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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Southern Grassroots Economies Project Values and Principles of Cooperation

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GEO Original
April 29, 2014
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SGEP Consensus Cooperative Principles -- March 2014

This is an enhanced version of the cooperative principles, added to in order to eliminate the need for differing principles by some of the groups within SGEP. It consists of the original ICA principles with a few notes added to each description to make clear and expand some of the concepts included. The added remarks are delineated with brackets so that anyone reading this can see the principles as officially distributed.

A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.[Co-operatives are open to all who share a common need or interest and in addition to all that is stated above cooperatives welcome members regardless of their citizenship status (documentation) and sexual orientation.]

2. Democratic Member Control
Co-operatives are democratic organisations 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. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner. [Cooperatives value transparency and develop processes for members to be involved with, to influence and to direct the management of cooperative enterprises while not damaging the effective management needed for the enterprise to be successful. Democratic control by the member/owners can best be experienced if the differential in compensation between the highest paid management and the lowest paid workers are reasonably limited and paths exist for members and workers to move into management with adequate education and commitment.]

3. Member Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.[Member control of a cooperative’s capital is a reflection of the joint ownership of the cooperative by the members. In the case of worker owned cooperatives it is also a reflection of the fact that labor is sovereign. Labor should use capital to enhance labor rather than capital using labor to enhance capital. In the case of a consumer cooperative it is a reflection of the fact that the members are both owners and consumers of the goods sold by the cooperative and may even volunteer their efforts in such a way as to reduce the costs to all members and the community as long as they ensure that those who do work in the cooperative are adequately and justly paid.]

4. Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy. [Cooperatives will not form alliances with other organizations that might compromise the democratic control by the owner/members. Investments solicited to increase the available capital to the enterprise will not be made in a form that invites equity investor control proportional to equity in the operation of the cooperative. This is a further expression of the instrumental but subordinate nature of capital within cooperative enterprises.]

5. Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of co-operation. [ Since the cooperative form of economic organization is new to most people in this region, especially poor people, cooperatives should provide  education for  the members, the community and local government officials. Without this education, cooperatives will not be adequately utilized, well supported, and democracy within them would be a sham.]

6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures. [Cooperatives advocate for each other; serve as customers and suppliers to each other; help to secure financing for each other and where possible pool resources, expertise and people for the further development of the cooperative community.]

7. Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members. [This is an expression of the triple bottom line idea of concern for the planet and people as well as the profits needed for the sustainability of the enterprise. Cooperatives hold environmental and social needs of communities as important, both locally as well as more broadly in our interconnected world. Cooperatives concern for community extends to a concern for justice and the opposition to oppression anywhere and everywhere, even if it means the loss of short term economic advantage.]


Go to the Southern Cooperative Movement theme page

The Southern Grassroots Economies Project builds, links, and strengthens sustainable, local, collective, democratic and green economic activities across the South. SGEP sees its work centered in working with the communities most affected by the economic crisis—women, African Americans, immigrants, youth and poor whites. We are working on not just getting a piece of the pie but developing cooperative business and making our own pies. 
 We are inspired by our own rich history of struggle as well as by movements around the world that have developed vigorous and inclusive economic activity while still promoting social, environmental and community values.


Southern Grassroots Economies Project (2014).  Southern Grassroots Economies Project Values and Principles of Cooperation.  Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

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