The Year Of The Co-op: New Survey Reveals Americans View Co-ops More Favorably Than For-Profit Businesses

by on Friday, May 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm in Economy, Labor, Occupy Wall Street, Politics

On October 31, 2011, the United Nations proclaimed 2012 to be “The International Year of Cooperatives (IYC).” The world body uses this annual designation to help bring attention to what it believes are some of the world’s most critical issues. On its IYC website, it praises the cooperative model for its contributions towards ending world poverty, and encourages more groups to embrace this “alternative means of doing business.”

Co-ops benefit communities around the globe by offering employees a living wage with favorable working conditions, and by promoting social integration and sound environmental policies.

Co-ops have recently enjoyed something of a resurgence in the U.S. as its economy has continued to sputter. Worker pay has remained on the decline for decades, and a corporate hijacking of U.S. democracy has left the public distrustful of the 1% who appear to be living large off the pain, suffering and disempowerment of the 99%.

‘Social injustice’ has become the buzzword to define America’s new economic reality.

In just the last few years, Americans have watched in horror as laissez faire Capitalism wreaked havoc, with impunity, on their communities. From Wall Street corruption bringing the entire financial system to its knees, and those responsible profiting from the calamity they engineered, to BP & Halliburton’s gross negligence resulting in 200 million gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf, and creating a catastrophe so severe that two full years later the sea life there can only be described as “horribly mutated creatures.” 

The public’s faith in for-profit ‘free’ markets has understandably waned. Even Republican ‘word doctor’ Frank Luntz recently cautioned that ‘Capitalism’ is now a dirty word, and he advised Republicans to stop using it.

As a result, non-profit cooperative businesses have experienced a groundswell of new interest from people eager to work for, and/or spend their money at more community-conscious companies.

Last Fall, the Occupy Wall Street movement spearheaded “Bank Transfer Day,” where hundreds of thousands of Americans closed out their accounts at ‘for-profit’ banks and moved their money to ‘non-profit’ cooperative credit unions.

And now, the results of a new national survey reveal just how favorably Americans view non-profit cooperatives when compared to for-profit businesses. Not only do they prefer the community-driven values these co-ops represent, they prefer their products and services to those of for-profit companies:

According to the survey, nearly one-third of all Americans belong to consumer cooperatives. Seventy-two percent of Americans believe cooperatives are “helpful to consumers,” while only eleven percent believe they are “unhelpful.”

Last week, following the release of the survey results, the White House invited 150 cooperative leaders to its weekly “community leaders briefing.” The co-op leaders were from all different sectors of the economy, and they educated administration officials about the large role co-ops have played in helping to put Americans back to work.

Whereas corporations — being required to maximize shareholder value by maximizing profits — have been outsourcing American jobs to developing countries for cheap labor and nonexistent environmental and labor laws, non-profit co-ops have been employing Americans, because their core responsibility is to their customers, their employees, and their communities. 

Attendee Liz Bailey, who is interim president and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association, had this to say about the White House briefing:

Every day cooperatives around the U.S. are stimulating the economy and we are pleased to have the opportunity to discuss our successes in job creation and ways to use the cooperative model to continue to strengthen communities large and small.

Two million jobs are generated each year as a direct result of cooperatives, which illustrates the incredible impact that these organizations have on local economies.

Recently, M.I.T. professor and author Noam Chomsky urged the Occupy Movement to mobilize for community-centric cooperatives. He told Laura Flanders that one way to target private power in the U.S. would be to help promote companies with stakeholder-based cooperative models, rather than those with shareholder-based corporate models. 

With over 29,000 cooperatives in the U.S., ranging from local businesses (grocery stores, coffee shops, movie theatersdaycare centershealth care, etc.) to Fortune 500 companies, there are many to choose from. Several of the bigger co-ops in the U.S. include: Associated Press (AP), Land O’ Lakes, Sunkist, Ace Hardware, Ocean Spray, REI (Recreational Equipment Inc), Southern States, True Value Hardware … 

By becoming more ‘conscientious consumers’ and choosing cooperatives, Americans will help to promote the core values that co-ops espouse. And if corporations begin to see their customers fleeing to cooperatives, they will be forced to reconsider their own business practices to lure them back.

It might take another ‘Bank Transfer Day’–style mobilization effort to really entice a large enough number to participate, and to generate the press required to start a new national discussion; that discussion being “what business model (corporate v cooperative) ACTUALLY benefits Americans? Which model’s core principles ensure that jobs are never outsourced, and customers are never taken advantage of, and the environment is never polluted? Which model’s core principles amounts to little more than turning as big and as quick a profit as possible for its owners?” 

With the nation’s democracy now effectively hijacked by the corporatocracy, it begins to dawn on you that a vote with your dollars is now the only vote that counts. But surprisingly enough, that can still feel rather empowering.


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