#11 Caring for Others

This is the last of the ethical values and the last part of the identity statement that was added to the set of familiar “Rochdale Principles” in 1995. As such, it wraps up the concepts that have gone before. It acts as a bookend with the first value of self-help.

We can’t help others if we can’t help ourselves. We can’t be only about ourselves. In thinking about this entry, I couldn’t help but remember the scene from Hair in which a women confronts the father of her child who is otherwise a hip cat trying to change the world:

Cooperatives are a social movement, an economic movement, and an educational movement. As a result, caring for others takes us beyond the social responsibility so easily co-opted by caring capitalist and benevolent dictators. We have to be about caring for each other. This value of caring likely attracted the likes of Don José Arizmendiaretta and Moses Coady and other Christians in Italy and throughout the co-operative world. This sense of community service and support finds itself in the religious movements of  the Abrahamic religions. For more on this topic, check out Andrew McLeod’s book, Holy Coooperation!

For those of us in the secular world, caring for others is just as essential a value as it is for the religiously inclined. It is a human value, after all. The human species can survive on its own, but it flourishes as a community. As such, the need to cooperate is necessary to our survival.

Tom Webb presented the value of Caring for others in this manner:

“Caring implies not just charity but active concern about how to act and create structures so as to enable others to realize their potential and live full and satisfying lives.”

Worker Co-ops have a special mission under this value. We need to create structures in our co-operatives that develop us as human beings and even world citizens. We need to help our members break away from the bad habits of other workplaces that only value the labor of the worker. The “move them up or move them out” aspect of Human Resources (whose very name suggests that the human is simply another asset to be managed) must be replaced with Human Development.

Many workers (at least in the larger worker coops) come to co-operatives without a lot of knowledge about co-ops. They may be seeking a good job in the industry more than a commitment to co-op development. I’ve heard one co-op organizer describe them as post-traumatic stress syndrome victims. A lot of workers have learned the wrong lessons from other workplaces and they need to see that the workplace can be healthy for human  beings. Caring for others means that our policies and work places place the worker’s well being (physical and emotional) at the center of their purpose. This means creating strong resolution process that go beyond simply ending conflict, but transforming the individuals to make them stronger people.

Loyal and happy workers lead to loyal and happy customers. By creating a supportive and nurturing community inside our cooperatives, we create a strong and vibrant business model. Caring for others creates the basis for the co-operative difference in a worker co-operative. Creating strong relationships and human development among our work force allows us to develop life-long relationships with our customers.

Of course, not everyone is able or willing to participate in this sort of environment. It may be that the wrong lessons of how humans treat each other have become so ingrained that the individual can’t overcome them and prosper in a co-operative community. It may be that some people see the co-operative community as “easy to get over” and manipulate others for their personal ends. The value of caring should not imply that co-operators are emotional doormats. The value of caring for others should empower ourselves to step up and confront members who don’t act co-operatively. Mostly, these issues will be resolved through education and development programs. In some cases, however, the only way for the co-op to exhibit “caring for others” will result in asking unco-operative members to leave the community. We can’t pretend that co-operatives can fix everyone—especially in the United States where the co-operative option is such a minor part of the overall economy and workplaces. In this extreme case, caring for others means protecting for the larger community. Of course, even in this sad situation, the people involved should be treated with dignity and respect.

Caring for Others gives guidance to co-operatives on how to create thriving, human based businesses. This ethical value moves co-operatives beyond the concept of social responsibility. By expressing caring for others, co-operatives create a healthy workplace that helps people realize their full potential as human beings.

Next: We start on the familiar principles and will make a few detours along the way to learn about the Mondragon principles as well.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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2 Responses to #11 Caring for Others

  1. I highly enjoyed reading this post, keep up making such exciting articles!

  2. Pingback: How Do We Sense Make Of It All | The Workers' Paradise

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