Your Study Guide to the Cooperative Movement
Cooperatives are all the rage! And that’s because cooperatives are, well, pretty great. They can change lives, communities, regions, and entire economies.
At the same time, while an increasing number of people are discovering cooperatives, it’s not always clear how or where to learn more about them – whether you want the fundamentals or to dig in deeper with specifics.
That’s why we at the TESA Collective put together a study guide for the cooperative movement. This guide – while not a complete and total list – provides tools, activities, videos, readings, and more to help you brush up on your cooperative skills and knowledge. Some of these resources are free, some of them have a cost. But all of them will help you better understand what a cooperative is, how to practice cooperation, and the power of the cooperative movement.
The materials below are not intended to be used necessarily in any order. Pick and choose from the guide what works for you!
Finally, this guide should be viewed as a continual work in progress – we’ll be adding and updating content. So if there’s anything missing or that you think should be amended, please fill out the form at the bottom of this guide to let us know.
Now, without further ado, let’s dive into the big, exciting world of the co-op movement.
What is a Co-op?
Let’s start with the basics, shall we? “What is a Co-op?” is a short booklet that covers co-ops 101: ranging from what co-ops are in a nutshell to the types of co-ops, cooperative principles, steps to starting a co-op, and more.
However, if you prefer your information online and free, you can use this wiki for all things cooperative: Cultivate.Coop. (TESA also started and maintains this site.) Like, for instance, check out this definition of a cooperative. Or this overview of cooperative economics, or how to perform a S.W.O.T. analysis for your co-op, or this explanation of job rotation and why some co-ops use it. The best part? Because Cultivate.Coop is a wiki-based system (like Wikipedia, of course!), you can update it, add to it, modify the content, and so on!
Cultivate.coop even has a guided tour, so you can read it like a book.
Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives
We at TESA created Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives to be both a fun game and a cooperative movement building tool. It’s great for homes, game nights, workshops, classrooms, cooperative development spaces, and more. Fittingly, it is a cooperative game, where players win or lose together. Everyone plays as individuals in the cooperative, and they must work together to overcome obstacles for their collective success. Co-opoly has been praised in outlets such as Autostraddle and The Guardian and has been played in over 30 countries. The point of the game is to not just read about what it’s like to be in a cooperative, but to experience it.
Worker Cooperative Start-Up Guides
Specifically for worker cooperatives (read about different types of cooperatives here), “In Good Company: The Guide To Cooperative Employee Ownership” is a free, in-depth overview of worker cooperatives, how to start one, and how to run one. It was created by the Northcountry Cooperative Foundation.
“Think Outside the Boss: How to Create a Worker Owned Enterprise” is another such manual, written more recently in 2013, by the Sustainable Economies Law Center.
Another worker co-op start-up focused publication is “Steps to Starting a Worker Cooperative.” This publication is from 1997, so know that some of its information might be out of date, though the overall structure is probably still accurate. However, one benefit is that it is available in both English and Spanish, and it was created by the California Center for Cooperative Development.
Finally, Working and Rebuilding Together: Worker Cooperatives as an Economic Development Tool was created by the Woodrow Wilson of Public and International Affairs at Princeton with the organization Advance Memphis. The report is both an analysis of a variety of case studies and a series of resources and tools.
For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America
For All the People by John Curl is a book about, you guessed it, cooperative history in the United States. It’s a great study of the cooperative movement’s origins, impact, and where we can take the movement into the future. Plus, this is what Howard Zinn said about it: “It is indeed inspiring . . . to be reminded by John Curl’s new book of the noble history of cooperative work in the United States.”
Building Cooperative Power
Building Cooperative Power is a study of the cooperative movement in the Connecticut River Valley region, focusing on replicating these case studies while addressing the challenges and benefits for building the cooperative movement in other regions. It also gives practical advice on subjects such as co-op decision making, dialogue, and conflict resolution.
Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice
Collective Courage is a monumental and critically important work. But rather than us trying to describe it, watch author Jessica Gordon Nembhard do so herself:
Own the Change: Building Economic Democracy One Worker Co-op at a Time
Own the Change is a short and free documentary about what worker cooperatives are and how to start them, which TESA created alongside the Laura Flanders Show. It surveys people across the country who have started their own cooperatives as well as those who are generally helping to build the movement. The interviewees discuss the real world benefits and difficulties of being in a cooperative as well as launching one. You can watch the documentary below as well as on its own page. In addition, we offer a suite of educational resources to go alongside the documentary. Finally, here’s a guide for watching the documentary in almost any language.
Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work
Shift Change is another, longer documentary on worker cooperatives that came out recently. You can purchase the film via their website.
Food for Change: The Story of Cooperatives in America
Food for Change is a film focusing on food and grocery consumer-owned cooperatives – their story, their history, and how they work. You can purchase the film via the documentary’s website.
More Videos on Cooperatives
There are, of course, a good deal more videos and movies on cooperatives. Check out a long list of them here!
