June 2001

Co-operatives: Unemployed show initiative

The late American linguist and social critic Zellig Harris described the picture of capitalist activity as "less one of a rising tide covering the world than an advancing wave front which leaves increasing areas of non-capitalist decision-making behind it". Consequently, Harris thought that various forms of citizens' economic activities could be initiated in areas where strictly profit-related entrepreneurship could not operate. (The Transformation of Capitalist Society, Rowan and Littlefield 1997)

The growing number of co-operatives in Finland seem to fit Harris's prescription. Jari Karjalainen from the Co-operative Institute at the University of Helsinki describes the mushrooming of these organisations as part of the legacy of the economic recession in the early 90s. In the university's magazine, Yliopisto (25 May 2001), Karjalainen says that the current wave of co-operatives emerged mostly as a result of initiatives taken by the unemployed.

"There are things which would remain undone if there didn't exist an opening for co-operative-type organisations. For instance, in eastern and northern Finland, projects have been carried out where the use of natural resources has been organised in a viable way by co-operation. People have been motivated into something which individuals alone probably could not have mustered the energy for."

As another example, Karjalainen mentions energy co-operatives which also have been set up in rural areas.

"While the machines were standing idle in winter and there was not much to do, farmers initiated local energy production, based on wood."

What makes setting up co-operatives relatively easy is the fact that no starting capital is required. This gives the unemployed an easy way to have some kind of start in working life. Karjalainen says that co-operatives should be valued as a way to bring some of the 'grey' economy into official entrepreneural life.

"Even the co-operatives which were established during the enthusiasm of the 90s — and which have not necessarily become big employers or big business — certainly have reduced social exclusion. In social co-operation one thing leads to another."

There are signs of official approval of the new wave of co-operatives. A report prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health describes entrepreneurship, which is based on social relations, as a just and humane alternative to low-paid jobs and commercial culture which is constantly increasing, for instance in the United States. The ministry acknowledges that there are still legal problems with co-operatives. They have mainly to do with social security and taxation.


See also:

In the archive, see the category of Work

 

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