Ask yourself this: next time you buy a pound of cheese do you want the profits to go to faceless shareholders in the City of London, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Wall Street? Or do you want the profits to be returned directly to the farmers whose cows produced the milk that was made into cheese? A cooperative gives you that choice.
At a retail food co-op, the choice is between profits going to those anonymous shareholders – or getting returned to consumer-owners in the form of a patronage dividend. Which would you prefer?
Cooperatives strive for all the efficiencies of for-profit companies; they just have a different view of where the surplus monies should go.
It definitely is a different way of doing business.
Is it “Communist?” Some who are attempting to bring cooperatives to parts of the former Soviet Union say they hear that question a lot. The answer is: no way. Each of the 1200 farmer-owners of Cabot Creamery, for instance, is in business to make a profit that they hope to turn into a comfortable living for their families. Most of them are not rich, not by monetary definitions, but most live lives of comparative plenty, even if many hours of hard work are involved.
But do not tell them they are Communists. They are making profits with the sweat on their faces, the dirt under their fingernails, the mud caked on their boots. That is vital capitalism in the trenches, it’s doing business to benefit the many, not to fatten the wallets of a very few. This is what cooperatives are about. “Every cooperative has to compete in the free market, that’s the reality,” says Steve Thomas.