Saturday, 23 November 2013

Lets work together

The Cooperative Movement is going through a very difficult time at present in the UK, with multiple serious allegations surrounding a former Chairman of the Co-op Bank (here). It’s vitally important  to remember that the current scandal is about the failings of an individual and perhaps some other individuals and systems around him though and not the idea of cooperation itself or the many, many successful cooperatives.

No better time than now to remind ourselves that cooperation, striving in support of each other towards a common goal, is a fundamentally important idea that does enormously valuable work.

It’s clear that cooperation is a crucial feature of nature (see image above of Emperor Penguin cooperation to keep warm; more on this here) and its one reason why early human communities were able to survive and thrive. Competition is seen as the opposite of cooperation but in a balanced, sustainable ecosystem it too means striving together (the Latin com meaning  together; and petere meaning strive or seek). We have to cooperate successfully if we are to thrive as a species on into the future.

Cooperatives in the UK go back to the early days of industrialisation. Workers sought to break the monopoly of millers by setting up cooperative corn mills. Famously Robert Owen (pictured) ran a big, profitable cotton mill without the abusive worker exploitation that was then the norm (more history and background here and here). 

Cooperatives (worker, producer, consumer, multiple stakeholder, neighbourhood, community, housing, marketing, food, energy…) work for the benefit of all their voluntary members. They operate fairly and are open to all who can use them and abide by certain responsibilities. They run themselves using participative democracy. The economic success of the cooperative is fairly shared amongst members. They are committed to advancing the learning of members. Cooperative organisations work to support other cooperatives (see here for information on the international scene). Their goals are a balance of both economic and non-economic – and they are a great alternative to cut-throat capitalist competition that we can’t sustain.

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