Sunday, October 9, 2011

Translation: Granma article on cooperatives

This Granma article discusses cooperatives in a positive light. An accompanying text box mentions the book Cooperatives and Socialism: A Cuban Perspective, an extract of which I translated recently, and informs readers of the International Cooperative Alliance, an international NGO that promotes the interests of cooperatives. 

I'll resume my translation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines soon.

Cooperate with the economy in other ways 

By Anneris Ivette Leyva, Granma, September 2, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

“Cooperatives help to build a better world”. Put like this, such a statement may seem over the top or, at the very least, somewhat trite. Nevertheless, this is the slogan that the UN has chosen to designate 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives.

It seems that when the hegemonic imperialist system is in crisis, when the contradictions between the owners of big capital – or those beholden to them – and the workers who reproduce capital in their daily practice grow ever sharper, forms of socialised property and equitable redistribution emerge from the most unlikely cracks and help to break chains. 

It comes as no great surprise, then, that delving into history reveals that while the principle of working together and sharing the fruits of labour is as old as tribal society, modern cooperatives arose as a reaction to the conditions of extreme exploitation in which the Industrial Revolution developed in Great Britain at the end of the 18th century. 

Restaurants and cafes could benefit most from the spread of cooperatives
In the case of Cuba, however, where the oppression of the proletariat was overcome through the triumph of the socialist revolution more than half a century ago, cooperativism emerged early on as a complement to the state economic management model (the Credit and Services cooperatives during the 1960s). 

Article 20 of our Constitution says that “cooperative property is recognised by the State and constitutes an advanced and efficient form of socialist production”, though the constitution restricts cooperatives to the agricultural sector.

In the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines approved by the Sixth Communist Party Congress, however, the door is opened to the possibility of extending this experience to other sectors through the incorporation, according to Guideline 25, of people who “associate with the aim of producing goods or providing services that are useful to society”.

To understand the desire to broaden this economic management model to diverse sectors, a model that brings to mind rural vistas in the Cuban imagination, we need to know a little more about the essence of cooperativism.

Management that is more social

Without disregarding profitability, the cooperative has as its aim the satisfaction of the needs of its members, their families and the community. Its social contribution is as embedded in its raison d'etre as its economic activity. This is why they are recognised around the world as “forms of the solidarity economy”.

According to the International Cooperative Alliance, a cooperative is defined as an autonomous association of people that have come together on a voluntary basis in order to satisfy their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations, on the basis of collective property and democratic administration.

A cooperative is an association of people, not of financial capital. Consequently, regardless of the contribution of each cooperative member, the responsibility for decision-making and the right to receive a proportion of the earnings are shared equitably.

Having dedicated more than 30 years to studying cooperatives, Dr. Claudio Alberto Rivera Rodríguez, president of the Latin Amercian Cooperativism Network and director of the Centre for Studies on Cooperative and Community Development at the University of Pinar del Rio [in Cuba], affirms that we still have a lot to learn about this other “form of socialist social property”.

Rivera Rodríguez told Granma that given this, it is somewhat paradoxical that our research output and international recognition in this area have allowed us to offer advice on cooperativisation processes in other countries in the region.

Among the advantages he points to in the Cuban case with regard to this economic management model is the scope for action that the political [i.e. Communist Party and communist youth] and mass organisations [e.g. trade unions, neighbourhood committees] have in cooperatives; greater budgetary revenues and lower costs [for government at all levels]; and higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness due to a more direct relationship between work and earnings.

In addition, the reorganisation of production and services [i.e. the conversion of state enterprises into cooperatively managed enterprises] improves the quality of life of cooperative members and the community. This is because, as a rule, cooperatives create jobs, there are more and better goods and services on offer and production costs are lower, thus allowing prices for the consumer to fall.  

Joaquín Remedios, who holds a Sciences doctorate and is president of the National Association of Economists and Accountants (ANEC) in the westernmost province of Pinar del Rio, points out that cooperatives tend to strengthen control over resources because they instil a sense of belonging to the enterprise. However, he says that for the creation of cooperatives to be fruitful in other economic sectors
 in our country we should not dismiss the experiences of existing cooperatives in agriculture, where some very positive examples flourish but also inefficiencies that must be overcome. 

Among the indispensable factors to be taken into account when considering establishing a cooperative, Rivera Rodríguez emphasises, is its nature and sector – whether it will be for production (for example of construction materials), services (such as restaurants and cafes, transport) or associated labour (where, for example, people from various trades form a cooperative to renovate housing).

It also has to be formed, he stresses, on the basis of clear statutes and regulations that set out its specific accounting mechanisms, define its relations with state institutions, etc. He sees advice and basic training as being equally important to the process of establishing cooperatives.

Dr. Odalys Labrador Machín – deputy director of the Centre for Studies on Cooperative and Community Development and vice-president of the Cuban Cooperativism Society, an ANEC affiliate – agrees. In her opinion, education in the values and principles of cooperativism should be taken just as seriously as specialised technical training in the activity to be undertaken by the cooperative.

With the aim of finding a place within the project of updating the Cuban economic model for the object of their multiple studies, these specialists agree that when the principle of collective property takes centre stage, cooperativism is a counter-hegemonic alternative for the market economies and, in the Cuban context, a means to develop our socialist economy.

* * *
According to a review of the book Cooperatives and Socialism: A Cuban Perspective, published by Editorial Caminos, the first officially registered cooperative was the British Society of Equitable Pioneers, formed in Rochdale in October 1844. It was established by a group of 28 weavers from the cotton spinning factory in the Rochdale, Manchester, neighbourhood who decided to come together to create a cooperative store in which they and their families could acquire basic goods on preferential terms with regard to quality and price. This was achieved by all the members contributing money to a common fund during about a year, after which they had the minimal capital required (equivalent to $128) to rent the premises in which they set up their consumer cooperative.

This example inspired the development of cooperatives in other countries, such that in 1895 there was a need to establish the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) to represent all organisations of this type in the world. Currently, the ICA has more than 260 organisations in 95 countries. More than 1 billion people are represented in these organisations, which also provide 100 million jobs.

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