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DEFINITION OF A CO-OP
A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.

HISTORY OF THE COOPERATIVE MOVEMENT
Todayís cooperatives trace their origins to Englandís Industrial Revolution. In the first half of the nineteenth century, living conditions were extremely harsh for working class people in the textile milling towns of northern England. Mills workers labored long hours under dangerous working conditions for low pay. Plagued by unending poverty, they were forced to buy food on credit from merchants who charged high prices for goods that were poor quality and often adulterated. Owning no property, workers were unable to vote. These conditions gave rise to labor movements, which drew great numbers of followers.

During this period, cooperative initiatives were common, offering their working class members the promise of economic opportunity and democratic control. But until the founding of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society in 1844, none were successful. When the self-described "Rochdale Pioneers" opened their first cooperative food shop, they sold only five products - butter, flour, oatmeal, sugar, and candles - but promised to provide members with "purest provisions, giving full weight and measure." They went on to establish many other member-owned businesses.

Learning from earlier failures, the founders of the Rochdale Society developed a series of operating principles, which ensured their success and the success of hundreds of cooperatives in England and beyond which soon imitated them. Today, these basic principles still guide cooperatives around the world.

VALUES
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

PRINCIPLES
The cooperative principles are guidelines by which cooperatives put their value into practice:

1st Principle: Voluntary and open membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of memberships, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.

2nd Principle: Democratic member control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.

3rd Principle: Member economic participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. They usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any of all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4th Principle: Autonomy and independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

5th Principle: Education, training and information
Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

6th Principle: Cooperation among cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.

7th Principle: Concern for community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

These 7 principles were adopted in Manchester (UK) by the General Assembly of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), 23 September 1995, on the occasion of the Allianceís Centenary.  The Statement was the product of a lengthy process of consultation involving thousands of cooperative around the world.

Dr. James Peter Warbasse, who wrote about the implications of cooperation and believed strongly in the co-op movement, created the twin pines emblem for use in the United States. In describing the significance of this symbol, he said: The pine tree is the ancient symbol of endurance and fecundity. More than one pine is used to signify cooperation. The trunks of the trees are continued into roots, which form the circle, the ancient symbol of eternal life, typifying that which has no end. The circle represents the all-embracing cosmos, which depends on cooperation for its existence. The two pines and the circle are dark green, the chlorophyll color of humanís life principle in nature. The background within the circle is gold, typifying the sun, giver of light and life. The twin pines symbol isnít as common in the United States as it once was, since many co-ops have replaced it with their own logos. However, this symbol is still frequently used by co-ops in other countries, especially throughout Central America, in India, and in other developing regions.
 
 
             
       
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