Viroqua Food Co+op Blog

Cooperatives = Economic Democracy

Posted by Charlene Elderkin on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 @ 10:42 AM

cooperatives the economic democracy


Cooperatives are sometimes called “economic democracy in action”. The pioneers of the movement hoped their co-op would begin a restructuring of society, and that included the idea that each person should have a vote regardless of the amount of money a person controlled.

Cooperative Principle #2  Democratic Member Control states:

“Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership.”

This principle is often abbreviated “one member, one vote”, and that is a most critical way to differentiate co-ops from other business forms, in which voting rights relate to investment (one membership, one vote). But the above statement is also a strong statement of the independence cooperatives have in choosing their form of governance.

The co-op principles broadly sketch out the practice of cooperation, but do not specify a type of governing body (board, trustees, central committee), method or frequency of selection, nor the number of representatives. There is no “one right way” to which co-ops must adhere. Each co-op is free to choose the method of governance and management desired by its own membership.

A democratically selected body that protects the interests of the member-owners and ensures compliance with law, good business practice and cooperative principles, is legitimate regardless of the particulars of the selection process. However, as with all governments, a board is only as good as the people who run for it and only as representative as the proportion of voters who actually vote. If member-owners do not take their duty seriously, democratic control is only theoretical.

Co-ops nationwide practically have to turn somersaults to get a quorum of members for elections. It is shocking that so many people fail to exercise their franchise. Perhaps this is because, when private businesses offer the same products, people forget why co-ops are so important. Co-ops pioneered ingredient disclosure, unit pricing, nutrition information, and reintroduced organic food to the marketplace. Co-ops sparked the now mainstream Local Food movement. Private business was dragged into these practices to compete with co-ops.

Participation is the lifeblood of democracy. Without your willingness to participate, our co-ops will become pale imitations of the private chains (co-ops are not richly funded by Wall Street investors). Co-ops work when you go beyond being a consumer and become an owner. Educate yourself about the history and practice of cooperation. Run for the board of directors, read the newsletters, attend meetings, talk to fellow members, and vote!

Your next opportunity to participate in economic democracy is the VFC election for the Board of Directors. You can find the ballots and instructions for voting on page 10 of the Sept. - Oct. 2011 Pea Soup. More on the candidates can be found here. Be sure to return your ballots by October 3rd, either by mail or in the ballot box in the owner services area. Even when an election is not contested, a quorum, defined as 10% of the first 100 members plus 5% of additional members, is required for the results to be official.

Election results are announced at the General Membership Meeting on Sun. October 16 at Driftless Cafe at 1pm. Please join your Board of Directors for an afternoon of food and Co-op business. Details about the GMM are found here.

Tags: Local, Board of Directors, Announcements, Events, Food, Sustainability, All Store