Cooperatives Provide Viable Alternative to Capitalism


Cooperatives Provide Viable Alternative to Capitalism
by D-L Nelson

People talk of capitalism, socialism or communism as if these were the
only three economic systems for the world to choose from. Little is
said about co-operativism, one of the least-publicized economic

View larger image
El Salvadorian women were able to finance a fish farm because of their
savings co-operative. Photograph courtesy of the World Council of
Credit Unionswhich nonetheless is a very large player functioning
successfully alongside the other systems. Co-operatives make up a
large percentage of the global market place. They provide over 100
million jobs around the world: 20% more than multi-national
enterprises. In fact, co-op membership is now approaching a billion

Part of the reason co-ops are so infrequently discussed is that they
aren’t traded on the stock market. They seldom make the business news,
yet they are responsible for generating billions of dollars.

Baby boomers may remember the food co-ops of the 60s, when hippie
groups bought food from local farmers and everyone then took turns
managing the store for members in whatever basement they could rent.
In reality, co-ops can be that simple, but they can also be extremely

What is a co-op? According to the International Co-operative
Association (ICA) based in Switzerland, “a co-operative is an
autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their
common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a
jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

The most productive region in Italy, the one with the lowest
unemployment and highest social safety net in Europe, is around
Bologna. It is no accident that this is the area with the highest
number of co-ops, which operate in several business sectors. Ranging
from small-scale to multi-billion dollar businesses, co-operatives
function across all industries, including agriculture, fisheries,
dairy, insurance, manufacturing, financial services, and housing, to
name but a few.

One of the major differences between capitalism and co-operativism is
that co-ops put people at the heart of their businesses; however this
doesn’t mean they ignore profitability. Rather, they don’t just talk
about values in mission statements on websites: they live them.
Because co-operatives are member owned and democratically controlled
by their members, profit is balanced against member and community
needs. This concept is over two centuries old, and it operates on all
major continents.

Many countries have co-operative trade associations which in turn
belong to ICA. ICA then represents their interests with the UN and
promotes not just the cooperative concept but good governance as well.
Founded in 1895, ICA is an independent, non-governmental association
with 220 member organizations from 84 countries. They also work on
gender, fair trade and HIV issues. ... (cont)