Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State

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Cooperative Movement

TWO general types of cooperative are now at work in Wisconsin, one concerned with marketing, the other with purchasing. The first type, handling much of the produce from Wisconsin farms, aims at influencing markets in order to keep distribution steady and prices stable. In certain types of cooperatives supply is controlled through membership and contract agreement, so that each farmermember may escape the wavering prices of market gluts or market shortages. Present day cooperative marketing strives more and more toward centralization, merging the market operations of local cooperative associations into State-wide systems for particular commodities. Consumers' cooperatives, on the other hand, operate stores or other enterprises to supply their members' needs: farm machinery, oil, medicine, housing facilities, or whatever they may be. Savings made as a result of purchasing cooperatively are handled as the group decides.

Both cooperative marketing and purchasing are fundamentally unlike a corporation. In a corporation the ownership of stock gives the owner control of the enterprise, while in a cooperative association control of the enterprise is in the hands of all the members, who have equal rights regardless of economic status. To attain this democratic ideal the Wisconsin law governing the organization of cooperative associations provides, among other things, that each member shall have one and only one vote; that the rate of dividend upon stock shall be limited to 8 per cent; and that the net proceeds shall be distributed on the basis of patronage. This part of the law is modeled after principles that were drafted by a group of flannel weavers of Rochdale, England, in 1884, and are therefore known as the Rochdale principles.

Farmers and farmer sympathizers in Wisconsin have been behind the cooperative movement since its start. They have backed it with campaigns, money, and legislation, setting in motion a federated machinery of terminal markets, collective bargaining agencies, and cooperative retail and wholesale units. Poverty-stricken single enterprises have been able, with such help, to spread their influence and trade beyond the radius of farms, then beyond cities, and sometimes even beyond the State. In 1855 there was but one cooperative farmer store open in Wisconsin, and that failed in less than a year. Today there are as many cooperative memberships as there are farms, and each farm averages more than $300 a year in volume of cooperative business. Wis

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