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Co-operatives: Some Basics

Cooperation has certainly been an economic force throughout history, but formal Cooperatives (or Coops) have been around since the 1700's. There are many types of cooperatives. Some are consumer based and some are worker based. The consumer cooperative is traced back to the 1800's in Rochdale, England where a group of 28 weavers working in a cotton mill didn't have enough money to eat. They thought pooling their resources would give them a better chance. The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society (you can even visit the museum museum.coop.ac.uk/) was the first cooperative store. Even though Ben Franklin started a cooperative earlier, Rochdale is considered the birthplace of modern cooperatives because the principles and practices of the Pioneers have proven to be a successful model.

The cooperative model has been applied to many different enterprises and activities including agriculture, fisheries, consumer and financial services, housing, transportation, childcare, and production (workers' cooperatives). Many people in the US are familiar with natural food coops and housing coops.

At the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) website (www.ica.coop/coop) you can find out alot about the current cooperative movement. They claim that over 800 million people are members of cooperatives today and that coops provide 100 million jobs world wide which is 20% more than corporate enterprises. Also the ICA website outlines the basic Coop principals and values which I've quoted below:

"Coop Principles and Values

Definition A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointlyowned and democraticallycontrolled enterprise.

Values Cooperatives are based on the values of selfhelp, selfresponsibility, 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.

1. 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.

2. Democratic Member Control Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Persons serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.

3. 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. They usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the 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.

4. Autonomy and Independence Cooperatives are autonomous, selfhelp 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.

5. Education, 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 cooperation.

6. Cooperation among Cooperatives Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members."

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