________________________________________________________ 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.