Report of the Inquiry on Cooperative Enterprise in Europe, 1937

Report of the Inquiry on Cooperative Enterprise in Europe, 1937

Report of the Inquiry on Cooperative Enterprise in Europe, 1937

Report of the Inquiry on Cooperative Enterprise in Europe, 1937


In almost any city or village in northern Europe, one who looks for a consumers' cooperative will first find a local grocery store. It is usually clean, orderly, and efficient, and distinctive in appearance. In a small village there may be only one such store. As membership increases, other shops are set up in different neighborhoods. Typically a town has several cooperative stores, while a large city may have hundreds.

Often a farm marketing cooperative begins with a dairy plant, which may have branch receiving stations at convenient points. Frequently, as the society grows, departments are added to receive eggs, poultry, and other farm products. Farm supplies may be purchased by the same society, and a general line of household goods is sometimes added.

Upon making further inquiry, one learns of central federations, in which local societies join together for more effective buying or selling. These are the wholesale societies of the consumers' or farm purchasing societies, and the central sales, export, or processing agencies of the farm marketing cooperatives. Beyond these there are occasional international cooperative organizations.


Cooperative enterprise grows by contagion as well as expansion. Farmers or urban workers hear of a successful society somewhere else, and proceed to set up one of their own. Often some local crisis will lead to the establishment of a cooperative.

A grapevine disease (phylloxera) started a complex system of cooperatives in southwestern France. Temporarily the wine industry was all but ruined, and farmers turned to dairying, and to cooperation to give them a market. In this instance a local farmer without much outside information worked out a cooperative dairy plan and enlisted the interest of his neighbors.

In other cases, high prices at local store or sharp practices by local buyers of farm products, may furnish the stimulus to cooperative organization.

Whatever the immediate reason, action usually results whenever one or more persons with some capacity for leadership become imbued with the cooperative idea. Meetings are held in the homes. Often someone is present who has been a member of a cooperative elsewhere or who has lived where there was one. At the present time, speakers and literature and model bylaws are available from the central cooperative educational agency.

With such help, an organization is formed and incorporated, officers elected, a campaign for membership undertaken, the necessary financing accomplished, and the enterprise launched as a going institution. Usually more money is needed than can be supplied by the initial sale of shares. This may be borrowed from members, from the wholesaler, from banks, or occasionally directly or indirectly from the Govern. ment. In any case the policy is to pay it back from earnings as rapidly as possible.

A great deal of unpaid volunteer work enters into the early stages of a cooperative, as well as later. In every successful cooperative enterprise will be found a group of earnest people . . .

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