Co-ops_Farmers_New Ag - Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

usaskstudies.coop

Co-ops_Farmers_New Ag - Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

8 F A I R B A I R NLest anyone think this is an isolated lament, I have encountered many others, particularlyfrom the 1920s and 1930s — times when co-ops were tried and tested, and when manyof them failed. I suspect people who tried to organize Saskatchewan farmers throughout thetwentieth century will recognize an eerie continuity. These comments are reminders that cooperationwas a learned behaviour, not simply a natural or innate one.W A V E S O F C O-O P E R A T I V E STH E C O - O P E R A T I V E M O V E M E N T I N S A S K A T C H E W A N was a process,not an event. The dynamic and evolutionary nature of co-operative actionis nowhere more evident than in the succession of organizations generated by Saskatchewanpeople, who repeatedly created new co-operatives in recognition of the limitations, andsometimes in explicit criticism, of the older ones. The Saskatchewan co-operative movementchanged radically from 1905 to 1945. It began as an agrarian-interest movement of settlerlandownersand ended up as a broader and more inclusive communitarian movement. It isthe latter, eventual face of the co-operative movement that is best remembered today,though both imprinted the political culture of the province.It is typically impossible to document the first co-operatives in any place, because —recalling the definition above — they may arise whenever some group combines an associationmodel with a self-help business enterprise. Such entities need not be incorporated, or ifthey are, need not be incorporated under legislation that says they are co-operatives. Co-operativesneed not have facilities, capital, or even by-laws, and if they do not, are unlikely toleave any lasting record of their existence. The first co-operatives in Saskatchewan are said tohave been dairy co-operatives, formed in the 1890s by groups of dairy farmers to handle andtransport their milk. 12 There were also buying clubs from an early date, a kind of consumerco-operative without premises or inventory. While the first of these was not incorporateduntil 1914, when suitable legislation existed, the fact that 102 associations incorporated andreported in that first year is a sign of the extent of pre-existing, informal activity that waswaiting to be incorporated. 13 The fragmentary information we have from the pre-1914 eraC E N T R E F O R T H E S T U D Y O F C O - O P E R A T I V E S

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