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Basque Cooperative Movement

This is an extract from the summary and conclusions of the “Report on the Basque Cooperative Movement" drawn up at the instigation of the CSCE-EKGK and carried out by the consultancy firm LKS in 2000.

The union of wills is the best way of solving problems, and cooperatives are in their essence a manifestation of human collaboration to satisfy needs, through the management and organisation of a company. Throughout their 150 years of history, these societies have demonstrated that cooperation allows people great possibilities for development, and that it also contributes to the construction and improvement of their immediate social, economic and cultural environment. And, as groups of people, they have a characteristic identity, which is embodied in a series of values and principles that differentiate them from traditional businesses. On these common foundations, cooperatives are created in all sectors of activity, in all corners of the world, bridging cultural, ethnic and religious differences.

The cooperative philosophy originated in Europe in the mid-19th century, closely linked to the profound social differences caused by the industrial revolution. Its beginnings were based on the clear objective of giving a social and human dimension to the commercial enterprise, at a time when work was an alienating factor for the individual. Although there had been earlier experiences, the inspiration and model for later cooperative manifestations was that of a group of English weavers, known as the ‘Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers’, who formed the first consumer cooperative. Tired of being exploited by local traders, these men and women joined together to self-manage their consumption, and thus obtain quality goods at fair prices. Their definition of cooperative principles and values laid the foundations for what would become modern cooperatives.

This simple form of association, which allowed all members to participate equally in the management of the company, gradually spread throughout Europe, where the same oppression of the worker and the marginal classes was being experienced. Thus industrial cooperatives emerged in France, credit cooperatives in Germany, as did other manifestations such as agricultural cooperatives, service, housing and health cooperatives among others. The theoretical foundations for these societies were laid by thinkers such as Robert Owen, Charles Fournier, Claude-Henri Saint-Simon and Louis Blanc, who put the principles of cooperation into practice. Gradually, mutual aid became a good way of managing all areas of people's lives, and cooperative experiences were successfully extrapolated to all areas where there were unsatisfied human needs. On the institutional side, an important milestone was the constitution of the International Cooperative Alliance (I.C.A.)

In the Basque Country, cooperatives began to appear at the end of the 19th century, when the first consumer cooperatives were set up with the support of large businesses such as Altos Hornos de Bilbao. Subsequently, successive forms of applying the cooperative ideology to all economic sectors would emerge, always with the common aim of improving the quality of life of their members. The Basque movement was influenced by various ideologies, the most important of which were Catholicism, socialism and nationalism. Back in the 1920s, Alfa was the first manifestation in the Basque Country of a workers cooperative - the type that was to take root most strongly in Basque society. Later, the experience that started in Mondragón in 1957, which gave rise to M.C.C., the largest business group formed with Basque capital, is one of the most studied models at international level due to its successful social and business results. The most recent history of the Basque cooperative movement has been marked by the structural work of the Higher Council of Cooperatives of the Basque Country, which, since its creation in 1982, has focused its efforts on promoting and boosting the integration, development and modernisation of Basque cooperatives.

The Basque cooperative movement today

The Basque Government's Department of Justice, Employment and Social Security website (www.juslan.ejgv.euskadi.net) has published the 2006 Social Economy Statistics Reports (for the two year period 2004-2006), as well as the preview of the results for 2007.

The updated report on the cooperative sector is pending preparation.

In the institutional section, it is worth highlighting the signing, in June 2005, of the “Agreement of intentions and collaboration between the Basque Government, the Higher Council of Cooperatives of the Basque Country and the Confederation of Cooperatives of the Basque Country” in which the areas of collaboration between the aforementioned institutions are specified in order to make an effective contribution to the sustainable economic and social development of the Basque Country.

For updated data on the cooperative census, please refer to the statistical annexes in the Activities Report.