Ernest Bader, the youngest of thirteen children, was born in Regensdorf, Switzerland on 24th November 1890. He was expelled from school at the age of twelve and went to work in a Zürich chemical factory.
Bader studied commerce and languages at night school and at the age of 21 found work in an office. Bader emigrated to England in 1912, and found employment as a clerk for a silk merchant. Bader became involved in politics and under the influence of Reginald Sorensen, a Unitarian minister, he became a pacifist and a Christian Socialist.
On the outbreak of the First World War he became a conscientious objector and between 1917 and 1920 worked on a smallholding adjoining Sorensen's farming community of conscientious objectors at Stanford-le-Hope. During the war Bader married Dora Scott and later adopted three war orphans of different nationalities and backgrounds, before the births of their own children.
According to his biographer, John G. Corina: "In 1920 Bader deployed his wife's capital of £300 to start a London-based import agency for celluloid. This operation expanded into a specialist chemical manufacturing company, Scott Bader Ltd, making new products and synthetic resin... Bader combined marketing energy and individualistic leadership with a flair for spotting and applying new technology, and the company eventually became the leading innovator in plastics technology, in an industry generally dominated by capital-intensive giants."
The Scott Bader Company was based in Wollaston, Northamptonshire. Bader was a paternalistic employer and his loyal, non-unionized workforce helped him to develop a company that was worth over £2 million. As Andrew Rigby has pointed out: "Although successful as judged by normal capitalist standards Bader... remained dissatisfied with the disjunction between Christian morality and the ethics of competitive capitalism in general... This led him to think seriously about turning his company into some form of cooperative fellowship."
Bader became friends with John Middleton Murry who argued for "socialist-communities, prepared for hardship and practised in brotherhood, might be the nucleus of a new Christian Society, much as the monasteries were during the dark ages." He purchased a farm in Langham, Essex and established a pacifist community centre they called Adelphi Centre on the land. Murry argued he was attempting to create "a community for the study and practice of the new socialism".
In 1945 Bader joined the Society of Friends. His political and religious views influenced his views as a businessman. As John G. Corina has pointed out: " Fired with post-war reconstruction ardour, workplace benevolence was not enough for him. He saw that authoritarian managements were less productive than participative systems, and that human dignity in the workplace and mutual service were industrial values that transcended the hierarchical work concepts promoted by private greed or remote nationalization. A wave of imitative experiments might, he conjectured, eventually implant self-government across industry, encouraging private manufacturers and state enterprise boards to devolve power gradually to employees, to share surpluses, rights, and duties, and to shoulder ethical responsibilities."
Bader became friendly with Wilfred Wellock. As a young man he had been a supporter of Guild Socialism, a movement that advocated workers' control of industry through the medium of trade-related guilds. The author of A Life in Peace: A Biography of Wilfred Wellock (1988) argued: "Bader had been in correspondence with Wellock concerning his ideas and quoted from him in the conclusion to the document. But the whole tenor of the proposal displayed strong echoes of Wellock's ideas. He stressed the desirability of limiting the size of enterprises, emphasised the social responsibility of industry, referred to the human potential for cooperative effort, and affirmed the crucial importance of worthwhile work for the development of the individual."
In 1951 Bader finally formed the Scott Bader Commonwealth and handed over 90% of the shares held by the Bader family to a newly constituted body, the Commonwealth, made up of all those members of the workforce. Bader remained managing director of this highly successful company until his son, Godric, took over in 1957.
In 1957 Bader joined forces with Kingsley Martin, Canon John Collins, J. B. Priestley, Bertrand Russell, Fenner Brockway, Wilfred Wellock, Frank Allaun, Donald Soper, Vera Brittain, E. P. Thompson, Sydney Silverman, James Cameron, Jennie Lee, Victor Gollancz, Konni Zilliacus, Richard Acland, Stuart Hall, Ralph Miliband, Frank Cousins, A. J. P. Taylor, Canon John Collins and Michael Foot to establish the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
Bader joined forces with Wilfred Wellock and Canon John Collins in 1958 to establish Demintry (Society for Democratic Integration in Industry). The main objective of the organisation was to develop: "An ideological development of industry into living communities and basic democracies, where the company is chartered and constituted as a form of common ownership of the means of production. Its purpose is to create ideals which turn men into servers, rather than that ideals should merely serve man."
