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A cooperative or co-op is a commercial entity owned by its members, with no passive shareholders. Unlike a union, a cooperative may assign different numbers of votes to different members; typically a cooperative is governed proportionally[?] according to each member's level of economic interest[?] in the cooperative.

The term is used for buildings owned by its residents - each resident owns a share in the entire building (as distinct from a condominium, in which individual units are owned). In not-for-profit housing co-ops each resident or resident household is a member in the co-operative asociation. Members have occupancy rights to a specific suite within the housing co-operative as outlined in their "occupancy agreement".

A cooperative housing project can resemble a traditional multi unit dwelling structure, or it can be created as a co-housing community.

The term is used for stores which are owned by employees and customers. Members vote on major decisions, employees get discounts compared with non-member customers.

Farmers often have government sponsored marketing cooperatives, which promote a specific commodity.

Credit unions are a form of cooperative banks. In North America, credit unions were pioneered by the caisse populaire movement started by Alphonse Desjardins in Quebec, Canada. He wanted to bring desperately needed financial protection to working people. In 1900, Desjardins from his home in LÚvis, Quebec[?], opened North America's first credit union which began the Mouvement Desjardins[?].

In the United States, rural energy companies are often organized as cooperatives.

The co-op movement is often associated Green politics and socially responsible investing[?].

.coop is an internet domain that coops can register for at the dotCoop (http://www.cooperative.org/) web site.

History of the Co-operative Movement

The father of the cooperative movement is Robert Owen[?] (1771-1858). He was a Welshman who made his fortune in the cotton trade. He believed in putting his workers in a good environment with access to education for themselves and their children. He had the idea of forming "villages of co-operation" where workers would drag themselves out of poverty by growing their own food, making their own clothes and ultimately becoming self-governing. He tried to form these communities in Orbiston[?] in Scotland and New Harmony, Indiana in the United States of America, but both communities failed.

Although Owen inspired the co-operative movement others took his ideas and made them workable and practical, such as Dr William King (1786-1865). King believed in starting small, and realised that the working classes would need to set up co-operatives for themselves, so he saw his role as one of instruction. He founded a monthly periodical called "The Cooperator", the first edition of which was published on May 1st, 1828. This gave a mixture of co-operative philosophy and practical advice about running a shop using co-operative principles. Rather than cutting themselves off from society King advised people to form a society within a society, and to start with a shop because "We must go to a shop every day to buy food and necessaries - why then should we not go to our own shop?". He proposed sensible rules, such as having a weekly account audit, having 3 trustees, and not having meetings in pubs because people would be tempted to drink their profits.

Between 1800 and 1830 the cotton industry in the North of England suffered a collapse and the wages of hand-loom weavers fell from around 150 pence to less than 20 pence. In places such as Bolton[?] employment rose above 60% in 1840. A few poor weavers joined together to form the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society at the end of 1843. The Rochdale Pioneers, as they became known, set out the "Rochdale Principles" in 1844, which form the basis of the cooperative movement today. These rules are:

  1. Open membership.
  2. Democratic control (one man, one vote).
  3. Distribution of surplus in proportion to trade.
  4. Payment of limited interest on capital.
  5. Political and religious neutrality.
  6. Cash trading.
  7. Promotion of education.


In biochemistry, a macromolecule that exhibits cooperative behavior has ligand binding characteristics that are dependent on the amount of ligand bound. See cooperative binding for more details.

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