Poland: Urban Cooperatives (1993)


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

                       URBAN CO-OPERATIVES

Source : Tadeusz Kowalak :  Co-operatives in Eastern and
Central Europe, Poland; Studies & Reports, Twenty-first in
series; ICA, Geneva, 1992, 58pp., price 12 CHF

Co-operatives in urban areas may be divided into service and
producers' co-operatives.  Consumer co-operatives belong to
the first category and have the longest history, of about one
hundred years.  Housing and handicraft supply and marketing
co-operatives are also service co-operatives.  Until the end
of 1989 producers' co-operatives, also called industrial or
workers' production co-operatives were regarded as the most
important part of the small-scale industrial and service
sector of the national economy.

Consumer co-operatives

At the end of 1988 there were 397 consumer co-operatives
operating in towns, with a membership of close to three
million persons. They employed 393,500 people in 29,000 shops,
8,800 restaurants, bars and cafes, 1,175 bakeries, 287
slaughter houses, 266 mineral water factories and 8,300
service units. From 1975 onwards, consumer co-operatives were
responsible for the retail food trade in urban areas.  They
also sold some industrial commodities directly connected with
household needs. Food represented 80.4% of the retail
turnover. They were also involved in the production of
groceries. The share of consumer co-operatives in the urban
retail trade amounted to over 55% of turnover, leaving about
38% to State enterprises and the rest to private firms. 
Social and educational activities were provided by two
cultural centres, 52 clubs, and 74 community centres. 
There were 133 artistic ensembles and 154 sports clubs under
the auspices of consumer co-operatives.  A special network of
Centres for Practical Women rendered advisory and training
services to female co-operative members.

The introduction of the free market economy, together with the
decision to liquidate the Central Union of these
co-operatives, was a shock for the whole organization. 
Between 1989 and 1992 the number of shops and of persons
employed by consumer co-operatives dropped by about two
thirds, the number of industrial plants by one third.

The number of co-operative members diminished by about 50%. 
In some cases 1992 membership amounts to only 10% of that of
1988. This is mainly the result of the augmentation of
co-operative shares decided by general assemblies but not
followed by members, who have therefore been struck off the
lists.  The updating of membership lists has also played an
important role.

The financial situation of a sizeable number of consumer
co-operatives is far from satisfactory.  It is estimated that
between 10 and 20% of them will go into liquidation before the
end of 1992.  The main reason for imminent bankruptcies is the
very high interest rate payable on loans taken out mainly for
investment purposes, before the introduction of the economic
reforms of 1990.

Looking at the actual situation from the point of view of
members' empowerment, the only positive phenomenon to be noted
is the decentralization already carried out through the
division of the biggest consumer co-operatives in large
conurbations into two or more independent ones.