Sunday, March 30, 2008

Worker-Owned Cooperatives: Part 2

In part 1 we learned about the famous Rochdale Cooperative and the Rochdale Principles. Now we need to jump to today and learn about the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).

The ICA describes their “Co-operative Values” as: “Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.”

In addition to Co-operative Values the ICA provides a set of operating principles for cooperatives:

1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership
Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control
Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.

3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5th Principle: Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6th Principle: Co-operation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7th Principle: Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

The ICA values and principles are universal standards by which nearly all modern cooperatives operate.

In part 3 of this series I’ll show these principles and values in action by covering one of the great American cooperatives.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Worker-Owned Cooperatives: Part 1

Since the core of an economic democracy would be democratic enterprises in the form of worker-owned cooperatives it’s important to understand what a cooperative is. A good place to start is with the Rochdale Cooperative.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was formed in 1844 on Toad Lane in Rochdale, England. Known as the Rochdale Cooperative it was highly successful, unlike its predecessor the Rochdale Friendly Co-operative Society, and is still in operation today. The members of that cooperative wrote down what would later be known as the “Rochdale Principles”:
  • Voting is by members on a democratic (one-member, one-vote) basis.
  • Membership is open
  • Equity is provided by members.
  • Equity ownership share of individual members is limited.
  • Net income is distributed to members as patronage refunds on a cost basis.
  • Dividends on equity capital are limited.
  • Exchange of goods and services at market prices
  • Duty to educate
  • Cash trading only
  • No unusual risk assumption
  • Political and religious neutrality
  • Equality in membership (no discrimination by gender)
To learn more about the Rochdale Cooperative visit:

In the next part of this series I’ll explore the International Co-operative Alliance and the ICA’s “Co-operative Principles”.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


What does the CIA, Milton Friedman, Augusto Pinochet, Boris Yeltsin, and the George W Bush Administration all have in common? They are all major players in Naomi Klein’s terrifying new book, “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”

In her new book Klein begins with the experiments conducted by Ewan Cameron and the CIA in the late 1950’s through early 1960’s. During that time scores of individuals were subjected to Electroconvulsive therapy with the expectations that it would wipe their brains clean. Instead these experiments destroyed lives and caused untold suffering to the victims.

Klein then follows the trail of destruction from Cameron’s torture chambers to Chile, Russia, Poland, China, Iraq, and finally to New Orleans. Throughout the book Klein documents how the “Chicago boys” adopt Cameron’s theories to their own ends. Friedman and his ilk are shown to be opportunistic predators who have no need to create chaos but instead wait for events to happen (such as military coups, revolutions, wars, economic downturns, and environmental disasters) and then move in to take advantage of the shocked and frightened population to tear down the existing social institutions.

The goal of the Chicago Boys is to replace democratically run social institutions, especially Keynesian economic systems, with “Corporatism.” She explains that modern corporatism has evolved from Mussolini’s police state model based around government, business, and trade unions to a system based on, “a mutually supporting alliance between a police state and large corporations, joining forces to wage all-out war on the third power sector – the workers – thereby drastically increasing the alliance’s share of the national wealth.”

They say that knowledge is power. We should be grateful to Naomi Klein for providing us with this knowledge and therefore giving us another tool by which to fight back with.