What is 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.

Among them, worker and social cooperatives are owned and controlled by the enterprise staff. Other types of enterprises, such as the Spanish “sociedad laborales” (workers companies) share the same characteristics.

    Worker cooperatives are enterprises subject to the same restrictions of competition, management and profitability as other companies. Their originality lies in the fact that their workers hold the majority of the shares, at least 51%. In doing so, the workers decide jointly on the major guidelines of their enterprises and appoint their leaders (managers, boards of directors, etc.). They also decide on how to share the profit with a twofold aim: to give the preference to the workers of the enterprises, in the form of refunds based on the work done and to consolidate the enterprises with a view to handing it over onto the future generations, i.e. creating reserves to reinforce the equity and ensuring thereby the sustainability of their enterprises. In all cooperatives, the internal democratic control is based on the principle of “one man, one vote” whatever the capital share held by the respective workers. Finally, the cooperative spirit promotes its employees information and training, a prerequisite to develop the autonomy, the motivation and responsibility, accountability required in an economic world which has become insecure.
    Social cooperatives are specialised in the provision of social services or reintegration of disadvantaged and marginalised workers (disabled, long-term unemployed, former detainees, addicts, etc.). A large number of such cooperatives have been set up in Italy but also in other EU countries. Most of them are owned by their workers while offering the possibility or providing for the obligation (according to the national laws) to involve other types of members (users, voluntary workers, etc.).
    There are other types of enterprises owned by their workers such as for example the “Sociedades Laborales” in Spain which are real driving forces of economic and social activities which have contributed to lower the unemployment level and to revamp a sustained growth in Spain.