On Cooperatives as an Alternative

Daisy Valera

A while back, Raul Jimenez sent in a comment about one of my posts referring to cooperatives.  He asked about the benefits of this form of organizing work in relation to the development of private businesses.

He asked me to explain the advantages of cooperatives and cooperative associations, which is what I’ll try to do here.

Raul asserted that these entities look good on paper, but that they haven’t worked in our country or anywhere else.

First, my insistence on this method stems from the fact that it’s a way of beginning to eliminate the social problems caused by capitalist and totalitarian regimes.

In companies with which we’re familiar, employees compete against each other for their individual benefit. This promotes piecework and the exploitation of some by others, and therefore social differences.

The profits go into the pockets of the owners of the capital invested or into the coffers of the state, which redistributes it as it desires.

The end results favor the shareholders or administrative elites without them being concerned about the quality of the goods or services.

The major decisions affecting these firms are made by shareholders or they come “from above,” while those who produce have neither a voice nor a real vote, unless those voices side with the interests of their superiors.

In these dynamics, the purchasing power of workers tends to decrease, since this is the only way for the owners to maintain increasing profits.  In cases of economic crisis, the numbers of laid-off or “available” workers tend to increase.

Another no less important point is that the objectives of the firm are not related to the objectives of those who work for it.  Alienated labor thus becomes a brake on spiritual realization.

On the other hand, workers who associate into cooperatives benefit equally.  Each person has only one vote, which has the same value as that of their co-workers.  This transforms work into an activity of full participation that enriches life and stimulates the individual.

These associated workers are the ones who manage, have a voice, choose their representatives in cases where this is necessary, and no one benefits by virtue of their position.  Pyramidal organization of activity doesn’t exist.

The objectives are determined by everyone and the aim is to increase the number of associates, not to reduce it.

I know that up until now there haven’t been companies like this in Cuba, so the efforts that have failed, as Raul Jimenez commented, were only monstrous copies of Stalinism, efforts that were cooperatives only in name.

In other countries like Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, there exist valid examples of the operation of this system of work that could be a solution for the expected million and a half individuals to be laid off here in Cuba.  “Real” cooperatives won’t be organized by the ruling class; it’s our task as workers to take the initiative.


Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

10 thoughts on “On Cooperatives as an Alternative

  • May 17, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Laurence Schechtman, thanks for your correct and constructive comments. If the workers in Cuba should be able to organize such coops, as you advocate, Cuba might have the honor of being the first socialist cooperative republic in history. In the meantime, we can only work in the US to make our country reach the same goal.

    I wonder if you are aware of the amazing history of the worker-owned, Chinese Indusco, or “gung ho” industrial cooperatives, 1938-1959? They were the brainchild of the American Helen Foster Snow, and were organized first by New Zealander Rewi Alley? They were highly successful, inspiring the formation of similar coops all over Asia and Africa. They probably influenced Father Arizmendi of Mondragon much more than did the English coops.

  • May 17, 2011 at 12:38 am

    Thank you Daisy for a wonderful article. There are of course thousands of examples of successful workers’ cooperatives. Mondragon, with scores of co-ops, its own bank and technical assistance, and about 100,000 workers, is the most famous. But they exist all over the world, and in the US it is well established that co-ops pay higher wages and last longer than comparable small businesses, despite conservative hostility. The level of real democracy within co-ops varies enormously, but many of them are extremely democratic.

    I only hope that in Cuba the thousands of laid off workers will be free to form their own co-ops and demonstrate their superiority. We have seen in China and the Soviet world how easily state capitalism slips back into the corporate variety, creating disaster for people’s health and welfare. Creating real democratic co-ops is probably the only way to prevent that from happening in Cuba.

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