A co-operative is a group of people that gets together to organise collectively for mutual benefit. Work, housing, services, pubs and social centres can all be co-operatively owned and managed.
The official definition of 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."
As part of the co-operative movement we share values and principles that are an essential part of co-ops throughout the world.
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.
The Co-operative Princples are the guidelines by which co-ops put the values into practice. The language of the Principles is quite formal so the following has been edited a bit to make them easier to understand. The International Co-operative Alliance has published the agreed current version of the Principles, and Co-operatives UK has written a very useful and brief guide on how to implement the principles in a worker's coop.
Membership of a Co-operative is voluntary - you can't be forced into joining, nor can you be excluded because of discrimination.
Co-operatives are democratic organisations - they're controlled only by their members. Members should have democratic control (ie consensus or "one member, one vote").
Members have a fair stake in the co-op, and unlike share capital in a normal company, the stake should only have a nominal return (eg so that it doesn't lose its value due to inflation). This capital can be used as the members decide.
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations. They are controlled only by their members. They shouldn't make agreements or contracts that would compromise their autonomy or the democratic control by members.
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members. This is to ensure the development of the co-operative.
Co-ops should also provide education and information to the general public to inform them about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together. This can be done through local, national, regional and international structures.
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities.
You can find out more about co-ops in the UK from these organisations:
Radical Routes - UK based network of radical housing co-ops, workers’ co-ops and social centres committed to positive social change.
Co-ops UK - Britain’s network of co-operative businesses.