If we are to create an alternative to exploitative oligarchical capitalism, we have to learn to value things differently from how capitalism values them. The generosity of Ernest Bader in dedicating his company to the Scott Bader Commonwealth ripples out today, still affecting people. As when another driver lets me pull out in the rush hour I feel gratitude, and am more likely to behave generously to another driver, but scaled up to affect the world.
I am privileged to know his son Godric, now aged 91, and yesterday to visit the headquarters in Northamptonshire where there is a research division and production plant. Previously I have seen Godric’s faults more clearly than his qualities, or perhaps seen his good qualities as faults. We are having lunch with his daughter and wife. Hansi cajoles him into choosing, and finally chooses for him. He notices the macaroni cheese. “That’s on the ‘little angels’ menu. Still, you could be a little angel. It would be a small amount, to suit your appetite.” Eventually, watching his reactions, she proposes egg on toast and he assents. He pinches the cucumber from my plate, and looks at me roguishly. I move to consume the other piece of cucumber.
He was keen to get me to Scott Bader at Wollaston, and I was reluctant. What possible good could I do? I do not want to distract these people from their jobs. I understand what a catalyst is from school chemistry but-
I feel a fool- so nervous of these people
He introduced me to one, and I talked with her, and she showed us a new film about the Commonwealth. We saw film of the company being signed over to the Commonwealth in 1951. Godric’s mother signed, and her look as she stood up, after, is a family myth- She didn’t want to! agree Godric and Hansi. We went down into the cellars, now storage for documents, where Godric shovelled coal into the old heating boiler. There is a tunnel to the church, goes the story. There is a tunnel to the coach-house, where we find old vacuum-tube computer monitors and other stuff, including a large bottle of Optrex for emergencies. He is like a child exploring.
-I’m my own monster, I told him.
–Yes! I Know! he enthused, whispering, even though I only found out last Friday.
He was managing director. The company has production on six continents.
There are tensions. This is not an ordinary employee-owned business, like the John Lewis Partnership: the idea is to be something more, for the good of the world. In 1951 the ratio of the highest to lowest paid was 3, then shortly after 5, and Ann had some difficulty finding out what is now though she is a guardian trustee. What that something more is, I am unsure, though there is an agreed need for workers to get it before becoming members of the Commonwealth.
The gardens could be kept better. That pool with the fountain is so cloudy. I see the hyperbolic paraboloid of the Commonwealth Centre: at two opposite corners the roof is high, at the other two corners it is low, and this shape enables it to extend over a great area only supported at the corners. The lawns are huge.
My fear was of an illusion. He respects me, and they respect him, so they welcome me. He was terribly tired when we drove away: my visit mattered to him. I feel valued, and his childlike beauty may free me- if I could be like that!