experiment in Finland makes this country a likely contender, but this is still to be defined at the time of writing.