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The co-operative movement has been fathered (or mothered) by two different schools of thought: the first one was the socialist Utopians, like Charles Fourier and Louis Blanc. It was the case in France. The second one was the social Christians movement which developed during the XIXth century. For example, the biggest Spanish (Basque) co-operative, Mondragon, was created by a priest. I discovered in Helen's post it was also the case in England. It has also been influenced by the mutual insurance organisations which developed among farmers in the German countryside (and elsewhere) at the same period.

In France the debate has been very strong among the worker's movement at the end of the XIXth century and the beginning of the XXth. The co-operative movement and the reformists, represented by Jean Jaurès, were in favour of developing new models within the capitalist society, including workers' ownership of the means of production, whereas the Marxists, represented by Jules Guesde, were in favour of the revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and giving the control of the means of production to the "enlightened vanguard" (the Communist Party). After the victory of Guesde against Jaurès in 1905, the official line of the Socialist Party was the Marxist one, and the co-operative movement was in the view of the mainstream socialists.  The co-operative movement has continued to exist, often supported by the non-communist unions, but within its own niche, without trying to promote strongly its approach as a model for the economy.  This shyness is still strong in the movement.

The main problem with he left is that, while most of it has now rejected Marxism (except in France where it is not so clear...), it hasn't been able to build a strong alternative economic and social model (i.e. a well regulated and harnessed market economy) Rightly or wrongly, the left has figured that, in order to access to power, it had to accept the dominant economic narrative and limit its ambitions to be "nicer" than the right wing.  They have succumbed to a substantialist approach: we are good people, so when in power, we will have good policies, without taking into account the homeostatic forces of the system and the cognitive corrupting effect of power.

However, I think, as a number of people in the co-operative movement at international level, that the time has come to promote the co-operative model as a model for the future firms, even if it has to evolve. As I said in a seminar bringing together CEOs of big co-operatives of the world: "In my view, even if all of them will not be co-operatives, in the future, companies will have a lot in common with co-operatives, particularly in terms of relationship between capital and labour, ownership, power-sharing and governance."

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 01:26:47 PM EST
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The Confederation of Finnish Cooperatives: http://www.pellervo.fi/finncoop/

There are proportionately more cooperatives in Finland than in any other country in the world. The father of the Finnish cooperative movement, father Hannes Gebhard, founded Pellervo in 1899.

Today Pellervo integrates over 420 member cooperatives whose membership amounts to well over 1.6 million persons (the population of Finland is 5.2 million persons). The joint turnover of Pellervo's member businesses reached over 14 000 million euros in the year 2000. Most member businesses are market leaders in their respective fields.

Cooperatives have a traditional strong representation in agriculture, forestry and food processing, in banking and insurance, and there are several large retailers that are quasi-coops: as a consumer-member you don't quite own anything, but the relationship goes far beyond Loyalty Cards.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 02:06:42 PM EST
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