Another interesting article from The Commune. Though the honour of the first co-op can be disputed, as recently details were found that gave this honour to Ayrshire in Scotland. I have no doubt that other places will stake their claim to be the first Co-op, as I'm sure the idea is a natural tendency among us social creatures called humans. Whoever was first, co-ops, large and small are an important form of community organisation that can help take us away from the capitalist model.
The late development of theory around worker, producer and community co-operatives could be one explanation for the widespread indifference of communists to this part of the working class movement.(1) In the UK, ignorance about its reach, nature and significance contrasts with an apparently inexhaustible, tailending-the-left fascination with party or group politics and rank-and-file trade unionism. Yet people are often ready with an ideological view of co-ops; they are self-exploitation, or bourgeois, or prefigure communism, or impossible, and so on.
The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) defines a co-op as an “autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprises”. Co-operatives are a type of collective organisation for the satisfaction of needs unmet by private enterprise and the state – for work, shelter, access to markets, land, leisure activity, credit, clean water, food, health, education.