Grow the Base, Strengthen the Base: Lessons from the CCF, Part Three

The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation was a political party in Canada that formed during the Great Depression. Most of its support came from the rural cooperative movement among farmers. Cooperative members made up a large part of its voters, and many of its leaders had held elected posts in cooperatives. Organized labor was another important part of its base of support. So, when the CCF took control of the provincial government of Saskatchewan in 1944, it passed legislation to increase the power and membership of the organization that made up its base of support.

The CCF increased the power and number of cooperatives by establishing a Department of Cooperatives. From “Agrarian Socialism: Cooperative Commonwealth Federation In Saskatchewan: A Study in Political Sociology” by Seymour Martin Lipset:
The Saskatchewan government has given enthusiastic support to the growth of the large cooperative movement of the province.

Since the party took office, cooperative organization has increased greatly. The mjor reason is the general prosperity of the rural areas, which enabled farmers to raise share capital for initial investments. There can be little doubt, however that the CCF government of Saskatchewan, by its enthusiastic support of cooperative, has played an important part in the growth of the movement. It established a separate Department of Cooperatives with its own cabinet minister. Almost every new cooperative that I visited during my stay in Saskatchewan had been organized by members or supporters of the CCF. There are now about 500,000 members of cooperatives, an average of four memberships per farmer.

Cooperatives were already a significant base of economic activity in the province and, thanks to the legislative action of the CCF, their role and memberships increased even more. The CCF also greatly increased the power of labor unions through legislation and executive action when it gained power.
At the first session of the legislature after the electoral victory in 1944, the government enacted a Trade Union Act, which was drawn up by the unions and is probably the most pro-union legislation in the democratic capitalist world. The whole trend of government labor action is biased in the direct of supporting trade-union organization and demands. […]

In the four years of CCF government, trade-union memberships increased by 118.5 per cent. In the same period the unions of the entire country increased their membership by only 25 per cent.

The structure of an economy doesn't just develop spontaneously but is defined by government action and legislation. The CCF passed legislation to support cooperatives and labor unions so they would grow greater. In red states, labor unions are uncommon because of Republican-backed, anti-union “right to work” laws. It is no surprise that in the United States, one of the only common forms of cooperatives, credit unions, are also the only type of cooperative with a federal agency, the National Credit Union Administration, dedicated to them. Health insurance cooperatives, common in many European countries, spread across the United States in the 1930s when they had the support of the Farm Security Administration, but almost disappeared when the FSA stopped actively backing the concept.

Republicans such as George W. Bush have learned this lesson and taken steps to empower their base. Republican administrations have taken action that directly benefits the corporations that traditionally support and finance Republican politics. The Bush Administration was very friendly to the oil companies and used the federal government to help enrich them.

George W. Bush also made sure to use the federal government to empower his base of support among the religious right. He did this through his faith-based initiatives program. It directed federal money to religious organizations that traditionally supported Republicans. Not only did it deliver federal funds to these organizations but helped to increase their importance as social, financial and political networks. By providing needed services, these faith-based organizations became a focal point for communities. They reached out to new people, built up local trust, increased social capital and presumably used that to grow memberships.

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