Volunteering no excuse for exploitation

Volunteering, sharing, collaborative commons, is no excuse for exploitation.


A sharing economy, collaborative commons, is slowly, slowly growing. It may not even be slow, as it is the fastest growing sector of the economy. It is just that it does not show as economic activity as it does not show up as contributing to GDP.

People are reacting to austerity, mindless, soul destroying jobs, wish to see a fairer society, do not wish to see growth for the sake of growth, are returning to a sharing mentality practised by hunter-gathers.

If a hunter returns with a kill, he could say all mine, and refuse to share, but what he has will not keep. He shares the spoils of the hunt. Next time, someone who is lucky, will share with him.

The latest edition of Transition Free Press (Spring 2014), is full of many examples of sharing, of community initiatives, as is Tales of Our Times.

A couple of examples from the latest edition of Transition Free Press:

food preparation at Transition Community Cafe in Fishguard http://keithpp.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/transition-community-cafe/

Transition Community Cafe, a community run restaurant, that takes in food that would otherwise go to landfill, and turns into delicious meals.

The Restart Project run events where people are helped to repair their faulty electrical goods, giving them a new lease of life, and in the process helping people gain new skills.

If we look around we can find many examples of community activity:

TechStart, run by volunteers, takes in old computers, recycles and puts on sale at very low prices. Old computers that would otherwise go to landfill or incineration.

Guildford Institute Library, a rare surviving example of a Victorian private library, is run by volunteers.

Take a Book Leave a Book

A little boy, with a love of books, set up his own private library in the front of his house. Only local jobsworths decided to close him down.

Transition Free Press is itself a community initiative, produced by a not-for-profit collective and supported, although not financed by, the Transition Network.

But, volunteering, sharing, collaborative commons, is no excuse for exploitation.

The Philistines at Lincolnshire County Council decided to close two-thirds of the county libraries, fire 170 librarians, and what little was left, to be run by volunteers.

Apart from the disgraceful of act of closing libraries, which are in themselves a community resource, funded by the community for the benefit of the community, this was not collaborative commons, where communities launch their own initiatives as part of the collaborative commons, this was exploitation, exploitation without representation.

Do we see the councillors who took this decision working for nothing? Er, no. To add insult to injury, they recently voted themselves an increase in their already over-generous allowances.

Alford was one of the libraries to be run by volunteers. The volunteers have walked out.

The Deepings was another library facing closure. Liz Waterland Chairwoman, The Friends of Deeping Library (commenting on a Lincolnshire Echo article) highlights the difference between volunteering and exploitation:

May I correct an impression that readers may have gained, following your news item about Nick Worth’s opinions on library closures. The word ‘volunteers’ is only correct in so far as we are unpaid and are preparing to run a Community Library should we have to. We haven’t volunteered to run a library; we are being forced to do so because Lincolnshire County Council have threatened us with the closure of our popular and well used facility if we don’t. We will do our very best to step in if we have to but we would much rather that our library stayed open as the professionally run, properly staffed and funded community asset that it is at present. Neither alternative, of closure or community take over, is of our choice; we are being forced into this position because we are not willing to see the end of our library in The Deepings. The Friends of Deeping Library have been told we must ‘do it or die’ — the choice between them is NOT voluntary!

A further comment on The Deepings by Ashley Baxter which highlights the phoney nature of ‘consultation’ on mass library closures:

After six months of a phoney consultation we began looking seriously at the costs of running the existing Deepings library building. LCC is offering community groups £5,167 annually to run a library, regardless of size. After years of neglect and underuse of the upper floors, Deepings energy bills alone come to £3,800 leaving £100 a month to pay for everything else. Further enquiries uncovered that LCC had been secretly planning a feasibility study into selling the existing library and building a new-build extension to another community building that LCC don’t even own (yet). The Parish and Town Councils are now participating with the Expression of Interest process because it is the only way to keep the dialogue going and the library doors open.

Writer Philip Pullman looked at where volunteer librarians would be drawn from in Oxfordshire, comparing a wealthy middle class area with a run-down area of people on benefits.

There is a world of difference between a community voluntarily getting together to carry out an activity of mutual benefit to the local community, to a rearguard action by a community to defend its assets against action by a repressive central authority.

We have seen a number of websites recently set up, that promote the image they are part of the collaborative commons. They are not, they are promoting serfdom.