08 / 1993
For two centuries the economic life of Greece has witnessed numerous forms of cooperation. In the past history there were 6 main experiences:
1. Bricklayers cooperatives of villages in the Ephiro region. They were organized in groups in charge of building houses in the city;
2. Stockfarmers cooperatives called "Mitata", an association of milk producers with shepherds with fixed quotas for sharing profits from the selling of milk and cheese;
3. sharecroppers cooperatives;
4. cooperatives of carpet makers in Lower Asia: all members contributed to the fund for buying carpet frames; the work was shared by women from all social classes and profits were distributed according to the needs of the members or used for public aims;
5. "Sintechnies", craftmanship unions functioning as credit cooperatives. An example is Philippupolis Tailors Sintechnia which since 1762 has lent money to its members;
6. Theatre groups associated in cooperatives since 1860: actors avoided needing a manager or a sponsor for the show and created thetre enterprises sharing profits amongst themselves according to fixed rules.
At the end of the past century there were four main cooperative realities in Greece: Ambelakia, the "Sintrofonaftes" of the islands, the "Ta Tselighata" of Ephir stockfarmers and common fishing.
The villagers of Ambelakia and neighbouring villages were famous for weaving of red textiles. In 1778 (or 1780)they joined forces and founded a cooperative. Greece was ruled by Turks and forced to pay high taxes to its rulers. The villagers of Ambelakia were able to liberate the poorer people from tax duties and to provide important social services giving birth to a unique experience of cooperative organization.
The head office was located in Ambelakia on Mount Kissavos close to the Valley of Temples. Over 6.000 people became members of the cooperative including men, women and children. They were people from all social classes and this is a distinguishing feature of the Common Company of Ambelakia, not repeated by later cooperatives that were set up in the rest of Europe. According to their possibilities people contributed to the cooperative with funds and labour. Field owners provided the land for growing cotton and erithrodan-rizari, the plant used to obtain the red colour for textile products. Each member would receive part of the profits upon delivering its product and the remaining part after a general assembly had discussed how to manage the the cooperative’s profits.
Products were sold all over Europe and Vienna was the main trade centre for all operations. Trade offices were set up also in Salonica, Instanbul, Trieste, Odessa, Budapest, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Leipsig, Dresden, Lyons, London etc. The cooperative was also able to provide relevant social services such as schools, libraries, a laboratory for experimental physics, a fund for disabled people, poor children and orphans and medical services.
The Board of Directors was made up of five people. They were elected every three years. 12 people participated in a commission which controlled the money supply every three months and presented a report once a year to the General Assembly. The General Assembly meeetings were also an occasion for distributing profits. First of all, a part was put aside to paying taxes to the Turks. Other services were also covered with this money including: corn for the poor, presents to the governor for guaranteeing free trade, hospital, school, churches and roads. 15% was the interest rate due to those who had invested their money and 12% to the savers contributing to the general fund. The rest of the money was distributed according to the work provided by each member.
Troubles for the cooperative started around 1810 after the industrial revolution. British textiles were less expensive and their trade seriously demaged Ambelakia textile trade. Turkish army invaded Ambelakia in 1811 and Austrian banks responsible for Ambelakia’s main funds declared bankrupt. In 1812 a pest epidemic caused 8 deaths a day. The taxes imposed by the Turks were far too high to allow Ambelakia to invest in textile machines in order to contrast the trade from Manchester and the cooperative was never able to recover to past standards. Today a women’s cooperative is active in Ambelakia in the field of agrotourism and its ideal is to work along the same cultural and social path as he old Common Company of Ambelakia.
These notes,produced by Christina Petropoulou at IRED’s request, are based upon "Greek 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.
PETROPOULOU, Christina, IRED NORD, 1993 (GREECE)
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