Presentation on Co-operatives
Sunday,May 4, 2013
Donway Covenant United Church
230 The Donway West, Toronto, Ontario

Bio Note: Brian Burch is involved with a number of types of co-operatives, including housing (President, Don Area Co-operative Homes; Ontario Regional Director, CHF Canada); financial (Director, Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative); and worker (Vice-President, Ganesh Community Development Co-operative).

There are days when I feel very old—in 1979 I took part in a conference on Human Rights and Social Responsibility at Queen’s University, which included discussions on fair trade and co-operatives. Decades later, the ebb and flow of social change again brings economic justice to a central role in social justice movements. From the Occupy movement calling for people to move bank accounts to credit unions to community bonds funding new green energy producing co-ops, our world seems again willing and able to embrace the co-operative model.

I’ll touch on a few general points and then have a question and then have a question/answer/conversation period.

The first point is that co-operative initiatives have a long history. I think that the co-operative spirit is woven into what it means to be human. From the pooling labour for harvesting crops to barn raising, from quilting bees to bringing over a casserole when a neighbour has experienced a crisis, we work together. We may think of co-ops as being the formal structures they have become, the Mountain Equipment or Karma Co-ops, but woven into the nature of all co-operatives is the human spirit that encourages us to work together for our common good.

Organisationally, co-operatives as we understand them go back to the middle ages when co-operative trading ventures, road construction companies and similar ventures were formed. However, the formal start of the modern co-op began in Rochdale, England in 1844 where weavers came together to open a consumer co-operative store to sell goods that people could not otherwise afford. The principles these people developed became the modern co-op principles that the global co-op movement has embraced, principles that distinguish co-operatives from other social institutions. These 7 principles are

1. Voluntary and Open Membership: Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use its services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
2. Democratic Member Control: Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative—who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.
3. Members’ Economic Participation: Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. This benefits members in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.
4. Autonomy and Independence: Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintains the cooperative’s autonomy.
5. Education, Training and Information: Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.
6. Cooperation among Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7. Concern for Community While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.

From the smallest worker co-op to Co-operators Insurance, from a community radio co-operative to Gay Lea Dairies, these principles unite the global co-operative movement. These principles are taken seriously as being what makes co-operatives truly distinctive. Non-profit day care centres and Sunkist are equally valued parts of the movement.

The co-operative structure is a very flexible one. There are no areas of human activity where co-operatives can’t find a niche. Co-op members provide medical care and housing, sell beer and gasoline, conduct research and organise communities to address poverty and homelessness. In bringing individuals together to pool resources within a co-operative structure social needs are met in a more creative, accountable and responsive way. Co-ops are a third way, different from state enterprises or traditional corporate structures. At the core, co-ops are groups of individuals who collectively achieve something greater than they could achieve on their own.

Growing up, the first co-op I became aware of was The Algoma Steelworkers Credit Union, which my parents were members of. I then heard of Co-operator’s Insurance, because my family had policies with them. I first became active in co-ops when I helped form a food buying club at University; bulk buying of food meant more money for other things. As a graduate student I become connected to student housing co-operatives and early fair trade initiatives, linking social justice activists in Canada to those struggling to gain control of their own destiny in other lands. I had a chance to learn more about co-operatives from those working to establish them in Nicaragua and South Africa while becoming familiar with worker and housing co-operatives close to home. Co-operatives challenged oppressive regimes by bringing people together to grow food and weave cloth and make goods sold through networks of solidarity activists here at home. Co-operatives, such as Unfinished Monument Press, published my poetry. Don Area Co-operative Homes has given me a place to live for almost 30 years. I still dream of a co-operative commonwealth where all of society is self-organised and all within creation have access to the goods of creation with all acting as stewards of our shared resources.


Co-operatives (From Wikipedia)

A cooperative (“coop”), co-operative (“co-op”), or coöperative (“coöp”) is an autonomous association of persons who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual, social, economic, and cultural benefit. Cooperatives include non-profit community organizations and businesses that are owned and managed by the people who use its services (a consumer cooperative) or by the people who work there (a worker cooperative) or by the people who live there (a housing cooperative), hybrids such as worker cooperatives that are also consumer cooperatives or credit unions, multi-stakeholder cooperatives such as those that bring together civil society and local actors to deliver community needs, and second and third tier cooperatives whose members are other cooperatives.

International Co-operative Alliance:

Canadian Co-operative Association:

On Co-op (CCA Ontario):

Housing Co-operative (From Housing Connections):

CO-OPERATIVE HOUSING(CO-OP) – Co-operative housing is collectively owned and managed by its members (the people who live there). Co-operative members actively participate in decision making and share the work involved in running the housing community. Applicants can apply for co-ops through Housing Connections. However the co-ops, and their selection committees, make the final decision to determine suitability when choosing members. As a member of a co-op, you must volunteer and take part in the management of the building.

ICA Housing:

CHF Canada:

CHF Toronto:

Worker Co-operative (From Wikipedia):

A worker cooperative is a cooperative self-managed by its workers. This control may be exercised in a number of ways. A cooperative enterprise may mean a firm where every worker-owner participates in decision making in a democratic fashion, or it may refer to one in which managers and administration is elected by every worker-owner, and finally it can refer to a situation in which managers are considered, and treated as, workers of the firm. In traditional forms of worker cooperative, all shares are held by the workforce with no outside or consumer owners, and each member has one voting share. In practice, control by worker-owners may be exercised through individual, collective or majority ownership by the workforce, or the retention of individual, collective or majority voting rights (exercised on a one-member one-vote basis). A worker cooperative, therefore, has the characteristic that the majority of its workforce own shares, and the majority of shares are owned by the workforce.


Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation:

Consumer Co-operatives (From Wikipedia):

Consumer cooperatives are enterprises owned by consumers and managed democratically which aim at fulfilling the needs and aspirations of their members. They operate within the market system, independently of the state, as a form of mutual aid, oriented toward service rather than pecuniary profit. Consumers’ cooperatives often take the form of retail outlets owned and operated by their consumers, such as food co-ops. However, there are many types of consumers’ cooperatives, operating in areas such as health care, insurance, housing, utilities and personal finance (including credit unions).

Consumer Co-operatives World Wide:

Financial Co-operatives/Credit Unions (From Wikipedia):

A credit union is a member-owned financial cooperative, democratically controlled by its members, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at competitive rates, and providing other financial services to its members.

World Council of Credit Unions:

Credit Union Central of Canada:

Credit Unions of Ontario:


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