Book Reviews

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         July, 1996

Source : Review of International Co-operation, Vol.89 No
1/1996, 103-110.

                Co-operative Ways of Working

Edited by Godfrey Baldacchino, Saviour Rizzo, Edward L.Zammit.
Workers Participation Development Centre, University of Malta,
1994, 205 pp.

The book brings together the papers presented during two
seminars on the subject of the viability of worker
co-operatives which took place in Malta in June 1993 and
September 1994.

The volume is divided into three sections:  co-operative
principles,  national experiences of co-operation and case
studies on worker co-ops. J. von Muralt, G. Ullrich and H.-H.
Muenkner have presented the progress of the co-operative
sector and the ILO contribution to its development.  

In their respective papers, Chris Conforth and Mary Mellor 
brilliantly analyse the present position of workers movement
in the UK. There were 1,400 societies in 1988 and the number
is decreasing. The socio-economic conditions prevalent in
today's Britain, financial discrimination from banks and a
certain lack of motivation are among the major obstacles to
development. Workers co-ops are mostly small businesses
operating in  market niches or sub-contractors to large
societies. The government, which was very supportive to
co-operatives by the end of seventies, gradually withdrew its
funding during the eighties. Both authors agree that a social
and political framework supportive to the idea of co-operation
should be created to foster the sectors' achievements. 

The country studies from Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and
Spain  bring a wealth of information on the history and recent
developments in the worker's sector. The authors analyse the
legislative and socio-economic conditions including the latest
statistics of the sector.   

Two of the three case studies are descriptions of fortuitous
encounters which two men had in the 1950s with a similar idea,
encounters, which, decades after the initial shock, are still
producing beneficial influence over concerned communities. The
men, Ernest Bader in the first case and Don Jose Maria
Arizmendarrieta in the second, did not have many things in
common except for profound belief that men should control
their lives by controlling the work situation. And they both
believed that the co-operative way of doing this was the best
way. Scott Bader Commonwealth, the UK chemical business, and
ULGOR-Mondragon have been set up respectively in 1951 and in
1956. Both enterprises were guided since the very beginning by
founding fathers who, even without formal appointment,
exercised influence over the companies' decisions. Since that
first epoch, both passed the stage of social experiment to
become  highly successful, economically viable companies. Will
it be possible, therefore,  to institutionalise the model?
Both reports emphasise the uniqueness of the  initial
settings. Besides the 'spiritus movens', be it a catholic
priest or an enlightened entrepreneur, the members should be
at ease with economic democracy and accept that they may not
agree  individually with all decisions taken collectively.
Having agreed to that, in counterpart, they will share the
wonderful sense of belonging.

-Alina Pawlowska

               Co-operatives : Past, Present, Future.
                Development through Mutual self-help

Edited by Charles Kabuga  and Pius K. Batarinyebwa, Uganda
Co-operative Alliance, Kampala, 1995, 286 pp. ISBN
This book, recently published by the Uganda Co-operative
Alliance, is targeted at upper primary and secondary school
students and constitutes the first of a series of publications
intended to foster co-operative education. The folk-tales in
the first part are followed by articles investigating the
Ugandan experience in the second part and the description of
principal sectors in the third part.

It starts like this:

"Once upon a time, wild dogs used to hunt individually. Their
numbers started decreasing as they could hardly catch enough
animals for eating. These lone-hunters were also easily killed
by lions."

And the story goes on with people from Utopia village killing
the elephant and those from Marangu building the hut and
Muyaye and Muyaga sailing across Lake Edward on a leaking
boat: simple, poetical tales, much in Celine's vein,
emphasising the advantages of co-operation and what happens
when solidarity is missing. The ideology underlying these
short texts is that there is a kind of natural link between
the rural tradition of shared work which allows African
peasants to adopt more complicated organisational forms
easily. The subsequent articles contradict this idea since
nothing in the history of the Ugandan movement seems 
organisationally uncomplicated.

The co-operatives were introduced to Uganda in the beginning
of the century to improve the terms of trade of the main
agricultural crops: cotton and coffee. In 1946, after several
decades of existence, the British government introduced a
Co-operative Ordinance initiating a long period of growth and
prosperity. Independence had seen the departure of many
leaders who had found a more suitable platform  in political
life for reforming society but, rich in co-op experience, used
the co-operatives as tools for implementing government
policies. The movement expanded rapidly, but due to lack of
adequate preparation, hardly achieved economic viability. The
repeated failures called for greater government intervention,
and led to the transformation of co-ops into para-statal
organisations. As a result,  the co-ops acted more as 
government extensions than as an organisations representing
members. In Uganda this situation has been legalised by the
1970 Co-operative Act which divested Boards and gave extra
powers to the Registrar.    
The basic theme that recurs throughout ensuing chapters is the
need to reduce government influence over co-operatives. This
would be in tune with the liberalisation from rigid
planification, which is taking place in social spheres as well
as in the national economy. This also implies enhanced
opportunities and more challenges, with the final aim being to
transform co-ops into autonomous, self-managed self-supporting
private sector entities.

