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Types of Co-operatives

Housing cooperative
A housing cooperative is a legal mechanism for ownership of housing where residents either own shares (share capital co-op) or have membership and occupancy rights in a not-for-profit continuing co-operative (non-share capital co-op).

Retailers' cooperative
A retailers' cooperative (often known as a secondary or marketing co-operative in the UK) is an organization which employs economies of scale on behalf of its members to get discounts from manufacturers and to pool marketing. It is common for locally-owned grocery stores, hardware stores and pharmacies. In this case the members of the cooperative are businesses rather than individuals.

The well-known Best Western hotel chain is actually a giant cooperative, although it now prefers to call itself a "nonprofit membership association." It gave up on the "cooperative" label after the courts kept insisting on calling it a franchisor despite its nonprofit status.

Utility cooperative
A utility cooperative is a public utility that is owned by its customers (an arrangement also known as a consumer cooperative). In the US, many such cooperatives were formed to provide rural electrical and telephone service as part of the New Deal. See Rural Utilities Service.

Worker cooperative
A worker cooperative is a cooperative tat is wholly owned and democratically controlled by its "worker-owners". There are no outside, or consumer owners, in a worker's cooperative - only the workers own shares of the business. Membership is not compulsory for employees, and only employees can become members. Probably the best known example of worker co-operation is the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC) in the Basque Country.

Unions are often unnecessary in worker cooperatives because the workers have direct control over the management and ownership of the business - they are negotiating with themselves. Some worker cooperatives still choose to become members of local unions for particular reasons - the printing industry is one example in which union shops often receive a special market of business (union members).

The United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives is the organization in the US representing worker cooperative interests nationally. There are local networks and federations throughout the US in the San Francisco Bay area, the Twin Cities, Portland Oregon, and Boston. The 'new wave' of worker cooperatives that took off in Britain in the mid-70s created the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM) as their federation. The sector peaked at around 2,000 enterprises, and in 2001 ICOM merged with the Co-operative Union (which was the federal body for consumer cooperatives) to create Co-operatives UK, thus reunifying the cooperative sector.

There are examples of "hybrid" co-ops in which workers and consumers both have membership in a co-op, but the types of membership are differentiated, sometimes into districts of the cooperative, often each district having a set amount of decision making power and profit distribution. Hybrid co-ops are also referred to as multi-stakeholder cooperatives. A particularly successful form of multi-stakeholder cooperative is the Italian "social cooperative", of which some 5,000 exist. A "type A" social cooperative brings together providers and beneficiaries of a social service as members. A "type B" social cooperative brings together permanent workers and previously unemployed people who wish to integrate into the labor market.

Consumers' cooperative
The term cooperative also applies to businesses owned by their customers. Employees can also generally become members. Members vote on major decisions, and elect the board of directors from amongst their own number. A well known example in the US is the REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) co-op.

One of the world's largest consumer co-operatives is the Co-operative Group in the United Kingdom, which has a variety of retail and financial services. In reality the Co-operative Group is actually something of a hybrid, having both corporate (other cooperative businesses) and individual members.

Agricultural cooperative
In the US
Farmers often maintain marketing cooperatives, some of which are government-sponsored, which promote and may actually distribute specific commodities. Examples include:

> Cotton Incorporated (cotton),
> Farmland Originally a full-service cooperative, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002. (Processed meat divison most well-known to consumers.)
> Florida's Natural Growers (citrus)
> Land O'Lakes (dairy and farm supply).
> Ocean Spray (cranberries and citrus),
> Sunkist Growers, Incorporated (citrus fruit),
> Sun-Maid (raisins),
> Tillamook County Creamery Association (dairy)
> Nebraska Rural Radio Association A group of farmer/rancher owned radio stations in Nebraska
> In California and other states where it is legal, medical marijuana is generally produced by cooperatives.

In other parts of the World
There are strong agricultural / agribusiness cooperatives, and agricultural cooperative banks, in most European countries.

Most emerging countries are experiencing a significant development of agricultural cooperatives, an economic sector prone to cooperation either for export or for local needs.

Cooperative banking (Credit union and Cooperative savings banks)
Credit Unions provide a form of cooperative banking. In North America, the caisse populaire movement started by Alphonse Desjardins in Quebec, Canada pioneered credit unions. Desjardins wanted to bring desperately needed financial protection to working people. In 1900, from his home in Lévis, Quebec, he opened North America's first credit union, marking the beginning of the Mouvement Desjardins.

Credit Unions are also established in the UK. The largest are work-based, but many are now offering services in the wider community.

The Association of British Credit unions--or ABCUL--is the largest such organisation in the UK, representing the majority of Credit Unions.

Important European banking cooperatives include the Credit Agricole in France and the Raiffeisen system in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Spain, Italy and various European countries also have strong cooperative banks. They play an important part in mortgage credit and professional (i.e. farming) credit. Cooperative banking networks, which were nationalized in Eastern Europe, work now as real cooperative institutions.

Car sharing
Car sharing is a process by which multiple households share vehicles, which are stored in convenient common locations. It may be thought of as a very short-term, locally-based car rental. It is most prevalent in Switzerland (where the Mobility Car-Sharing cooperative has some 50,000 clients), but is also common in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, and is growing in popularity in other European countries. Car sharing operations may be for-profit or non-profit organizations. Zipcar and Flexcar are examples.

To reduce confusion with ride-sharing, some Britons prefer the term 'car clubs'.


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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