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Some historical notes on the Greek cooperative movement -2-

08 / 1993


Sistrofonaftes was the name given to the cooperative activities of sailors of the small islands of Spetses, Ydra and Psara aroud the 1850’s. The cooperatives sometimes included traders, joiners and rope makers who offered the basic tools and materials for building the ships. Every member could participate by offering his labour and/or contributing financially to the fund for buying the goods to trade. In this way sailors gained the right to have their own say in financial decisions and their motivation in running the activity was much higher. People owning capital distributed their contribution amongst several ships in order to be sure not to loose everything if one sank. Little by little sailors also had the chance to create a small fund and participate in the financial activities.

Profits were distributed after having calculated the cost of the traded goods, the food needed for the trip, the taxes for the city council and an offering made to the local monastery. The money was then divided according to the different levels of participation of members in terms of capital funds and labour. There were no written documents and relations were based upon personal trust.

Sintrofonaftes became very successful and expanded its trade activities beyond the Mediterranean. At the beginning of the 20th century190,the three islands of Idra, Spetses and Psara had vast control over sea trade in the Mediterranean and in 1904 Idra’s ship were crossing the Atlantic Ocean and trading with Montevideo (Uruguay)wine for leather. The three islands provided a major contribution to the Greek revolt against Turks in 1821.

Ta Tselighata

This cooperative activity developed three centuries ago in various rural centres of Greece such as Agrafa, Pindos, Olimpo, Vermio and Rodopi. Shepherds put their flocks together and jointly managed them. Between 10 and 30 individual flocks were put together to form a new flock of 2-3.000 sheep run by all the families. All products were shared amongst all the families but there were no written rules since shepherds could not read or write.

The chief of the cooperative was the shepherd with the biggest flock but if the others disagreed with him they were free to form a new cooperative. Everyone had to cooperate with the others for at least 6 months a year. Twice a year a general assembly discussed the management of the cooperative. The chief of the Ta Tselighata took the decisions on financial activities and external relations, the renting of the fields, the selling of sheep and milk etc. Among the "smitches" (cooperative shepherds)there were not only financial but also social and family relations. The chief agreed with all the other shepherds on how to distribute the profits. Rules had to be the same and have to be respected by all members. The renting of the fields and the buying of hay was divided among all members according to the number of sheep each of them owned.

This form of cooperation was very important for eliminating competition amongst shepherds over the fields to be rented and to secure their independence from landlords. It helped create strong social relations and a positive group attitude. Ta Tselighata had major problems at the end of 1800 and after the liberation of Thessalia from the Turks. The new role of cities, the fact that many shepherds went to live there and land reform that limited the number of fields available for sheeps led to the gradual demise of this cooperative organization.

Fishermen’s cooperatives

During the XVIII century Sozopolis, a colony of Mileto on the Black Sea coast had a population of 3.000. Their main activity was fishing and they organized themselves cooperatively.

The owners of the fish shops, of ships and boats and of nets associated themselves with fishermen ("pochari")and distributed the profits from selling fish according to fixed rules. Before the beginning of the fishing season they held a general assembly to establish the terms of cooperation and the best fishing policy to be followed by everyone. The owners did not directly participate in the fishing but were supposed to provide all the tools and materials. Fishermen had to prepare their own houses for the fishing season and the "pochi"; the special net used to catch the fishes. Fishing in the open sea was not a seasonal activity and it was carried out the whole year. At the end of the season the money was distributed amongst all participants including people employed in administrative work. 20% of the profits were put aside for the city council taxes. A quota was also used for social services such as schools, churches, taking care of orphans etc. Half of the profits were distributed among the fishermen themselves according to the different responsibilities and tasks.

At the end of the fishing period people organized a big celebration called "The Pardon Celebration" that was meant to settle all discussions and rivalities among members of the cooperative.

Today there is still cooperative fishing under the ongoing laws. Examples are to be found in Dodecannesus and in the island of Kalimnos.

Key words

cooperative, history

, Greece


These notes,produced by Christina Petropoulou on request of IRED, are based upon "Agricultural cooperatives" by K.L.Papagheorghiou (Athen 1989)and a booklet by the Greek Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives Unions "Agricultural Cooperative Organizations" (Athen 1991). Translated by Alessio Surian.




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