-Alina Pawlowska

          Co-operative  Learning : The Collection

Member Education Department, Co-operative College, Stanford
Hall, Loughborough, Leics. 130 pp (lose leaf), March, 1995.

As the title implies, this is a collection of articles and
activities which focus on co-operation, co-operative learning
and co-operatives as organizations. Published by the Member
Education Department of the British Co-operative Union, this
publication is primarily intended for use in designing
learning modules on co-operation or co-operative studies in
primary and secondary schools, colleges or the member
education programmes of co-operative societies.

The material is presented in a loose-leaf binder which
facilitates addition of new materials or replacement of
existing ones either by the publishers, the trainers or the
learners. Users can also select the parts that relates to
their interests or the needs of the group they are responsible

The package is the first in a planned series which brings
together activities from various sources with a track record
of success. It is planned that the second part in the series
will comprise further activities and articles on key themes
which have hitherto not sufficiently been tackled.

The material is designed with three objectives in mind:

*    to promote co-operation as a process,
*    to develop skills
*    to illustrate co-operation in practice.

To achieve these objectives, the material is presented in six
sections as follows:

Section 1: which provides the rationale for the publication
and a table of contents.

Section 2: which carries articles on co-operation,
co-operative learning, co-operatives and related subjects.
These include: The Concept of Co-operation; The Case for
Co-operative Learning; Effective Co-operative Group Work; and
Challenges to Educators and Co-operators.

Section 3: which comprises 29 games and activities suitable
for people ranging in age from six years to adults of all
ages. Although the games and activities do not have much
educational value or direct relevance to co-operation or
co-operatives (apart from the fact of their being played or
acted by a group of people), they are only included for the
purpose of enlivening or 'energizing' the groups.

Section 4: which provides active learning activities in a
short time span and which explores co-operation as a process.
These activities include a simple exercise which require
co-operation within a group to assemble shapes and a mini

Section 5: which explores co-operation as a process, with
extended activities which focus on co-operatives and using
co-operatives as a context. Presentation here is in the form
of 'split' information activity which requires all members of
a group to share information to fully answer a question sheet.
The task cannot be completed by individuals on their own. The
need to work as a group illustrates the process of

Section 6: which provides factual information on the
co-operative movement (mainly) in the United Kingdom.

Although primarily designed for use in the United Kingdom -
and does indeed focus mainly on the British co-operative
movement, some of the material in the package is of equal
relevance to co-operative educators and learners in other
countries - not least the developing ones. This is
particularly true of Sections 2, 4 and 5 which, with some
adaptation, will be found useful - especially in the current
effort in most developing countries to introduce co-operatives
as a subject in the regular school curricula.

The contributors, authors and editors of 'The Collection' have
done a commendable job by adding to the limited fund of
literature adaptable for schools and local member education
programmes. It is to be hoped that the second part in the
series will be blessed with a greater universal orientation.

-Sam Mshiu

          Co-operation, Conflict and Consensus:  B.C. Central  
               and the Credit Union Movement to 1994

by Ian MacPherson, B.C. Central Credit Union, Vancouver,
Canada, 1995, 291 pp, including bibliographical references and
index, ISBN 0-9699052-0-32.

While Ian MacPherson was helping the ICA to revise the
Co-operative Principles, and still managing to earn a living
at the University of Victoria, he was also writing the 60-year
history of the amazingly successful financial co-operatives of
Canada's westernmost province.

British Columbia's credit unions have grown through three
distinct stages.  In their early days, they were often the
only provider of basic financial services for working people
in small communities.  Later they developed in the large urban
areas by meeting another need: easily-available mortgage loans
for house purchases, which became the basis of their rapid
growth.  Today, with one-third of the active population as
members, they are successfully competing as full-service
financial institutions with the largest of the commercial

As Ian MacPherson demonstrates, innovation has been one of the
reasons for this success.  VanCity, the province's largest
credit union with 207,000 members and $3.6 billion in assets,
is renowned for having invented new products such as daily
interest savings accounts, open-ended mortgages, and ethical
mutual funds far in advance of its competitors.

But the progress was not always smooth.  The growth of the
credit unions' second-tier organisation, B.C. Central, was
accompanied by frequent disputes, especially with its largest
members, over issues of local autonomy versus the need for
centralised services.  While some leaders saw credit unions as
a means for broader co-operative and community development,
others regarded such concerns as irrelevant, and even
dangerous, for growing financial institutions.  Although B.C.
credit union leaders (including the author himself) played an
important role in building national and international
financial co-operative structures, their efforts were not
always appreciated at home.

The universality of these themes will make this book of
interest and relevance to co-operators in other countries and
other sectors.  In the final analysis, the B.C. struggles were
resolved with partial victories and compromises on all sides. 
B.C. Central is today a strong organisation, with wide
support, but no longer active in the kind of commercial loans
and property development which its larger members prefer to
undertake directly.  The large credit unions, for the most
part, have seen the logic of participating in joint
advertising and electronic payment programmes on a system-wide

One of Ian MacPherson's central themes is that many of the
problems associated with the rapid growth of the 1970s  could
have been avoided if greater attention had been given to
education and training of board members.  The need to upgrade
the skills of credit union employees diverted attention from
the equally important task of preparing board members to
monitor and control the actions of their aggressive and
entrepreneurial chief executives. 

