Material to Teach about Cooperatives

Workers’ cooperatives or cooperative enterprises are seldom covered in OB textbooks. This is interesting for two reasons. First, cooperatives constitute a form of organizing work that has the capacity to serve both instrumental needs such, as salary and job security, and social needs, such as solidarity and workplace democracy. Second, cooperatives are not just utopia but have a significant share in our economy and labour market. In this post I would like to share some material that you could use for teaching students about cooperatives. Please note that this is not an exhaustive collection. It should rather serve to supplement your own material.

The principles of cooperatives:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Member Economic Participation
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training, and Information
  • Cooperation among Cooperatives
  • Concern for Community

It took these principles from the webpage of the International Co-operative Alliance (https://www.ica.coop/en/cooperatives/cooperative-identity?_ga=2.201778583.76468358.1541062117-1687893629.1541062117), where you will find a short explanation of each of them. You can also find the principles on the webpages of numerous cooperatives that restate them as the ones they adhere to. It may also make sense referring to the history of these principles and thereby to the Rochdale Pioneers, who developed and promoted them in the US (see for example: https://www.rochdalepioneersmuseum.coop/). You can find similar movements in Switzerland, Germany, and elsewhere, as there is a national cooperative movement in almost every country.

Video material:

List of cooperatives on Wikipedia:

Problems of cooperatives:

Much of the material on cooperatives tends to present them in a fairly positive light. Therefore, I also collated some material to critically discuss cooperatives.

Student exercises:

  • Let your students read the principles of cooperatives and ask them if (and why / why not) the principles appeal to them.
  • Ask your students how they would realize the principles of cooperatives if they would be members of a 10-person cooperative or a 500-person cooperative.
  • Ask students to conduct interviews with employees of private firms to investigate these employees’ thoughts on the principles of cooperatives compared to their current place of employment. Do these principles appeal to them? Why? Why not?
  • Ask students to read Storey, J., Basterretxea, I., & Salaman, G. (2014) and to find additional material for (or against) the so-called degeneration crisis.

Selected literature:

  • Ben-Ner, A. (1984). On the stability of the cooperative type of organization. Journal of Comparative Economics, 8(3), 247–260.
  • Ben-Ner, A. and Jones, D. C. (1995). Employee participation, ownership, and productivity: A theoretical framework. Industrial Relations 34(4), 532–554.
  • Cheney, G., Santa Cruz, I., Peredo, A. M., & Nazareno, E. (2014). Worker cooperatives as an organizational alternative: Challenges, achievements and promise in business governance and ownership. Organizations, 21(5), 591-603.
  • C. (1983). Some factors affecting the success or failure of worker cooperatives: A review of empirical research in the United Kingdom. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 4(2), 163-190.
  • Johnson, A. G., & Whyte, W. F. (1977). The Mondragon system of worker production cooperatives. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 31(1), 18-30.
  • Spear, R. (2004). Governance in democratic member-based organisations. Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 75(1), 33-59.
  • Storey, J., Basterretxea, I., & Salaman, G. (2014). Managing and resisting ‘degeneration’ in employee-owned businesses: A comparative study of two large retailers in Spain and the United Kingdom. Organization, 21(5), 626-644.
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