A cooperative (also co-operative or co-op) is a business organization owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit. A cooperative is defined by the International Cooperative Alliance’s Statement on the Cooperative Identity as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise“. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative
My last post revolved around the Occupy movement and how this reflects a long-standing feeling that ‘something is wrong’; that as a society we aren’t taking care of each other anymore. In some countries, this long-standing and historical malaise is addressed through institutions like welfare or public medical care, pension plans, unions, laws against child labour, etc. These are all elements of ‘Socialism’ that have been put into place in a toxic Capitalist environment, to make life livable for most of those not in the top 1%.
These structures are always under attack, of course, and today it’s more in-your-face than it’s been in decades. Look at the US Primaries and how the race to the bottom is taking shape: people in the bottom rungs are actually responding positively to Republican calls for reduced government (well, reduced government services for the needy, anyhow– there is always room for massive expansion in the Military, of course); they wave around the word ‘Socialist’ at President Obama (if only), much like the word ‘Communist’ in the past. Calling someone a socialist is presented as an insult to the American spirit of every-man-for-himself. But what happens when these ‘men’ (under the law corporations are people too) wield so much power? Well, what always happens: corruption.
Cooperatives offer a model that is so familiar in most of the world, but kind of suspect here in the West, where we have traditionally prided ourselves in pulling ourselves up by our own boot straps, never mind the fact that we’re living on stolen land, having decimated native populations, damaged or destroyed the environment and depleted the rivers, oceans and land of wildlife, and even the soil of its nutrients. And now, with so much of our manufacturing and high-tech industries exporting work overseas to reduce costs and maximize profits by selling us 50-cent shoes for $50, the impossibly nervy corporations have themselves struck a nerve– in the population. “Those pesky 99%-ers, what do they want now?!”
But, unlike what the corporate news pundits, advertisers and lobbyists claim or even believe, it’s not these people want to be in that 1% that they protest; they want changes to happen to make the system fair and to work for us all. We deserve truly democratically-elected and responsive governments at all levels, as well as companies that work to better our lives, and not to collude and to destroy our physical, financial and mental well-being, and make money off of that, as well (hello, Big Pharma).
I see cooperatives as one of the solutions to the global crisis; we need to get together and invest in ourselves, with our time, energy, expertise, and money. It becomes clearer every day that supporting corporations from banks to chain stores, or in stocks (whether directly or indirectly) takes a huge amount of money out of the local into the realm of international finance, and this is inaccessible to us. We have no real say or knowledge of where these profits are going or what they are derived from.
One of the most visible moves to cooperative ways of thinking was the recent Bank Transfer Day and other campaigns for people to move their money out of banks and into credit unions. Cooperatives, whether for-profit (with profit-sharing) or non-profit social enterprises, offer control. One member=one vote, not one share/dollar=one vote. It’s the most democratic and viable system we have and it holds a lot of the values that Occupiers are highlighting. I hope that 2012 really does signal the ‘year of the cooperative‘; I can’t think of a better time for this to happen.
Here is a very good article on cooperatives and Occupy by John Restakis: http://commonground.ca/2011/12/beyond-the-camps/