A short guide to Co-operatives - Seeds for Change
co-operator delivering food to the community

A short guide to Co-operatives

What is a Co-operative?

Co-operation - working together with others (rather than competing with them) is as old as history, but modern co-operative businesses have been around for just 200 years.

Co-operatives were formed by workers in the 18th century who set up shops to break the monopoly of the large factory bosses supplying overpriced, low quality food to workers. The shops not only provided good food at a decent price, they also provided fair and equitable conditions for those working there.

A co-op is an enterprise run and controlled democratically by the members - for the benefit of all the members. They define themselves by the Co-operative Principles and the Co-operative Values.

What do Co-ops do?

Nowadays there are many different types of co-ops, here are just a few:

  • Housing co-ops: a group of people who collectively control and manage their own housing.
  • Workers' co-ops: businesses owned and controlled by the people who work there. Only employees can be members of the co-op, and there's no shareholders taking away the surplus.
  • Social Centres: meeting and socialising space for the community.
  • Consumer co-ops: people get together to get food and consumer goods cheaply by bulk buying.
  • Marketing co-ops: small producers get together to market their products collectively for a better deal.
  • There are even co-operatively run village shops and pubs.

Why co-ops?

Co-ops are a different way of providing for our needs such as housing, work, services and the exchange of goods.

Normal businesses provide profits to shareholders and capitalists, but co-ops are part of creating a different type of society based on community links, self-help and mutual aid. They enable people to follow the principles of co-operation and fairness even in a society based on competition and exploitation.

We want to take control over all aspects of our lives.

We want to see a world based upon equality and co-operation, where people give according to their ability and receive according to their needs. Where work is fulfilling and where creativity is encouraged, where decision-making is open to everyone with no hierarchies and where the environment is valued and respected in its own right rather than exploited.
From the aims and principles of Radical Routes, a network of small co-ops in the UK

Co-operation: limited only by your imagination!

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