On December 21, 1843 a small group of men and women joined together to open the Rochdale Pioneer Society. This became the first “modern-era” cooperative in the English speaking world. The cooperative was based on simple principles: provide quality goods and services at a reasonable price and provide a decent place of employment.
Since then, cooperatives have blossomed to include every aspect of human enterprise. Today, the cooperative model includes financial institutions and insurance (credit unions and mutuals), consumer cooperatives, producer cooperatives, housing cooperatives, and worker cooperatives. While the services and goods provided by cooperatives and credit unions are as divergent as the people using and providing them, all cooperatives and credit unions are bound by a single identity.
Simply put, cooperatives are democratically controlled enterprises. They operate on the basis of “one-member, one-vote” instead of “one share, one vote”.
We present the following resources for those who would like to learn more about cooperatives, who are considering starting a cooperative or who would like to strengthen their existing cooperative.
What is a co-op?
In 1843, the Rochdale Pioneers set forth a statement of principles. These became known as the Rochdale Principles. Over the years, they have been amended several times by succeeding generations. In 1995, the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) voted to add a list of values, ethics and a definition.
In addition to the Statement on Cooperative Identity (re-posted below), in 2005, the ICA General Assembly also approved the World Declaration on Worker Cooperatives. This declaration attempts to further define the unique nature of worker ownership. To read this declaration, either hit the link above to download a pdf version or go to the CICOPA web site .
The Statement on the cooperative Identity
A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.
Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
The cooperative principles are guidelines by which Cooperatives put their values into practice.
1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decsiions. Men and women service as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary Cooperatives, members have eqaul voring rights (one member, one vote ) an cooperative at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.
3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocated surplusses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
5th Principle: Educaiton, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their Cooperatives. They inform the general public–particularly young people and opinion leaders–about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
6th Principle: Co-operations Among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7th Principle: Concern for Community
Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.
In the United States, each state has its own method of dealing with corporations and businesses. In Wisconsin, Cooperatives get their legal definition from State Stature Chapter 185. To get a copy, simply download one here .
Why Shop co-op?
Doing It Better, Together
At a worker co-op, you will be talking to someone who is invested in the quality of their service, the quality of their product, and ultimately the quality of the business as a whole.
Affordable without Exploitation
Know any taxi drivers who get health care and time off? We do! We strive to keep our costs low through an efficient fleet and good driving habits, while giving our drivers a share of the pie.
Green by Nature
Worker co-op members have to care about the environmental effects of their operation, because they are the ones working and living in that environment every day.
Invest in the Community
Co-op workers tend to live in the community they work in, so they are more likely to understand and invest in the needs of the community.
Efficient from the Ground Up
Businesses run by single owners or absentee boards tend to come up with strategies that make sense only in the short term. Businesses run by people who work there, adopt practices that make long term sense.
Built with Values
Where the bottom line for a traditional business is making money for the owner, worker co-ops are communities of people who have come together for a common goal. Sustaining their business financially is one goal, but almost never the only one.
Strong Local Economies
Because the workers who operate the business own it, there is no outside entity to take the profits and spend it elsewhere. Most money spent at a worker-owned business will stay in your local community.
Democracy All Day
Many of us spend the majority of our waking hours in a workplace. No matter how democratic our political system becomes, if our workplaces are private dictatorships we will never be free.
The modern cooperative movement began in reaction to the excesses of the Industrial Revolution. Pioneers such as Robert Owen and William King labored to change the harsh working conditions. The law was not on their side, however, and many of their efforts did not come to fruition. In 1843, the Rochdale Pioneers opened shop promising that the flour would be pure and the scales would be fair. The Pioneers grew quickly and in the financial panic of 1848, they became a very safe place to have ones money.
Throughout the remainder of the 1800’s cooperatives began springing up in Europe and the Americas. England continued with a consumer cooperative movement to match its culture as a “nation of shop keepers.” In Germany, the dominant form was the Credit Union. France focused on worker cooperatives. In the US and Canada, the Grange and Populist movement helped to create the strong producer cooperatives of the Agriculture industry. Italy developed along all of these lines.
In the 1930’s cooperatives in the UK and Canada consolidated creating large second tier cooperatives. Today, the co-op Atlantic and Cooperatives UK are the remnants of these movements. co-op Atlantic is a producer-consumer cooperative while The Cooperative in the UK is a consumer cooperative providing “cradle to grave” goods and services to millions of Britons.
In the 1950’s under the fascist heel of Franco, Basque workers created a manufacturing cooperative. The ULGOR cooperative grew creating its own banking structure, social security network and educational institutions. Today, Mondragon is one of the largest corporations in the world and continues to operate as a democratic worker cooperative.
The Italian cooperatives of the north have also prospered and the Trentino and Bologna areas of Italy have the cooperative model as the dominant form of conducting business.
Worker and Consumer cooperatives began to take off in the United States in the early 1980’s and 1990s. Union Cab and Isthmus Engineering are two of the older worker cooperatives in existence today. The consumer cooperatives have begun working together nationally to achieve better prices on goods. Worker cooperatives have also started to network regionally and nationally.
The cooperative movement begun by a handful of men and women in 1843 has blossomed into an international movement of democratic enterprises that represent over 800 million people worldwide. The top 300 cooperatives have an aggregate turnover of 1.1 trillion dollars, which equals the 10th largest national economy.
Other than a vision, passion and financially viable business plan, there are two things that people interested in starting cooperatives need: money and knowledge. The cooperative community has access to both. Over the last several years, a number of educational programs have developed through Cooperation Works! and the St. Mary's University to on-going efforts by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and the various centers for cooperative study. Access to capital may be a bit trickier, but we have put together a list of potential fund programs.
This 35-minute documentary provides an excellent introduction for anybody who wants to learn about the worker cooperative model. The film takes the viewer through the basics of the model. The documentary features Union Cab, but also shows the diversity of the movement that includes home care nurses, shipwrights, bakers, and even a sex toy mail order company. Over the 27 minutes, people will learn definitions, start-up procedures and the reality of the worker-owned environment (it's not all paradise). Most importantly, viewers will develop an understanding of the transformative power of gaining economic control of one's life. The film can be purchased from Headlamp Pictures at the link above.
Whether you are interested in forming a cooperative of learning more about this cutting edge economic movement, the folks at the UW Center for Cooperatives have all the information you require.
The University of Saskatchewan hosts one of the major research centers for cooperatives in North America. The can provide co-operators and friends with an abundant supply of studies.
Each November, over 400 participants from all over the United States, Canada, and beyond converge in Ann Arbor, Michigan to share ideas, learn new skills, and look at issues affecting the cooperative movement worldwide. NASCO’s Cooperative Education & Training Institute, which has been providing cooperative training and education annually since 1977, is widely recognized as one of the most important training and networking opportunities available to cooperative members, directors, staff and managers.
The British Columbia Institute for cooperative Studies is a catalyst for research, learning, and teaching about cooperative thought and practice through the development of cooperative Studies as an established field of inquiry. The Institute collaborates with other post-secondary institutions, the co-op sector, governments, individuals and communities interested in cooperative development.
NCDF has introduced a new worker ownership fund as well as a worker cooperative tool kit.