Board of Directors: Co-op End #5

by Randy Harris, Board Member

End #5: The Co-op is a viable alternative economic model based on cooperative principles and values.

Mountain View Market Co-op Policy Ends

  1. The community benefits from outreach, support, and education.
  2. The Co-op provides information and access to healthy food and health products.
  3. The Co-op models sustainable living.
  4. The Co-op reflects inclusivity and diversity.
  5. The Co-op is a viable alternative economic model based on cooperative principles and values.
  6. The Co-op supports local and regional production and encourages a diverse food system.

What sets the Co-op apart from corporate stores are our Policy Ends. MVM Co-op Ends are focused on what’s good for people and the environment; we’re not here just to turn a profit. Ends are achievable objectives that provide a measurable direction for both the Board and Staff. 

For the next few months, the Board Newsletter reports will focus on one of these Ends. We welcome input from readers because we’re always open to new and creative ways to accomplish these ends. This month we’ll give some focus on End #5: The Co-op is a viable alternative economic model based on cooperative principles and values.

Let’s start by asking: Is there a problem with our current economic model and what might be a viable alternative model?

It seems that there are some serious problems with the dominant economic model of today. It’s a model that has come to be recognized as dependent upon perpetual exponential growth on a finite planet with finite resources. The most challenging social and economic issues that our communities face are considered by many to be the by-products of a top-down, mostly corporate hierarchy that funnels control, power, and profit to the few, at the expense of the many. To meet the mandate of providing profit for the corporate shareholders, the corporations squeeze those most vulnerable and unable to protect themselves, including people and the planet. 

It’s a model that produces vast wealth for a small fraction of the population, and for everyone else breeds the devastating symptoms of economic disparity. It’s a model that so effectively bleeds the lifeblood from communities that taxpayer funded, or worse, unfunded government subsidies, must offset the damage. From a more comprehensive view, we might surely recognize that it’s a model and a system which generates social suffering including ever more expensive and less accessible higher education, economic barriers to healthcare, depletion of limited natural resources, and ever diminishing democratic control of our own community’s economy. How that model influences our politics, our government, and our “democracy” is the stuff of volumes.

So, how do we liberate ourselves from a beast so voracious and indifferent? At least one solution, the cooperative model, has been operating quietly in our community for now 40 years. 

The cooperative model encourages democratic engagement by the workers and member-owners in the communities where cooperatives function. There are an estimated 30,000 cooperatives in the U.S. and over a billion cooperative workers worldwide. Historical evidence demonstrates that when local people influence the operations and direction of the businesses that constitute their own local economy - that when in cooperative relationships the people have a vote in how a company runs, how people are treated and paid, and how the profits are managed - the community can create a higher quality of life for all, now and into the future.

Some say that empowering, dignifying and lifting communities out of poverty can be accomplished through raising the minimum wage by a couple of dollars an hour. And yes, thankfully, there seems to be a growing recognition, by well meaning people, of the need for more retention and equitable distribution of the profits generated by the workers in a community. In consideration of that, bear in mind that the Mountain View Market Co-op has paid its starting employees at well above minimum wage for many years because we operate from the principle of the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. We operate from a different economic model. Some suggest that while tinkering with minimum wage has some short-term remedial value, it’s but yet another Band-Aid for the symptoms, rather than addressing the cause - the current and deeply entrenched economic model. 

The solution may well be found, at least in part, by the expansion of the cooperative economic model. We know that in the cooperative model, people are genuinely empowered, dignified, and lifted out of poverty when they assume control of their own lives, their own economy, and are freed from corporate dominance and dependence upon government subsidies. The cooperative economic model provides that opportunity. Member-owners (including workers) can have the power to control their own local economy when they have a voice, a vote, and vested ownership of the places they work. By engaging in local cooperative models, power and control is wrested from distant corporations and placed directly, here and now, in the quite capable hands of the men and women who know what they and their communities need and want.

There are many kinds of cooperatives, including the well known food co-ops. There are also cooperatives that give people direct local control over energy, childcare, housing, banking, transportation, manufacturing, education, healthcare, and more, and all operate within the cooperative principles of democratic engagement by the community member-owners.

The cooperative model is the most proven and most accessible alternative economic model available. It works. If we want to take action to address the causes of poverty and all the suffering it brings, if we want to do more than Band-Aid the symptoms of corporate economic dominance, we can do it. We can do it now. We can empower ourselves and those around us as worker and member-owned cooperatives that both speak and hear the voices of the people, and meet the economic and social needs of our community.

Below is a list of short videos that help to express the value and the power of the cooperative model, in the U.S. and beyond: 

Doug Hoffer, Vermont state auditor

Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General

Gar Alperovitz, Author of “What Now Must We Do?”

The Mondragon Cooperative System

Dame Pauline Green - Women in the Cooperative Movement

National Electric Cooperative Assn. UK Cooperatives

National Cooperative Business Association

Health Insurance Cooperative

In co-operation,

Mountain View Market Board of Directors