Last year, the John Lewis Partnership and Marks and Spencer were about the same size: sales of £9.5bn and £10bn respectively. John Lewis employs slightly more people – employee owned companies generally do – 84,000 vs 81,000. From their profits, John Lewis distributed £210m in cash, M&S £268m. The cash from John Lewis went to the partners (employees) as a percent of salary – the same percent of salary for everyone, regardless of position. In other words it went to ordinary families, and was spent in ordinary ways, making life a bit better for 84,000 families. The story in M&S was very very different. A few of the top people got a lot. The rest of the employees got little or nothing. Almost all the cash was sent up to the ‘financial institutions’ in the City of London. These are the people who plundered and wrecked the world economy, and helped themselves to huge fortunes on the way. They are still being paid for – and still rewarding themselves massively – at the expense of all the hardworking tax-payers, paid for in part through the cuts in public services and benefits. What did they do when they received the M&S millions? They passed it around among themselves, taking their cuts on the way, and ‘invested’ it – that means gambled to you and me – in things like hedge funds and derivatives.
So which one was in the public interest? The one that countered inequality, benefited 84,000 ordinary families, reduced child poverty, and strengthened local economies? Or the one that fed gambling money to the fat cats in the City?
And according to customers, John Lewis and Waitrose did far better than M&S. Employee ownership is simply a better way of doing things.