Sunday, January 22, 2012

International Year of Co-operatives

The UN has declared 2012 the International Year of Co-operatives, in recognition of what the co-operative movement has accomplished in social-economic development in many parts of the world. Two installments of The Peace Weekly have been devoted to discussing the place of the co-operative movement in Catholic thinking and action.

Cooperatives--people joining together voluntarily to meet some common need--are jointly owned and democratically controlled. A Maryknoll Sister established, in 1960, the first Credit Union in Pusan, which did much to  spread the co-operative way in Korean society.

There are many examples of people working together in cooperatives to fill the needs of their members. We have had successes and failures but the determination within the Church to foster this movement continues to be strong. Examples of these co-operatives in parishes were listed in the article, which also disclosed that the necessary know-how and governmental help were not always present. However, the government has indicated that new legislation will offer co-operatives tax breaks and other financial help, which should see a  blossoming of the movement in Korea.

There are over 1 billion people involved in co-operatives in the world. In the compendium of the Church's Social Doctrine it is written: "All those involved in a business venture must be mindful that the community they work in represents a good for everyone and not a structure that permits the satisfaction of someone's merely personal interests. This awareness alone makes it possible to build an economy truly at the service of mankind and to create programs of real cooperation among the different partners in labor.

"A very important and significant example, in this regard, is found in the activity of so-called cooperative enterprises, small and medium-sized businesses, commercial undertakings featuring hand-made products and family-sized agricultural ventures. The Church's social doctrine has emphasized the contribution that such activities make to enhance the value of work, the growth of a sense of personal and social responsibility, a democratic life, and the human values that are important for the progress of the market and of society" (#339).

We are told in the article of the very successful Mondragón Co-operative that was founded by a young priest, José María Arizmendiarrieta, who arrived in the town of Mondragon, Spain, in 1941 to find that civil war had left the Basque region desolated. Today, the Mondragón Co-operative Corporation is the largest business corporation in the Basque region and the seventh largest in Spain, considering both sales and workforce. The young priest had the foresight to start by educating the first members of the co-operative to an awareness of the great benefits that could be achieved when everyone was intent on pursuing the same goals. This emphasis on education has proven to be the primary reason for the success of the movement.

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