by the Rev. Michael O'Flanagan.
The word "co-operation," taken at its face value, means merely working together. Whenever, then, a number of people combine and work together to attain some common end, there is co-operation. In this general sense every company or society, in fact every group of people organised to carry out some work in common, would be a Co-operative Society.
It is, however, in a special and technical sense that we use the word. We use it to signify a particular form of organisation for the purpose of manifacture or commerce. A co-operative organisation in this sense is distinguished from a Proprietary Concern and from a Joint Stock Company. In a Proprietary Concern, one person—the owner—is the sole authority. Everybody else is subject to him. All the profits made are the property of the owner, and any losses that may be incurred are his alone. The remaining people concerned in the enterprise are hired. They work for wages or salary.
Joint Stock Company differs from the Proprietary Concernin having a number of owners instead of one. Each owner holds a certain amount of what is called stock, for which he pays a proportion in cash, or something that is equivalent to cash. The Company is ruled by the stockholders through a Board of Directors and a Manager. Each stockholder has votes in proportion to the amount of stock which he holds.
Thus a man who has £200 in shares in a company has twice as much power in the affairs of the enterprise as the man who has £100 in shares. The profits are divided among the shareholders in proportion to the shares held. The £200 man gets twice as large a part of the yearly profits as the £100 man.
Thus in the Proprietary and Joint Stock the link that binds the enterprise and gives authority to rule is money, or Capital. Hence we have the word "Capitalist," and the expression, Capital as distinguished from Labour.
Co-operation seeks a different and higher bond. Instead of a money link, co-operation seeks to substitute a human link. Instead of building with the pound as a unit, co-operation builds with the man as a unit. The Co-operative Society has members where the Joint Stock Company has shareholders.
The rule of the Co-operative Society is one man one vote. The poor member who subscribes for a £1 share has the same voting power as the well-to-do member who subscribes for a £100 share. The object of a Joint Stock Company is to earn dividends. The object of a Co-operative Society is to make some common service as beneficial and convenient as possible to the participating members.
Articles of commerce have each a source of origin, a channel of transmission, and a place of consumption. They make their appearance through the activity of certain people at the source of origin. They pass through the hands of certain intermediate people, and they dissappear into the hands of the consumers. Some articles such as potatoes, eggs and fruit, go to the consumer in the form in which they are produced.
In other cases, as when milk is made into butter and seperated milk, or into cheese and whey, a process of manifacture which is best done near the source of supply, is necessary. In another set of cases, such as the turning of live cattle into fresh meat, or the cooking of food stuffs, it is more important to be near the consumer. Butter is best made near the cow that gives the milk, but it may be eaten hunderds or thousands of miles away.
Bread, on the other hand is made, not near the wheat fields, but near the people who eat the bread. In the case of woollen cloth, the weaving may be done far away from the sheep that grows the wool, and from the man that wears the cloth.
A consideration of these factors helps us to understand some of the lines upon which co-operative enterprise has travelled. The producers of certain articles may combine, gather together the results of their individual activities, and bring them in the direction of the consumer. The consumers, on the other hand, may combine and go in search of the goods they require. An egg-selling society or a creamery is a good example of the first class. A co-operative store is a good example of the second class. Many of the ordinary Agricultural Societies perform both of these functions. They purchase for their members amnures and agricultural implements, and they sell eggs and other afrm produce.
Source: National Library of Ireland.