So what’s the deal with co-ops?
The cooperative business model is an alternative to the typical for-profit, privately-owned business arrangement. Co-ops are owned, controlled and operated for the benefit of their members. At the risk of redundancy, let me remind you that all co-ops follow these seven principles:
1. Open and voluntary membership.
It’s important that members voluntarily choose to become members. Ideally, according to the principles reaffirmed at the Manchester (England) Congress of the International Cooperative Alliance in 1995, cooperatives are “open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership….”
2. Democratic member control.
Members ultimately control their cooperatives. When you attend your credit union’s annual meeting or vote for the board of directors, you’re exercising your member-owner control.
3. Member economic participation.
According to the Manchester Congress, “Cooperatives operate so that capital is the servant, not the master, of the organization.”
4. Autonomy and independence.
While governments determine the legislative framework within which co-ops function, this principle asserts that co-ops also have an “essential need to be autonomous in the same way that enterprises controlled by capital are….”
5. Education, training, and information.
This principle says members can play their role in the cooperative only when they understand that role and the co-op. That’s one reason, for example, that MVM Co-op provides you with this information and other educational tools.
6. Cooperation among cooperatives.
Cooperators believe that co-ops have a unique opportunity to protect and expand the interests of ordinary people. This kind of one-for-all and all-for-one idea is unique among businesses. Even in localities where they compete, it’s common for them to also cooperate on numerous activities.
7. Concern for Community.
Cooperatives exist primarily for the benefit of their members. Because of this strong association with members, they also are often closely and actively tied to their communities.
One of the most attractive features of co-ops, especially in comparison to privately controlled businesses, is that they bring greater democracy into the workplace. Member/owners and worker/owners have a say in the general or even specific conduct of the business. Because any profits are returned to the owners, management attitudes toward workers and customers can be more congenial, less fraught with pressure and expectations.
Additional advantages of the cooperative model that have been identified are: (1) the absence of "shirking" by workers in producer cooperatives; (2) superior productivity rates that result from the extension of democratic principles into the cooperative workplace; (3) the lack of unnecessary supervision due to the "horizontal monitoring" performed by cooperative members; and (4) the pursuit of cooperative employment and output strategies that are less sensitive to business cycle fluctuations.
The co-op model may be applied in various ways. Presently, we recognize the following types:
Producer; Worker; Consumer; Credit Union; Housing; Retail or Purchasing; and Hybrid worker and consumer-owned. Thus, we see independent business owners joining together for mutual benefits, such as farmers or fishermen in producer co-ops, or retail businesses and hotels in purchasing co-ops. Mountain View Market Co+op is an example of a consumer co-op. Apartment buildings may be organized into housing co-ops of apartment owners. And there is a trend in the US for retiring business owners to sell out to their employees, turning the business into a worker co-op.
In our city, I have been able to identify the presence of three co-op types. Our own consumer co-op, of course. Retail purchasing co-ops are locally represented by Ace and TrueValue Hardware stores; the Best Western hotel is also a Purchasing co-op. White Sands and First Light Credit Unions in town are member-owned financial institutions. Credit unions themselves join together in co-ops to purchased financial services. And your Mountain View Market Co+op participates with other food co-ops in a purchasing co-op.
All in all, the cooperative model is a viable and growing alternative to conventional businesses. What better proof do we need than the fact that Mountain View Market Co+op is in its fourth decade! Numerous national and regional organizations concerned with what is known as the “solidarity economy” are strong promoters of the co-op model due to their focus on the local economy by way of purchasing from local suppliers and keeping profits in the local community. Moreover, co-ops, more so than conventional businesses are interested in sustainability and subscribe to the Triple Bottom Line: Planet, People and Profits.
As a member/owner, you have a real stake in this business. We invite greater owner participation so as to increase its success.
Max Mastellone, Board Member