As befits the author of the ICA's "Co-operative Principles for
the 21st Century", Ian MacPherson concludes with two
recommendations for future credit union growth building better
bonds with the members, and focusing on community interests. 
These two areas of co-operative strength and uniqueness are,
for him and many others, the keys to the success of
co-operative entrepreneurship in the years ahead.

-Bruce Thordarson 


          The World of Co-operative Enterprise 1996

The World of Co-operative Enterprise 1996 is published by the
Plunkett Foundation, price P.Stg.16.95. (Plunkett Foundation,
23 Hanborough Business Park, Long Hanborough, Oxford OX8 8LH,
UK. Tel.01993-88 36 36, Fax.01993-88 35 76; E-mail

Since the ending of the cold war, it has been taken for
granted by most market analysts that the dominant form of
business organisation will be the investor-owned company. Yet
there is considerable unease about the profit-driven policies
and short-term thinking of such firms, and calls for the
rights of other stakeholders - customers, workers, the
community and the natural environment - to be taken into
account. The Plunkett Foundation begins from a different
viewpoint, that of 'people- centred' businesses which are
struggling within the same competitive environment to deliver
benefits not to shareholders but to members. In order to
stimulate debate, to exchange information and to make known
interesting new areas of co-operative development, the
Foundation publishes this annual collection of short papers.
Each year there are four themes, and those for 1996 are
co-operation between co-operatives; health and care co-ops;
new ways of financing co-ops; and *one regular feature( a
review of Co-operation in the U.K.

S.K. Saxena, ex-director of the International Co-operative
Alliance is well placed to ask why there is not more
co-operation between co-ops, and his analysis ranges
worldwide, concluding that a common ideology is not enough; a
perceived economic advantage is essential. Two well-known
analysts of consumer co-ops, Brazda and Schediwy, find that
federated co-operative systems tend to be subject to
intolerable institutional strains as a result of decreasing
ideological commitment and increasing competition-. They put
forward a series of testable hypotheses based on the life
cycle of federations, and their conclusion is startling; that
in order to work well they need a dominant partner. Other
contributions include a description of `Inter-coop', the
international association of consumer co-os; prospects for
co-operative collaboration in Eastern and Central Europe;
Latin America-s co-operative financial system; obstacles to
inter co-operative co-operation  in Cyprus; and the results of
a study of strategic alliances among Canadian co-ops. Finally,
P.L. Taylor distinguishes between two types of federation in
the famous Mondragon co-ops, using case studies to show how
different the dynamics of groups based on communal solidarity
are from those based purely on a business sector.

Co-operatives are a growing force in the health and social
care sectors; so much so that a new international body has
just been set up to represent them. They are a long
established and dynamic part of the health care sector in
Japan and Brazil, owning hospitals and providing everything
from preventive to emergency treatment. They have grown out of
very different needs: in Japan for basic health care for
agricultural co-op members, in Brazil to protect the interests
of doctors against a (previously) hostile government, sot hat
they take a consumer and a worker co-op form respectively.
These studies are complemented by analyses of recent
developments in the UK, USA, Italy, and Sweden, which show
that the co-operative model has huge potential in the current
restructuring of welfare services in western countries. They
are turning a welfare 'crisis' into an opportunity; in which
consumers and workers have more say on the quality of

In 1995 the International Co-operative Alliance revised its
co-operative principles, and probably the most contentious
issue was that of how capital can be raised without
disadvantaging co-ops in the financial markets, while at the
same time safeguarding members' control. Edgar Parnell,
Director of the Plunkett Foundation, argues that conversion to
public limited companies is not the solution, but that markets
have to be created for co-operative investment. A study of an
Australian dairy co-op shows just how effectively traditional
forms of capital raising can be used, but that even then, in
order to match the growth rates of its competitors, it has to
consider issuing external co-operative capital units via an
investment company. Studies of a US farm credit bank, the
British worker co-operative scene, and Danish food processing
co-ops, show that there are a wide variety of alternatives to
conversion to an investor-owned company, including joint
ventures which keep the two types of ownership distinct but
allow the injection of capital which fast growing co-ops need.

The review of co-operation in the UK provides accounts of a
successful apex body, the UK Co-operative Council; analysis of
the agricultural co-op sector which, like the article on
federations poses the question of whether there is a natural
cycle in co-ops (with `old' ones opting for plc status); an
account of the `co-operatisation of a compulsory milk
marketing system; and a trenchant assessment of the role of
consumer co-ops as traditional retailers. Good news from a
rapidly growing credit union sector is tempered by modest news
from the worker co-op sector, and an accurate but depressing
analysis of how, in the face of an unsympathetic state funding
and regulatory system, the UK co-operative housing sector has
almost stopped growing.

This is not a tightly controlled edited book, but nor is it
just a collection of papers. Its focus on co-operative
problems and opportunities is consistent and of high quality,
and should be used to stimulate further reflection and debate
not only among co-operators but among those concerned with the
impact of the new global economy and with the future of social

- Johnston Birchall