History of Cooperatives Study Cohort

In November, a discussion group was started out of Weavers Way Coop in Mt Airy on the history of cooperatives. The reader we are using is from East End Coop in Pittsburgh.

We started out the lively discussion on the beginnings of cooperatives.

In December we discussed the  seven principles of cooperatives, as written at the 1987 congress of International Cooperative Alliance. They are:

  1. Open Admission:  The cooperative system is open to all who agree with the basic cooperative principles without regard to ethnic background, religion, political beliefs or gender
  2. Democratic Organization: The cooperative system is based upon the equality of owner-workers (socio-trabajadores).  Aside from limited and special circumstances all workers must be members.  The cooperative is democratically controlled on the basis of one member, one vote; its governing structures are democratically controlled and are also responsible to the general assembly or other elected body.
  3. Sovereignty of Labor: Labor is the essential transformative facto of society.  The cooperatives renounce wage labor, give full power to the owner-workers to control  the co-ops, give primacy to workers in distribution of surpluses, and work to extend the cooperative choice to all members of society.
  4. Instrumental Character of Capital: Capital is basically accumulated labor and a necessary factor in business development and savings.  The co-ops pay a just but limited return on capital saved or invested, a return that is not directly tied to the losses or surpluses of the co-ops.  Their need for capital shall not impede the principle of open admission, but  (after an initial trial period) co-op members must make a substantial, affordable, and equal financial investment in the cooperative.  At present, this membership contribution is equal to a year’s salary of the lowest-paid member.
  5. Self Management: Cooperation involves both collective effort and individual responsibility.  Cooperation “is the development of the individual not against others but with others.”  Democratic control means participation in management and the ongoing development of the skills needed for self-management (autogestion).  There must be clear information available on the co-op’s operations, systematic training of owner-workers, internal promotion for management positions, and consultations and negotiations with all cooperators in organizational decisions that affect them.
  6. Pay Solidarity:  The co-ops will practice both internal and external pay solidarity.  Internally, the total pay differential between the lowest-and the highest-paid member shall not exceed a factor of one to six.  In addition, compensation is comparable to that prevailing in neighboring conventional firms.  A new institution, the F.I.S.O. …constitutes, in effect, a third level of co-op solidarity, in this case solidarity between the individual co-ops.
  7. Group Cooperation: Co-ops are not isolated entities.  Cooperation exists on three levels: among individual co-ops organized into groups; among co-op groups; and between the Mondragon system and other movements.
  8. Social Transformation: Cooperation in the Mondragon system is an instrument for social transformation.  As Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, a founder of the movement wrote “Cooperation is the authentic integration of people in the economic and social process that shapes the new social order; the cooperators must make the objective extend to all those that hunger and thirst for justice in the working world.” The co-ops reinvest the major portion of their surpluses in the Basque community.  A significant portion goes toward new job development, to community development (through the use of social funds), to a social security system based on mutual solidarity and responsibility, to cooperation with other institutions (such as unions) advancing the cause of Basque workers, and to collaborative efforts to develop Basque language and culture.
  9. Universal Nature: The co-ops proclaim their solidarity with all who labor for economic democracy, peace, justice, human dignity, and development in Europe and elsewhere, particularly with the peoples of the third world.
  10. Education: Education is essential for fulfilling the basic cooperative principles.  It is fundamentally important to devote sufficient human and economic resources to cooperative education, professional training, and general education of young people in the future.

-from Roy Morrison, “We Build the Road as We Travel”


Our discussion kept coming back to education as a foundation for the other principles, and the question of how a cooperative can most effectively fulfill this principle. Comments? FJAR is trying to work on this, more study cohorts!

And more comments to follow.

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