A recent post on truth-out.org was about the Grange. The article had a number of interesting deviations from what I know and understand, many of which I’ll address in future posts.
The first is the claim that a Grange charter “also enshrined socialist-inspired Rochdale principles”. Having read a great deal of Grange history and beginning my study of cooperatives in high school as part of my FFA experience I am somewhat knowledgeable on these topics.
The definition of socialism according to google is “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” This is in direct conflict with the Rochdale principles of cooperation.
In the 1870’s, the Grange saw the potential of the cooperative movement and after researching it, our organization became one of the first to advocate for the creation of cooperatives (co-ops) to benefit members and non-members alike. Grangers were farmers primarily, and as such, were small businessmen. They saw that by pooling their resources through a co-op they could increase their buying power on items they needed. They could also increase their profit on the sales of their products by selling in larger volume.
Co-ops are owned and managed by the members, not the government. These are the people the co-op primarily benefits. The Grange has been responsible for started many co-ops over the past 147 years, some were marketing co-ops which provided a way to pool products to achieve greater revenue or increased sales. Some were designed to provide products to the members at a reduced cost. Some were created to add value to a product the members were producing. For example, there are cheese producers that are cooperative ventures of the dairymen in a region.
Those same cooperative principles were then used in the financial world to create credit unions and then to supply electrical power to much of rural America through Public Utility Districts (PUD’s) and Rural Electric Cooperatives.
Co-ops still exist and serve their members. Some co-ops are very small, while others serve members over wide regions of the nation. There are many co-ops that are not agricultural in any way, with REI as just one example.
Co-ops are part of the capitalistic system of America and the Grange is proud to have been an important part of the introduction of these beneficial businesses to our nation. It may have been a radical idea at first, but it has always been a business decision. From my experience, the last thing any co-op board would want is for the community as a whole, i.e. the government, to be more involved. Benefiting their members and the people living in their communities are the priorities of cooperative principles.