Greenhorn’s Cooperative Manuals: Cooperative Farming / Affording OURLAND
We use both of the below manuals in our community college class: Starting Farm and Food Cooperatives. The manuals listed below were created by members of Greenhorns and the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI). They are both free downloads and are packed with useful information for practitioners, co-op start-ups, and educators. The two resources are:
- Cooperative Farming: Frameworks for Farming Together
- Affording OURLAND: Greenhorn’s Guide to Financial Literacy
Cooperative Farming is certainly the more co-op focused resource of the two, but both of the guidebooks work well together.
Publications from the Democracy at Work Institute
The Democracy at Work Institute is a think and do tank for employee-owned businesses. They’ve released several worthwhile publications. Here are some:
- A Brief Guide to Understanding Employee Ownership Structures
- Investing in Worker Ownership
- Successful Cooperative Ownership Transitions: Case Studies on the Conversion of Privately Held Businesses to Worker Cooperatives
- Building Shared Entrepreneurship
- Industry Research Series: Craft Beer
- Guide to Worker Cooperative Bylaws and Operating Agreements
- The Rural Succession Dilemma and the Cooperative Solution
- Becoming Employee-Owned
- Choosing a Business Entity: A Guide for Worker Cooperatives
Readings from the Cooperative Development Institute
The Cooperative Development Institute helps start and improve cooperatives in the Northeast, but they’ve written great articles that can be used by people from all over! Here are some below:
- What is the difference between worker co-ops and ESOPs?
- How do co-ops benefit their communities?
- What is the role of co-ops in the new economy?
- Are all food cooperatives consumer-owned?
- What are the types of housing co-ops and other shared housing models?
- What’s the difference between cooperatives and collectives?
- How can I find listings for housing co-ops and shared living spaces open to new members?
- How can cooperative grocery stores bring food access to low-income neighborhoods?
- What are residency requirements for joining a co-op in the US?
- Why Your Customers Should Know You’re a Co-op: Lessons from the Cabot Creamery Cooperative
- The Benefits of Cooperating With Other Local Co-ops: Lessons from Cabot
- How A Worker Co-op Structured as a LLC Can Retain Earnings
- How does a co-op structured as an LLC affect members’ individual taxes?
- How do worker co-ops decide to share profits?
- How can co-ops help undocumented workers?
American.Coop’s Library / Academy.coop
While not total, American.coop’s library has a solid list of many of the articles and publications that have come out on cooperatives – ranging all the way back to 1958.
Academy.coop, which is affiliated with American.coop, is a new website offering online co-op courses.
Organizations to follow on Twitter for regular cooperative news
- Cooperative Development Institute
- TESA Collective
- Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance
- Grassroots Economic Organizing
- New Economy Coalition
- US Federation of Worker Cooperatives
- Fund For Democratic Communities
Miscellaneous Articles and Studies
Below is a list of some of the best articles and studies we’ve read about cooperatives and the co-op movement over the past few years.
- When the Workers Become the Owners: Taking the Co-op Movement to the Next Level
- Creating Better Jobs and a Fairer Economy with Worker Cooperatives
- Corporations Create the Problem, Co-ops Offer the Solution
- How to Start and Manage a Worker-Owned Home Care Cooperative
- Workers in Maine Buy Out Their Jobs, Set an Example for the Nation
- How a Maine Food Co-op Could Push Local Food to the Next Level
- How Co-ops Build Stronger Communities, A New Economy, and A Better World
- The “Sharing Economy” Is the Problem, The Cooperative Economy is the Solution
- Educate and Empower: Tools For Building Community Wealth
- Can Worker-Owned Cooperatives Offer A Solution to Our Economic Woes?
- They’re owning this cooperation (About how worker co-ops are replacing other forms of urban renewal)
- Membership in Co-operative Businesses Reaches 1 Billion
- Here’s How One NYC Neighborhood is Using Cooperation to Overcome Gentrification
- Stories.coop – hundreds of individual stories of cooperatives
- The Argument For Worker-Owned Tech Collectives
- Worker Cooperatives: Pathways To Scale
- Low-income & Immigrant Worker Cooperative Formation
- CASE STUDIES: Business Conversions To Worker Cooperatives
- Argentina: worker cooperatives reduce hardcore unemployment
- Madison, Wisconsin, Is Investing $5 Million In Worker Cooperatives
- Tyranny of Structurelessness – while not directly about co-ops, this is an important read for those thinking about starting collectives
- Buying Out Your Boss: Worker Cooperatives Are the Future of Small Business
- The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel This is an introduction to the history, present, and future of the co-op movement from a UK perspective. (Submitted by a reader).
- The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. This is the International Cooperative Alliance’s vision for the future of the cooperative movement.
- The Cooperative Solution: How the United States can tame recessions, reduce inequality, and protect the environment (book – Submitted by a reader.)
- Companies We Keep: Employee Ownership and the Business of Community and Place, 2nd Edition (Book – Submitted by a reader.)
- The Fundamentals of Democratic Business A collection of helpful breakdowns and resources. (Submitted by a reader).
As we said, this is not a complete list of every single cooperative resource, and so we’d like to continue growing the study guide. If there’s something missing from this list that you think we should add, fill out the form below. We’ll be regularly updating this post with new content.
In the meantime, happy studying!