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Worker cooperative

The meaning of «worker cooperative»

A worker cooperative is a cooperative owned and self-managed by its workers. This control may mean a firm where every worker-owner participates in decision-making in a democratic fashion, or it may refer to one in which management is elected by every worker-owner who each have one vote.

Worker cooperatives rose to prominence during the Industrial Revolution as part of the labour movement. As employment moved to industrial areas and job sectors declined, workers began organizing and controlling businesses for themselves. Worker cooperatives were originally sparked by "critical reaction to industrial capitalism and the excesses of the industrial revolution." Some worker cooperatives were designed to "cope with the evils of unbridled capitalism and the insecurities of wage labor".[1]

The philosophy that underpinned the cooperative movement stemmed from the socialist writings of thinkers including Robert Owen and Charles Fourier. Robert Owen, considered by many as the father of the cooperative movement, made his fortune in the cotton trade but believed in putting his workers in a good environment with access to education for themselves and their children. These ideas were put into effect successfully in the cotton mills of New Lanark, Scotland. It was here that the first co-operative store was opened. Spurred on by the success of this, he had the idea of forming "villages of co-operation" where workers would drag themselves out of poverty by growing their own food, making their own clothes and ultimately becoming self-governing. He tried to form such communities in Orbiston in Scotland and in New Harmony, Indiana in the United States of America, but both communities failed.[2][3][4]

Similar early experiments were made in the early 19th century and by 1830 there were several hundred co-operatives.[5] Dr William King made Owen's ideas more workable and practical. He believed in starting small and realized that the working classes would need to set up co-operatives for themselves, so he saw his role as one of instruction. He founded a monthly periodical called The Co-operator,[6] the first edition of which appeared on 1 May 1828. This gave a mixture of co-operative philosophy and practical advice about running a shop using cooperative principles.

The first successful cooperative organization was the consumer-owned Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, established in England in 1844. The Rochdale Pioneers established the ‘Rochdale Principles’ on which they ran their cooperative. This became the basis for the development and growth of the modern cooperative movement.[7] As the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution was forcing more and more skilled workers into poverty, these tradesmen decided to band together to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford.[8]

With lessons from prior failed attempts at co-operation in mind, they designed the now famous Rochdale Principles, and over a period of four months, they struggled to pool one pound sterling per person for a total of 28 pounds of capital. On 21 December 1844, they opened their store with a very meager selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal, and a few candles. Within three months, they expanded their selection to include tea and tobacco, and they were soon known for providing high quality, unadulterated goods.[9][10][11]

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