Cooperative federalism and individualism

I have just been reading about two different historical strands if the cooperative movement: cooperative federalism and cooperative individualism.

Cooperative federalism argues that we create consumer cooperatives - businesses collectively owned and democratically governed by those who consume their products, with membership open to all.

Cooperative individualism is the movement of worker cooperatives - workplaces owned and democratically controlled by their "employees".

Why not combine these two, to create something very like the dual system of consumer and workers councils envisioned historically by many anarchist communists (such as Isaac Puente, for one) and more recently by advocates of Albert & Hahnel's "ParEcon" model?

This how it could happen.

1) People set up consumer cooperatives in their local towns, which buy productive facilities such as workplaces. These co-ops would be governed by regular general meetings of their members, on a basis of one-member-one-vote.

2)These federate with each other at a regional and national level.

3) Rather than consumers electing managers to govern the workplaces owned by the co-op, it rents the workplaces to groups of worker, who manage them democratically, and themselves become members of the consumer co-op.

4) The rent could be free, or it could be put into a fund for investment, which would be controlled by the members of the consumer co-op, including those who work in the workplaces. This would provide social control over investment.

No obviously, there are huge unanswered questions here. One of which is how decision making is divided up. Which issues are decided by workers, which by consumers, or does it not matter since the workers can also vote in assemblies of consumers? Which decisions are made locally (i.e. by every member of the local consumer co-op), and which regionally? But still, these things can be worked out in practice. The important thing is that this tactic may give us a real way of moving forwards, without facing the usual problems of workers cooperatives being isolated from the community, and consumer cooperatives still maintaining management hierarchies.

I would be interested to hear any thoughts people have on this scheme, and whether it is feasible or desirable. Certainly, organisations such as the co-operative group have achieved some degree of large scale success, so why shouldn't a consumer cooperative movement based on ideas of consumer and worker self-management?

Posted By

sam sanchez
Dec 29 2006 00:44


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Jan 8 2007 09:45

Alright sam, I have some thoughts on this, it might be worth you posting a link to this text in the thought forum and getting more comments there... i'll wait to see what you decide to do.