At the start of the last century, cooperation was a lifesaving device to fend off a hostile trading setting. In agriculture for example, farmers were at the mercy of immoral vendors selling sometimes questionable quality products with varying reliability in terms of weights and measures. Shrewd cattle buyers would travel the countryside preying on farmers in need of cash. In those days, setting up a cooperative was a question of survival.
As time went by, the market acquired some credibility, with the implementation of rules and regulations and several private enterprises began offering very high quality services to Québec agricultural producers. Endorsing and promoting cooperation became an issue of principle, an act of faith. Conviction determined the character of a co-operator. Cooperative values such as fairness, mutual assistance and group endeavour made sense for the people of Québec who cherished this kind of community organization where, as a group, they were able to create and share modest wealth.
Times have changed again. We are now living in the age of information. Everything is examined under a microscope only to discover, often harshly, the not so bright sides to those great powers overseeing our planet. Pollution, misappropriation of funds, overexploitation of resources, numbers manipulation…
In addition to the swindlers we uncover: various lobby groups make sure to spread the information. Throughout the mayhem, the cooperative enterprise suddenly appears to be a quiet and peaceful refuge, a haven of stability. Its results, solid as a rock, are gradually being recorded. And now, far from being some kind of exaltation of the spirit, cooperative fervour is becoming a rational decision based on facts.
Fact: cooperatives are an instrument for worldwide peace. A fact documented by an authors collective in a book titled Co-operatives and the Pursuit of Peace. Fact: cooperatives last longer than other types of businesses. Documented in the study Taux de survie des coopératives au Québec conducted by the ministère du Développement économique, de l’Innovation et de l’Exportation du Québec. Fact: cooperatives are socially responsible enterprises. As attested to by the social reports cooperatives produce. Fact: cooperatives are democratically administrated. Proof of which can be found in the minutes recording their meeting. Fact: cooperatives generate actual wealth. Shares are nominal and free of any secondary market, which means they aren’t exposed to speculation. And the list could go on, but I will stop now to share this last comment.
When the financial crisis hit at the end of the summer and battered our pension funds, when we discovered that it was all due to irrational behaviours motivated by greed, speculation and contempt for small investors, a collective grumble could be heard. We have been struck where it hurts, right in the pocketbook, and it is a hard pill to swallow. But, you know what? As I was looking through my investment statements I felt some consolation. I still have some money in the Cooperative Investment Plan and these funds remain intact and represent actual money. Furthermore, they are used to help my employer. So allow me to congratulate myself on making such a sound investment!
There might be something good about this crisis. It will set a few things straight; it will force people to be practical and level-headed, to constantly demand more transparency and to keep a watchful eye on those we trust with our savings. Let’s hope that it will also encourage growing interest in cooperative enterprises and attract a new group of employees and entrepreneurs who, disenchanted with a highly volatile system, will become ardent defenders of cooperation… until that time when all this turmoil is forgotten and the lure of the get-rich-quick lifestyle returns to haunt us. Our collective memory is highly selective….