My First Cooperative

Daisy Valera 

I still don’t sell different varieties of coffee on some corner in the Vedado neighborhood, nor do I cook Mexican dishes that would break with our national culinary monotony.

Nor have I acted on the idea of some friends of mine to start an agricultural producers’ cooperative on some vacant lot in any outlying neighborhood of the city.

For the time being my time is consumed in performing my post-university social service obligation.

Eight hours of sitting in front of a computer, with little motivation, can be more complex than weeding a field of tomatoes.

So, my dream of being part of a cooperative on a full time basis will have to wait a tad bit longer.

But I’ve decided not to lose hope and to begin practicing.

While I was devoted to studying the characteristics of cooperative labor and the historical experiences of this type of work around the world, an idea came to me.

I could organize a simple cooperative; one in which I would need to invest only the least amount of time but that would also yield benefits.

It would be a consumers’ cooperative.

The members would be friends and collaborators of Havana Times.

Erasmo, Irina, Eduardo and I live in a neighborhood where most the agricultural produce is supplied by private vendors, so the cost of food is much higher.

However in downtown Havana there are “agro-markets” where products are more affordable.

We’ve therefore organized ourselves into two groups.  We plan to make purchases twice a month, filling our backpacks with as much food as we can carry.  We’ve begun buying it from one of those cheap State agro-markets in Vedado.

We’ve discovered that currently cucumbers in Alamar cost twice as much, and beans go for three pesos more per pound out here – so we’re spending less by buying in Vedado.

Plus, as it turns out, we’re saving time, since before we had to go buy food every week and now we do it only once a month.

The experiment has hardly begun but it has started out well.  We’re learning how to be more organized, how to decide among all of us and how to find alternatives.

I have hopes that this will continue and that it can become a solution (though palliative) for those who are victims of the poor and unequal system of food distribution that exist in the capital.

2 thoughts on “My First Cooperative

  • Daisy, I wonder if a little bit of seed money might help your cooperative. You have my e-mail address, so if the answer is yes, please let me know. My friends in another country might be able to send along a couple hundred dollars. If this is not what you need, please let me know. Wishing you the best.

  • Dear Daisy, I am stunned and delighted that you’ve taken the plunge and began organizing what apparently is a “Rochdale-type” consumer coop. This confirms my earlier sense that you have a magnificient heart, and might develop a cooperative movement in Cuba that can help “perfect” Cuban socialism. If I can ever help in any way, please don’t hesitate to ask.

    Robert Owen tried in the early 1800s to supplement his compassionate treatment of textile workers under him with a form of retail consumer cooperatives. These did help the workers, but they had a flaw that eventually led to their demise. Owen granted credit to working families for consumer goods. Most of these families paid their bills honorably, but enough defaulted to cause the coops to go out of business.

    Years later in 1844, in Rochdale, England, out-of-work wool workers founded a consumer cooperative retail store on Toad Lane. One of their ironclad rules (in order to defend their business) was “cash trading only.” No credit would be allowed, but purchases would be kept track of and dividends based on the amount purchased would be distributed back to the consumer owners. This store was spectacularly successful, and cause a mass movement in England and Ireland, and in many countries.

    The Rochdale model still is practiced in many countries. We have one in Santa Monica. But they are not worker owned, and this is their main flaw. As these coops succeed, the managers begin to stand in the same relation to store workers as capitalists stand in relation to workers in regular enterprise. But, Daisy, don’t let this discourage you. Just be aware that you are “re-inventing the wheel,” and there may be drawbacks.

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