The demutualisation of Building Societies in the 1980s and 1990s feels like the great symbol of our fatal abandonment of interdependence.
Many individuals might have enough resources to build or buy themselves a home. Many others would not, unless what was literally their clubbing together generated the necessary capital. Profit generated within many of those societies was not destined to be taken out but to be furnish further loans - until it dawned on some of those whose homes had already been built or bought that ‘terminating’ the club would mean they could have the accumulated capital for themselves in addition to their homes - cutting off the access of others to housing loans not inflated by the need to pay profit to bank share-holders.
Thatcherite legislation triggered this possibility by, on one hand, enabled commercial banks to make building loans and, on the other, Building Societies to operate as share-held commerical Banks. So in the 1990s I twice received an unsolicited cheques or shares simply because I had money in a Building Society which was being demutualised. I knew enough about why this mattered not to hold onto this dirty money but to give my windfall away to a housing charity. But I did not know enough to forsee everything from the loans crisis which was to follow to the rise of ‘generation rent’.
I’ve been thinking about all this again as I’ve continued to reflect on interdependence – I now suspect that de-mutual is an opposite of sum-phero. I also suspect that the absence of a societal appetite for mutuality is a symbol of the false binary of sovereignty / subjugation which may be part of what lies behind the country’s Brexit divide – something about which I’m preparing to talk.
And it is also at the front of my mind because I’ve been reminded of the origins of the co-operative movement – the modern English form of which was pioneered by Lancashire weavers eighteen miles away in Rochdale in 1844 when they secured more affordable groceries through a mutual society which operated without needing to generate an owner’s profit.
Within twenty years that movement had reached here. The maps of Cross Roads in 1848 (a scatter of hamlets) and 1910 (the hamlets were coalescing into the present village, with the Parish Church built that year) come from the Golden Jubilee history of the Lees and Cross Roads Co-operative Industrial Society Limited founded in 1861; clicking on either image will enlarge it.