Consumers' cooperation: a plan for the Negro
Myers, Samuel Lloyd
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Consumers' Cooperation is simply the organization of consumers into a group in order to conduct the retailing of needed goods. This group follows a definite line of development which includes the establishment of a retail store, a wholesale association, credit union, a producers' association, and other associations to care for the cooperative fulfillment of various needs. Although various forms of cooperative enterprises have long been advocated, including the actual experiments of Robert Owen and William King, present day cooperatives trace back only to 1844, when the "Equitable Society of Rochdale Pioneers" was established in Rochdale, England as the first modern cooperative, The "Pioneers" who founded this cooperative formulated certain principles that have served as the fundamental economic basis for all "Rochdale Cooperatives" that have developed since 1844. The cooperative movement expanded from Rochdale throughout England and throughout the European continent, achieving its greatest success in the Scandinavian countries. The movement continued to expand throughout the world. In the nineteenth century there were numerous, but sporadic and unsuccessful attempts to establish cooperatives in the United States, The failures were due for the most part to three facts: Cooperatives were usually established only as a secondary interest, for exainple, by labor unions. There was a decided lack of coordination in the movement. The typically American tendency to think only in terms of private enterprises plus the lack of a felt need for such enterprises perpetuated the general ignorance concerning cooperation. Since the early 1900's, because of the striking cooperative successes of the Finlanders, the Swedes, and the Bohemians in America; because of the coordinating functions of American wholesales; and because of the national program of cooperative education carried on by the Cooperative League of the U. S. A., cooperatives have enjoyed greater success than they enjoyed in the 1900's. Nevertheless, cooperative retail trade in 1939 was only 0.5% of the total retail trade of the nation; thus, it may be seen that the movement is still retarded. The lack of a felt need for a program of cooperation, the difficulty of obtaining capable managers for cooperative enterprises, the lack of homogeneity of the American people, general ignorance concerning cooperation, and defects of existing cooperatives and defects in the present movement have all helped to make for the current retardation of the movement. Nevertheless, these factors are constantly being minimized in importance, thus making the future bright for cooperation in America, The first fact to be observed in reference to the economics of consumers' cooperation is that this is a movement for consumers, and in this regard, it is looked upon favorably by economists. For nearly all economists recognize the prime importance of consumption. Since cooperatives must, in order to succeed, observe true cooperative principles, and since in addition, those principles represent the basic of cooperative economics, particular emphasis is placed on them in a discussion of the economics of consumers' cooperation. Thus, cooperatives should be democratically controlled; they should pay current interest rates; they should distribute earnings according to patronage; they should sell for cash; they should sell at current prices; they should constantly grow and expand; and, finally, they should observe neutrality in questions of politics, race, and religion. There have long been instances of a broader type of cooperation among Nogroes, However, the first Negro cooperatives founded on Rochdale principles were initiated by W. E. B. DuBois in 1919. These enterprises soon failed because of the lack of cooperative education, both of consumers and managers. Evidence exists of only one successful Negro cooperative during the 1920's. However, beginning with a fuel cooperative in Kansas City, Missouri, there was begun a series of cooperatives unequalled in the history of the movement. The Consumers' Cooperative Trading Company of Gary, Indiana and the Peoples' Consumers' Cooperative of Chicago, Illinois, became particularly successful in the Middle West, However, successes were also achieved in the North and South, the Red Circle Cooperative of Richmond, Virginia being the most vividly illustrative of these successes. The successes of cooperatives among Negroes are almost invariably the successes of the individuals who launched the enterprises. Thus is gleaned the soundness of the suggestion that leaders may actually go forth and establish cooperatives among Negroes, However, the groups which are to cooperate must first fill the need for so doing. Since consumers' cooperation has not, in the final analysis, made any great progress among Negroes, the factors retarding the movement should be discussed. Also, the factors that will advance the movement among Negroes should be given consideration. The same factors that have retarded the cooperative movement in America have, of course, retarded the movement in the Negro segment of the nation. Thus the Negro both as a consumer and entrepreneur has, in accordance with his American tradition, turned to private rather than cooperative enterprises. Also, Negro Americans, just as Americans as a whole, have lacked cooperative knowledge. The typically rural nature of the Negro's life has retarded his adoption of cooperation. Then, his Great Migrations plus his great mobility have served as factors of retardation. Finally, the Negro has perhaps felt no need for cooperative enterprises, although the need has existed. The present disorganization of the world may retard the Negro movement for a time; but in a world of peace, it is likely that a number of encouraging factors will make for the advance of the Negro cooperative movement. The first of these may be termed the awakening of the Negro, which includes better education and a greater consciousness of the need for an economic and social plan. The homogeneous nature of the Negro group plus the marked concentration of Negroes in areas throughout the nation will stimulate--as indeed they have already stimulated-—cooperative action on the part of Negroes. The final factor that will surely exert a favorable influence on cooperation among Negroes is the fact that the Negro is still primarily a consumer, and more and more he is becoiiilng conscious of his own market. From this discussion of the factors retarding the cooperative movement among Negroes and the factors advancing the movement, we may derive simple conclusion: The future for consumers' cooperation among Negroes is prospective, and in a world at peace, many such enterprises should be undertaken. The plan for undertaking these enterprises should begin with the calling of a Negro Economic Conference, to be composed of the "leaders of the race." This conference would be of a local nature, and out of it would evolve an association that would encourage and urge the Negroes of the city or state to cooperate; it would strive to make the need for cooperative enterprises felt. Then it would advise and direct the organization of these enterprises, at the same time restraining cooperative undertakings until adequate capital and membership were available. When several cooperatives had been formed, representatives could be sent to the association which initiated the various enterprises; eventually this association would represent a strong federation of the various cooperatives of the city or state, When similar associations were formed in many cities or states, they in turn could become nationally federated. It is felt that this plan could in many ways work to the advantage of the Negro, Not only would it make for the employment of numerous Negro clerks, managers, bookkeepers, accountants and others, but ultimately social service centers could be established, housing programs could be launched, and, as Du Bois suggests, we could introduce socialized law and socialized medicine. But even beyond these is the fact that national organization would be achieved for the Negro, end this organization in turn would give the Negro his rightful power--bargaining power and power for concerted action. Simply, the plan proposed is to effectuate economic and social salvation for the Negro via consumers' cooperation.
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