October Is Co-op Month!
Written by: Sean Foust on October 3, 2017
“Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.” – International Cooperative Association
Five Hundred Years Going Strong
How did cooperatives (coops) start? In 1498 Shore Porters Society of London formed the first cooperative business and they remain in business today, a testament to the lasting power of cooperatives. Their approach was worker-ownership, which empowers employees to be owners and have an equal say in business decisions and operations.
The first consumer cooperative was the Fenwick Weavers’ Society (still in operation as well) formed in Scotland in 1761. Their mission was to create best practices in the craft of weaving, but this later expanded to include the purchase and distribution of bulk books and food — their book trade led to the opening of the town’s first library in 1808!
Today cooperatives are a vibrant showcase of what shared care for others can do for individuals and their communities. Cooperatives practice democracy, and allow members to join with no stipulations. Those who cannot afford to join are often given memberships and sometimes discounts on the co-ops goods, in order to help alleviate poverty in their communities. Shore Porters formed as a way to cut through class restrictions of old Britain and bring voices to the unheard.
Classism is of course still wildly prevalent today and disproportionately affects people of color — heightening their imprisonment rates, reducing access to education and healthcare, and countless other injustices.
Cooperatives aim to reduce this by opening their doors to all with the goal of listening to each member equally. The business structure is anti-oppression in action and is designed in a way that allows workers to make a living wage within a good working environment.
We urge you to get involved! Learn more by checking out the resource section at the end of this article and feel free to get in touch to chat about co-ops!
There are seven principles which all cooperatives follow:
- Voluntary and Open Membership
- Democratic Member Control
- Member Economic Participation
- Autonomy and Independence
- Education, Training and Information
- Co-operation Among Co-operatives
- Concern for Community
Voluntary and Open Membership
Coops are organizations with voluntary membership. Everyone may join without fear of discrimination. This is a powerful practice which brings equality and strengthens communities.
It can be challenging to accept great diversity, and proceed to a true consensus, but as with all democracies, the goal is to work together to find the best outcomes.
Democratic Member Control
Coops are democratic organizations controlled by their membership. Members of a cooperative vote to set policies and help form business decisions, as well as vote for their Board of Directors who represent the coop as a whole.
Democracy requires vigilance to higher aspirations, critical thinking, and empathy, so that the best decisions can be made for our communities.
Member Economic Participation
Members purchase shares of equal value, and by doing so democratically control the capital of their co-operative. A portion of every cooperative businesses capital is owned by the collective. When there is a surplus of funds at the end of a fiscal year, the membership decides how to use these funds.
Occasionally these surplus funds are distributed to the members as patronage payouts, but often they are used to develope the cooperative in ways members see fit.
Autonomy and Independence
Co-ops are independent. Any partnerships or sources of funding are sought with the intent to keep full control of the cooperative with membership. Cooperatives will always make decisions based on democratic tenets, period.
Education, Training and Information
Co-ops support the education of members, their board, employees, and the public about the benefit of cooperatives!
Cooperation among Cooperatives
Co-ops build their movement by collaboration and resource sharing across sectors, cities, and countries. Co-ops also often prefer to hire each other and form networks within their industry.
Care for Community
Co-ops help to strengthen their communities through their policies and business practices.
- Benefits of Worker-Ownership – Democracy at Work Institute
- A Worldwide Strategic Plan for Co-operatives – International Cooperative Alliance
- Freelancer’s Guide to Starting a Tech Co-op – Tech Co-op Network