Rochdale Principle: Democratic Member Control

rochdale_principles.jpgAround the world, cooperatives follow a set of operating guidelines which harken back to 1844. That's when a group of citizens—merchants and peasants—decided to pool their money together and open a store for themselves. This allowed them to take advantage of economies of scale they'd never be able to touch. We call these folks the "Rochdale Pioneers," and we call the guidelines they set forth the "Rochdale Principles."

The second of these principles is "Democratic Membership Control." According to the ICA's statement of Co-operative Identity, "Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organised in a democratic manner." That's a very official way of saying that our members are also our owners, and they vote to control what happens to our business.

So, what does that really mean in practice? Well, if you are reading this and you've become a member-owner, you actually own a part of a local business. Your household membership earns you one vote at our formal membership meeting - just like buying a share of stock makes you a part owner of a corporation. In both cases you have the ability to vote, to put forward motions, and participate in the administration of your business. You can vote to elect representatives who best match your intentions for the business, or run to become a representative yourself. You can vote to keep current representatives in place if you like how things are run, you can vote them out if you don't. You can put forward a motion to have products stricken from the shelves, and you can put forward a motion to bring them back. YOU are in control. Isn't that empowering?

The Bethlehem Food Cooperative will be hosting its first annual membership meeting this October where you will be able to run for the Board of Directors, vote for the board of directors, and help sculpt the future of our business. Let's exercise our right to vote and really make this business ours!

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