Advancing the Co-operative Movement in Australia and Italy - A Three Year Research Project
With the severe dislocation of the global liberal market economic system due to the financial crises attention has been drawn again to the advantages of mutuality and the cooperative alternative. In the UK the sector has been resurgent and there is a general recognition, confirmed in an International Labour Organisation report, that the cooperative sector was handling the current Global Financial Crisis better than the conventional business sector. Australia, compared to other countries such as Italy has had a very weak co-operative sector. The Australian labour movement, for example, preferred to follow a path resolving social and economic problems through forming a Labor Party and seeking improvements in wages and conditions through industrial arbitration and social security legislation. In Italy cooperative formation was supported by national legislation, political parties, local government, trade unions and the labour movement. A generation of Catholic activists, inspired by the 1891 Papal Encyclical Rerum Novarum on the rights and duties of Capital and Labour, joined forces with workers to set up and manage cooperatives especially in Northern Italy.
The University of Sydney Business and Labour History Group has entered into a three year research relationship with the European Research Institute for Cooperatives and Social Enterprises (EuRISCE) to compare the past, present and future potential of the cooperative sectors in Australia and Italy. EuRISCE which is based at the University of Trento, was established in 2008 and is the largest cooperative research project in the world. This programme in Australia will be launched with a three day Cooperative Symposium in February 2010 which will feature papers from both Italian and Australian researchers.
The four research themes of the Symposium and the research project are four models of cooperation which have proved to be very successful in solving economic and social problems in communities around the world. They are based on enshrining the dignity and rights of four different types of members or stakeholders in a dynamic democratic business model which when seen holistically presents a coherent economic system. This has been so successful in Italy it is called a 'parallel economy'. The four themes are:
- The retail cooperative in which the customer is the member.
- The producer cooperative in which the worker is the member.
- The credit union in which the saver is the member.
- Indigenous/social cooperatives which are established by and to provide a service to members in indigenous communities.
This research project is a unique window of opportunity to re-establish the cooperative sector in Australia, which is in decline and which has been badly affected by demutualisation, as it gives the opportunity for different interest groups to be involved. The project has attracted interest and support from both the Australian labour movement and the co-operative sector.
The project will consist of four research projects each one conducted by a two scholars, one from each country, collaborating on agreed research agenda. Annual updates, progress reports, exchange of scholars and a symposium in Australia and Italy also offer the opportunity for involvement of the cooperative sector in each country. A final report of findings and recommendations will be presented to governments and cooperative federations of both countries.