What is a co-op?

The co-op as a distinct economic structure derives from the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, founded in 1844 by disgruntled factory workers, who pooled their resources to create their own self-sustaining shop. The governing principles of this first worker-owned cooperative became the basis for the modern cooperative movement as a distinct social force.

These principles have been part of the Berkeley Student Cooperative’s identity since it was first founded as the University Students Cooperative Association in 1933. The wording was most recently standardized in 1995 as part of the International Statement of Cooperative Identity, which also includes a concise Definition of a Cooperative:

A cooperative 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.

It further identifies Cooperative Values:

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

The final section of the ICA statement provides the standardized wording of the Cooperative Principles, which are included in the BSC’s guiding documents under the title Rochdale Principles, in homage to the original Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers as well as the BSC’s own Rochdale Village Apartments. Outside of the BSC, they are more commonly known simply as the Seven Cooperative Principles.

Rochdale Principles of Cooperation

One of the BSC’s “Guiding Documents”, adapted from the BSC Policy Wiki

1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Humans serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.

3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation

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

4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5th Principle: Education, Training and Information

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6th Principle: Co-operation among Co-operatives

Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative 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.