1994 is Declared Cooperative Year

1994 is Declared Cooperative Year

Every day in America, the lives of as many as 100 million men, women, and
children are affected by co-operatives

For the co-operative movement, 1994 is a year of great celebration.

In 1844, as Thoreau was preparing to build a cabin on Walden Poind and the
industrial revolution began to urbanize the western world, 28 workers in
northern England formed the first successful co-operative. They were
weavers, shoemakers, cabinetmakers, tailors, printers, hatters, and
engineers. They called themselves the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society,
taking their name from the town they lived in, Rochdale, which is 12 miles
north of Manchester. Not much remains in our world from mid 19th-century
England, but today, after 150 years, the pioneers' legacy has endured.

As ideas go, the Rochdale pioneers' was simple: that a group of people
could pool their resources to satisfy a common need. Co-operative societies
had existed previously, of course, but the pioneers were doing something
different - something that touched a nerve. Although they couldn't have
appreciated the significance of what they were doing, in retrospect it's
clear that their co-op profoundly changed the lives of millions of working
people. From a tiny store on Toad Lane stocked with healthy, unadulterated
food staples - flour, sugar, butter, and oatmeal that the co-op's members
bought in quantity and sold to each other at low prices - their idea
established the fundamental principles of modern co-operation which were
eventually borrowed by 700 million people in nearly 100 countries.

When most people hear the word co-op, they think of a mid-western grain
elevator, a 1960's era natural food store, or perhaps a high-priced
apartment in New York. But the fact is, the co-operative form is flexible
and endlessly adaptable, and in the 1990's co-ops provide almost every
imaginable product and service a person could ever need, from the cradle to
the grave.

There are co-ops that sell bicycles, furniture, camping equipment,
appliances, carpeting, clothing, handicrafts, and books. There are
co-operative wholesalers, like those in the hardware, grocery, and natural
foods businesses. There are co-operatives that disseminate news and
co-operatives for artists.

There are co-operative electric and telephone utilities. There are
co-operatively managed banks, credit unions, and community development
corporations. There are thousands of farm co-ops, along with co-ops that
provide financing to farm co-ops. There are subscriber-owned cable TV
systems and parent-run day-care centres. There are co-operatively organized
employee-owned companies, co-operative purchasing groups for fast-food
franchises, and, of course, various kinds of co-operative housing.

There are co-ops that provide health care, such as health maintenance
organizations and community health clinics. There are co-operative
insurance companies. There are co-operative food stores, food-buying clubs,
and discount warehouses. There areeven co-operative funeral societies.

In 1844, who could have imagined that co-ops would proliferate in so many ways?

Altogether, there are 47,000 co-operatives in the United States, according
to the National Co-operative Business Association, that generate more than
$100 billion in annual economic activity. All told, as many as 100 million
Americans - 40 percent of the population - are directly served by some type
of co-operative endeavour.

This year, 1994, has been proclaimed Co-operative Year in recognition of
the Rochdale pioneers' achievement. In the stories that follow, you'll
learn how co-operatives affect people's lives in America every day of the
year. From a simple idea 150 years ago, co-ops have proved beyond a shadow
of a doubt that they have what really matters in business: staying power.

The Rochdale pioneers live.

("A day in the life of cooperative America" published by National
Cooperative Bank, US)


And every day in the rest of the world, another 600 million people
demonstrate that co-operation is truly an international phenomenon

Outside the United States, co-operatives in nearly 100 nations are engaged
in virtually every conceivable economic activity. In many cases, in fact,
co-ops are the dominant players in their industries.

Co-ops control 100 percent of Uganda's cotton-ginning capacity, 99 percent
of Sweden's dairy production, 95 percent of Japan's rice harvest, 75
percent of western Canada's grain and oil seed output, 65 percent of
India's sugar production, and 60 percent of Italy's wide production. A
co-op in Shanghai is considered a world leader in waste management and
recycling techniques, and a co-op in Argentina is one of South America's
major book publishers. Eight of the largest commercial banks outside the
United States are co-operatively organized or owned by co-operatives,
including such giants as France's Credit Agricole, Holland's Rabobank, and
Germany's DG Bank.

But as big as some foreign co-operatives are, in many parts of the world -
particularly in developing nations - smaller co-ops are making a major
difference in people's lives. In India, for example, the Shri Mahila Sewa
Sahakari Bank is a co-operative owned by and for self-employed illiterate
rural peasant women who earn their living as street vendors and
seamstresses. Before Sewa was established, in 1973, these women couldn't
obtain even rudimentary financial services. Today well over 25,000 poor
women have a place to build savings and get loans to buy equipment.

As in America, foreign co-operatives face strong challenges. Throughout
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, forinstance, co-ops are
struggling to make the transition into the post-communist era after decades
of state involvement in their operations. But co-ops have a long history in
Eastern Europe - an agricultural co-op opened in Slovakia just 50 days
after the Rochdale pioneers founded their co-operative in 1844 - and after
the necessary restructuring is completed, worker and consumer co-ops (and
possibly credit unions) are expected to become viable competitors.

Of course, there's one place in the world where co-operation has
demonstrated not only its viability but also its flexibility and universal
utility as well: the Basque region of Spain, where the famous Mondragon
co-ops have built virtually a complete economy in microcosm. In addition to
more than 20,000 jobs at nearly 100 worker-owned industrial plants, the
Mondragon co-ops also provide housing, education, consumer goods, and
financial services.

Viva Rochdale.

("A day in the life of cooperative America" published by National
Cooperative Bank, US)