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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Cooperative history and social democracy

The social democratic movement has primarily been based on two simple organising methods. One was to get a group of workers together and have them elect a representative to bargain for higher pay and better working conditions on their behalf. These became known as trade unions. The other was to get a group of consumers together and have them elect a representative to bargain for a lower price and better quality goods and services on their behalf. These became known as consumer cooperatives. Together, unions and cooperatives formed the two pillars on which social democratic parties were built on.

This type of organising could attract masses of ordinary people to join because participation provided tangible benefits. Better pay and cheaper bread were what attracted people to the movement – not book clubs of economic theory. The trust of the masses was won by first helping them help themselves here and now in their everyday life – only after they saw the ideas work for them personally in practice did they become convinced of the wider ideology. When the social democrats first made their breakthrough, most people spent almost all of their income on necessities, mostly housing and food. It was therefore no coincidence that the most successful movement emerged in the two countries where labour affiliated cooperatives most strongly dominated both grocery and housing markets – Norway and Sweden.

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