Why all the fuss? What’s a co-op? Where’d they come from? Questions, questions …
A co-op is a businesses owned by the people who use its services. It’s a simple idea, really, with profound implications that serve as a refreshing change from the many sundry predatory alternatives that exist in the world. “Corporations work to meet human greed,” said legendary co-op activist and leader Tom Webb. “Co-ops work to meet human need.”
Today’s cooperatives trace their origins to England’s Industrial Revolution of the mid-1800s, where working-class people in the textile milling towns of northern England labored long hours under dangerous working conditions for low pay. Plagued by unending poverty, they were forced to buy food on credit from merchants who charged high prices for goods that were poor quality and often adulterated. Sick and tired of it all, the people got together, established their own successful member-owned businesses, and developed a series of operating principles that still guide cooperatives around the world. The rest is cooperative history.
Today, many things considered no-brainers—such as environmental sustainability, social justice, Fair Trade, organic food, protecting small family farms, supporting local, and more—were championed by cooperatives long before the rest of the world caught on. There are worker co-ops, bike co-ops, food co-ops, housing co-ops, electric co-ops, art co-ops. All over the world impassioned people have banded together to form cooperatives to take care of themselves and the people around them. Some believe co-operatives can save the world.