In 1963 the remaining 10% of the shares of Scott Bader was handed over to the Commonwealth. Ernest Bader argued: "What the worker really dreams of is the acquiring of social function and status ... Increases in wages or better conditions of work can be no moral equivalent for pride in craftmanship, social recognition and acclaim, opportunities for advancement and for the free expression of personality and initiative."
Ernest Bader died at his home in Wollaston on 5th February 1982. According to John G. Corina "he owned no private house, car, or personal business assets, nor had he made capital transfers or gifts before his death."
In the 1940s Wellock had become associated with an industrialist who was motivated by just such a sense of moral purpose - this was Ernest Bader, a Swiss, emigre who had founded the Scott Bader Company in 1920 in London and quickly established it as a leading chemical and resin manufacturing concern.
Although successful as judged by normal capitalist standards Bader, who had joined the Society of Friends in 1944, remained dissatisfied with the disjunction between Christian morality and the ethics of competitive capitalism in general, and with the employer-employee power relationship in particular. He took to heart the injunction of the 17th century Quaker, George Fox, "so to live and order our lives as to take away the occasion for war", and began to cast around for a nonviolent basis upon which to order industrial life. This led him to think seriously about turning his company into some form of cooperative fellowship. In a discussion document he drew up for consideration by his employees in 1945 (they numbered about seventy at this time) he referred to the need to change "the structure of society by establishing responsible common ownership", and raised the possibility of transferring his shares to a proposed Fellowship. Bader had been in correspondence with Wellock concerning his ideas and quoted from him in the conclusion to the document. But the whole tenor of the proposal displayed strong echoes of Wellock's ideas. He stressed the desirability of limiting the size of enterprises, emphasised the social responsibility of industry, referred to the human potential for cooperative effort, and affirmed the crucial importance of worthwhile work for the development of the individual...
Wellock was... guest speaker at the 25th anniversary of the company in February 1946, encouraged Bader in his initiative, observing that his was "the only such venture I have heard of which has in view the integration of a community, or an industrial labour unit with the complete life of the surrounding area."
In 1951 Bader finally formed the Scott Bader Commonwealth and handed over 90% of the shares held by the Bader family to a newly constituted body, the Commonwealth, made up of all those members of the workforce who wished to belong to what was, on paper at least, the legal owner and ultimate authority in the enterprise. In the preamble to the new constitution Bader quoted directly from Wellock's address on "Basic Education and the Social Order" delivered at Sevagram in December 1949, when he appealed to his fellow business men to ask themselves "to what extent violence resides in the demands we make upon the earth's resources and the available raw materials by reason of our self-indulgent existence, and what is to be our personal contribution to peace." In 1963 the remaining 10% of the shares was handed over to the Commonwealth. By this time Bader increasingly referred to Gandhi as the source of his ideas on communal ownership and cooperative management, a fact which his biographer attributed to the influence of Wellock. Thus, in the preamble to the 1963 constitution Bader made explicit reference to the Gandhian principle of trusteeship when he wrote: "The ultimate criteria in the organisation of work should be human dignity and service to others instead of solely economic performance. We feel mutual responsibility must permeate the whole community of work and be upheld by democratic participation and the principle of trusteeship."
Wellock and Bader were to continue their association, primarily by means of an active correspondence which on occasions reached the level of two or three letters a week, until the end of Wellock's life. An examination of the correspondence that remains in the archives at Scott Bader reveals Wellock as the sounding board for many of Bader's ideas and schemes for the Commonwealth, whilst Bader presented a sympathetic ear for Wellock's strictures against the narrow focus of the peace movement. They worked closely together in 1957 along with Harold Farmer, a North London printer who had turned his company into a cooperative, to establish an association of firms and industrialists who were interested in the idea and practice of common ownership. The resulting organisation, Demintry (Society for Democratic Integration in Industry), was launched at a public meeting in January 1958 with Wellock as chairman and Bader as secretary.