How do co-ops function in a capitalistic system?
We have examples all over the world, and sometimes how that looks is it's a small enterprise that allows smaller individuals to compete. Take a group like Land-of-Lakes, which is one of our largest agricultural corporations. It is actually a cooperative of dairy farmers that all own Land-of-Lakes together, equally. And Land-of-Lakes buys its milk and produces all the dairy products. So the co-op has the factories, does all the production, does all the marketing, handles the business side. That frees the farmers up to do their dairy farming knowing that they have a market. Individually, they wouldn't be able to afford a production plant or afford all the advertising. But owning it all together, the individual farmers can now afford to compete.
What role has cooperative economics played in black communities in the US?
African Americans have engaged in some form of collective economics throughout our entire history in America. Sometimes it was tilling kitchen gardens on Sundays when we weren't working as enslaved people and sharing the produce. Sometimes it was putting in dues to bury loved ones.
By the 1700s and 1800s, we had more formalized systems of collective economics that were more enterprise-driven like insurance companies and collective farming. Eventually, we had collective grocery stores, credit unions, and healthcare. Europeans eventually recognized the model around 1844, and it formally came to the US. Blacks then started forming official co-ops in the 1860s and 1870s. By the 1880s, labor unions were actually helping workers to start their own co-ops, and blacks were involved in that, too.