Published October 15, 2012–The summer of 2011 was the summer of social protest in Israel. Tent encampments emerged all over the country and one call was heard from every corner – “the people demand social justice.” But the summer ended, the court enabled the dismantling of the tents and the only government response was in the form of an economic panel that produced a frail report. The protesters needed a concrete alternative – something that they could create on their own. One of the prominent initiatives that began and is flourishing is group organizing and the establishment of cooperative enterprises, thereby creating civic economic power.
The 2011 summer protest made people realize they have only themselves to rely on. In the tent encampments, people used their time to learn – each evening there were lectures and discussions about social justice, economy and democracy. The people were no longer accepting government policies without conscious criticism. No more leaving economic decisions to the economists alone.
As the current Israeli government promotes a neo-liberal agenda, it was clear there should be no expectation for rescue from that end. The public must find ways to take things into their own hands, to create economic civic power.
As the public looked for economic and social alternatives with dominantly democratic features, it was only natural that cooperatives became widely discussed. The goal of cooperatives, being people-based organizations, is to promote members’ economic, social and cultural interests, serving as an economic power building mechanism while enhancing democratic involvement and civic responsibility.
The discussions led to action. Consumers’ cooperatives, workers’ cooperatives – are emerging all around the country and creating the social and economic change that none of us can afford waiting for from someone else.
This development was a surprising one. It is not the first time the cooperative concept emerged in Israel. Israel was founded on the basis of a cooperative economy and society. In its early days, Israel was a cooperative empire: much of its industry was cooperative, most of its supermarkets and department stores, some of its cultural life – publishing houses and theaters – almost everything was cooperative.
Until the 1970s, Israel’s cooperatives took a major role in its economy. There are arguments over why the cooperative economy diminished, and I would suggest the major reasons were the erosion of cooperative values within the cooperatives, along with dependence on government and established powers, compounded by poor legislation that embodied no values and principles. There are technically still many registered cooperative societies, but they do not represent an actual cooperative alternative, but mostly a registration form and nothing else. For many years, the general atmosphere suggested that cooperatives are a thing of the past, and all people could remember were the over-sized and over-privileged cooperative companies that faded into the capitalist market…Read More>>