The co-operative movement and Social Solidarity Economy were founded for similar reasons and follow a similar set of values and principles. The co-operative movement first started to emerge as a response to severe living conditions of the working class and people who were excluded from official economic relations. A key aim was to tackle poverty and social exclusion. Contrary to capitalist enterprises that seek to maximize profits, co-oper-atives have always been based on self-help, mutualism, caring for the local community and peaceful relations between people.
Nowadays, prevailing economic relations and practices still mainly serve the most efficient accumulation of capital and the interests of the capitalist class. This dynamic has brought us to the brink of social, economic and environmental catastro-phe. Hence, the need for the transformation of economic and social relations is still the slogan of the day. The aim of SSE is to create better working conditions by democratising the deci-sion-making processes within enterprises that ensure that each person has the same voice. It is also focused on a just division and distribution of profits, and the needs of both workers and local communities. Co-operatives that adhere to the principle of one-member-one-vote are a very good tool for ensuring these aims. Co-ops are often committed to serving the needs of their local community. Where co-operatives really honour and follow co-operative values, principles and related procedures in practice, they have the potential to be something like “schools of democracy”. Democratic decision-making can be used as an example for the SSE movement in their effort to make society more democratic in the broadest sense.
Although the present situation varies from one country to the next, reflecting also the history of the co-operative movement
in each specific context, co-operatives can still be considered a rather popular and wide-spread SSE organisational form. This is not just a pure historical coincidence: co-operative values and principles in their essence convey the spirit of solidarity, mutual aid and human well-being fostered also by other SSE organisations and initiatives.
Recently, the new cooperative movement revived the idea of co-operativism within SSE. It has been deliberately striving to create environmentally sustainable alternatives to the current system of global capitalism that destroys the planetary ecosystem and threatens the very existence of life on Earth. Hence many SSE community initiatives such as Community Supported Agriculture, and many others (see some examples in part 4. of this chapter), are either run as a co-operative or may overtime establish and formalise themselves as a co-operative. New co-operatives are usually smaller-scale enterprises that emphasize the full observance of co-operative principles and cultivation of ethical principles of solidarity, social justice, decent work and concern for the community. An important theme is to create non-hierar-chical relations as alternatives to the prevalent power structures of domination and oppression.
The new co-operative movement can be seen as a laborato-ry for change, exploring and creating new sustainable social realities through different kinds of praxis. Members of co-op-eratives learn about politics, the economy, social movements, degrowth and the like, and they have a chance to experience non-violent communication and consensual decision-making. New co-operatives are about the creation of safe spaces and social networks, mutual support and the use of the Commons in practice. Most new co-ops predominantly serve their local or (sub)regional communities, which reduces their carbon footprints and lessens the impact on the environment. Moreover, within the current co-operative movement, there is a growing awareness of environmental issues and many co-ops deliberately strive to take action to tackle the global climate change.
Even in Central and Eastern European countries were co-op-eratives are often perceived negatively as something that is associated with their “communist” past, the previous negative attitudes towards co-operatives have been gradually changing.