Educating peer members using the openly accessible and available resources about cooperation, its history and present dynamics is as important as welcoming a new member to the cooperative. Thus this wiki page is dedicated to do that.
What is a Cooperative?
ICA - International Cooperative Alliance defines cooperative as,
“ 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 “
Let us explore the above definition in parts.
- Voluntary association
- Common need
- Jointly owned
- Democratic control
- What different types of cooperatives are there ?
- Traditional coops
- Created for the economic welfare of only one class of people. Eg. A cooperative bank's democratic management is limited only to long term decisions by the bank's customers, its employees don't have the right to participate and guides the bank's everyday decision making.
- Open coops - http://commonstransition.org/open-cooperativism/
- Open coops extend the benefits a cooperative to all stakeholder even though they are usually only a worker coop. Eg. Coopon - We are a science & technology worker coop but make collective decisions along with all our stakeholders, help create digital & material commons and strive for the economic welfare of all stakeholders not just our cooperative's members. Stakeholders are usually called during internal meetings.
- What are examples of existing cooperatives ?
- Traditional cooperatives
- Amul (Milk producer coop federation from Gujarat, India)
- IFFCO - Farmer's cooperatives federation
- Open Coops
- What are different legal structures for cooperatives in India ?
- Legal cooperative
- Registered as a cooperative under the state's law, usually providing the state government with a part ownership share and /or voting rights for the registrar of cooperatives.
- In the true spirit of cooperatives, every employee can be an equal partner legally. The deed shall have to mandate equal democratic and economic rights & privileges. This is the best form of organization for worker cooperative. Partnerships can ensure management need not be separated from workers. LLPs can be preferred over General partnership for legal benefits.
- An alternative to partnership when a firm needs investment beyond debt. Investors are provided with yearly fixed profits but have no rights in decision making. Management is usually separated from employees in the form of board of directors (required by Indian law).
Autonomous means acting without external influence. Voluntary means to do something out of own will. As 'cooperation' means living, thinking and working together, cooperatives demand a great deal of trust amongst its members. Thus autonomous and voluntary association is required for a cooperative to succeed. It is always good to know what kind of crisis or tragedy possible to occur, such that we can organize to avoid such situations, but still solve any problem within the domain of interest by innovative alternate ways. The autonomy of a cooperator might be hindered by justified factors as follows.
- Unreliable Economic Support : This would cause the cooperator to seek profit maximization in the short term which may not be in the best interest of the cooperative. The cooperative must identify and pool resources to help such individuals. They may also be recommended employment outside of the cooperative, if required, to take care of their financial needs until the cooperative can provide for them. This happens whenever cooperation is in sustenance stability.
- Loss of Scientific Consensus : Having difference in opinion is always good and fine in a democratically controlled organization. Any solution with different form and function using different tool shall always be allowed for independency & individual autonomy. Only periodic test against some common metrics will help retain the scientific consensus. Reason needs to be upheld at all times. Mere situational justification will create problems in future through lowered threshold of intolerance between members. Thus consensus & autonomy between members will ensure decision making more reliable and rational. Any loss indicates a serious bias and determinism.
- Does this mean anyone can do anything they want? How will the cooperative sustain?
- How can jobs be allocated to autonomous individuals?
- What if something needs to be but nobody is willing to do it?
Most of the time, cooperative emerge from pain due to experienced injustice from the existing dominant social, economic, & cultural systems. We cooperate together to solve the root cause of the pain / problem by adhering to cooperative principles. Common need defines the platform where social construction happens. This common need can also extend as common interest. But still, need provides the impetus to drive towards economic democracy. This pushes the community to strive against competition ridden economic system. Moreover, the common need is what that keeps the community together, even when individuals had their difference. Such situation is what that drives the community to have equal share and democratize the organization.
- Lack of Diversity
- Difference in commitment
Ownership of the cooperative effort plays a key role in erecting, commissioning, maintaining, & sharing it to next generation. The ownership method varies based on the type of cooperative people wish to create. In a worker owned cooperative, the ownership is shared among the worker members. This makes democratic control more concrete. When everybody has equal ownership, it provides more concrete reason to actively contribute with their labour, as well as actively participate in decision making. This means both power and responsibility at the same time driving the individual members to think with patience and rationality. This in-turn ensures solidarity between members.
- Financial autonomy
- Does everyone have the same salary?
- I have put in more money / effort than others, don't I deserve more salary / profit than them?
Democracy can exist only when participation is active. Only when the members actively participate in democratic action will ensure existence of democracy. The following characteristics might significantly undermine the democratic control. Both practice and technology helps us to empower the democratic control.
- Confused Passive Listening : Some members listening passively during any decision making proposal, will create confusion for other participating members. Either the cooperative should not take their vote counted or else the member need to abstain themselves from the process clearing the confusion. The community can take some effort to confirm the stand of passive member. After all any member has the fundamental right to listen. Confusions are ok, as long as it is communicated during the democratic process.
- Should I discuss everything with everyone? Where is the line?
- What if others don't agree? Can't I still do whatever I want?