What would developing these institutions politically mean in practise? What does co-opted or absorbed look like? These are sincere questions, and I understand that opening up in detail the terms in a Twitter thread is not practical. For example, the Co-op Group in the UK donates to the Co-operative Party. Is this a sort of thing that prevents it from being co-opted?
There was a thread in the platform cooperative email list to a post that argued the following, which I think is bit similar:
We (co-ops) cannot win ‘their game’, the deck is stacked. The lie however, is that their’s is the only game in town. We do not have to play, & we can start our own game. Without us, they have no game. To quote David Korten, we can, ‘walk away from the King’.
To be honest, this is what gets me down about most coops, including platform coops, They still in the main want to be just a bit more benign element of the same old tired old game, We need a platform commons movement. That’s the new game, completely beyond the old paradigm. Only platform commons is truly post-capitalism."
My reply was:
"I don’t know if it’s true that we cannot win their game - credit union membership is expanding massively (credit unions worldwide served 50% more people than 10 years ago). In Finland the most popular bank and retailer (which is also the largest private employer) are both coops - so I would argue that there are examples of coops pretty much “winning the game”. In Rwanda the coop membership has increased from 200 000 to over 5 million in the last 25 years.
However we in the platform coop movement should perhaps control expectations so that we don’t overpromise and underdeliver.
My thinking is that coops do bad things 20% less and good things 10% more. However, doing so is pretty unthankful - you are not thankful towards a cooperative bank because it’s less likely to go bankrupt than a shareholder bank no more than you are thankful for your friend for not stealing from you. Canadian credit unions giving 5x larger share of their profits to charity than their competitors is not gonna turn the world upside down.
Cooperatives seem to change things gradually and offer tangible, practical economic benefits. In my view virtuous cycle of accumulating gradual improvements is the most sustainable way for meaningful and substantial progress. This is not to say we don’t need bold ideas and reforms - New Deal or the Nordic welfare state build on cooperation between unions, left wing parties and coops are all examples of such gradual virtuous cycle that leads to a radically different economic system.
I’m afraid people who wish coops to offer more will be disappointed. Perhaps they will move on to another movement promising more revolutionary change and I hope they will find one. "
That is not to say we shouldn’t seek to engage in cooperative electoral politics more - indeed revitalising electoral politics in existing big cooperatives could have huge potential. Good example can be found in Texas.
"in 2007, a single members acting on his own contacted an electric co-op he was a member of to ask for solar incentives, and was told none existed. This wasn’t just any cooperative - it was the largest electric cooperative in the US, the 300 000 members strong Pedernales Electric Cooperative. He pushed the cooperative to learn more about how it operated and how to influence its policies. The board reacted by aggressively trying to prevent him and other members to do so - including by taking the member to court. This inspired the membership to start organising by setting up an organisation that in 2008 board elections won 5 out of 7 seats on the board. The new board started distributing capital credits, that had been used to enrich the board, to the members and set out some of the boldest renewable energy targets of any electric cooperative in the country.
The fossil fuel lobby started a counter-attack, and managed to reduce the majority held by the reformists from 5 to 4 in the next election. This shows that the revitalisation of democracy can be done, even in large cooperatives against hostile management, but it needs to be more than a single campaign; it needs to be a new way of operating.
If this is possible in a cooperative with hostile management, such initiatives in the majority of cooperatives where the management is supportive or at least agnostic of greater member participation has massive potential for member-led revitalisation. In the 16 million members strong Nationwide building society, it requires a signature of 500 people to put forward a motion. In 1998, 87% of the members who voted approved a motion to donate 1% of pre-tax profits to charities, which meant £11 million last year. What if a similar motion would be put forward, but instead of donating to charities, the building society would invest 1% of its pre-tax profits to new cooperatives every year?"
So what would it look like in practice for a local credit union to act more politically and challenge capitalism better? Would it have to reduce the tangible, individual economic benefits it offers to its members and instead focus more of its resources on supporting political movements?