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The birth and establishment of the cooperatives in Italy

The Italian cooperative movement was not dominated by any particular model, but has shown an ability to take root in all sectors of the economy. In the long run, perhaps this is its most distinctive quality, consolidating the success of the cooperative movement in Italy by allowing the creation of business networks and joint operations among the various sectors. 
 
Traditionally, the birth of the Italian cooperative movement is located in 1854 when, in Torino, the association of the city’s workers opened the first consumer cooperative shop. In 1856, glass-workers from Altare (Savona) founded the first workers’ cooperative, while the first cooperative bank was founded in Lodi in 1864. Twenty years went by before Leone Wollemborg set up the first rural cooperative bank in Loreggia (near Padova) in 1883. The following year Nullo Baldini founded the first farmer cooperative in Ravenna.
 
Italian cooperatives had many ideal inspiration. Chronologically, the first were inspired by liberal-Mazzinian[1] principles, already informing the numerous friendly societies which often acted as catalysts for cooperatives. Right from the outset the cooperative movement established a privileged, if sometimes conflictual, relationship with socialism, to the point that this dominated the Federation of Italian Cooperatives (founded at the end of the 19th century). The Federation changed its name in 1893 to the National League of Cooperatives. Following the Encyclical letter of Pope Leone XIII Rerum Novarum at the end of the 19th century, which opened up Catholicism to the new socio-economic realities, Catholic-inspired cooperatives began to emerge. Their first area of application was that of rural credit unions, with great success; the ideas were also adopted by dairy and wine-producing cooperatives and consumer cooperatives.
 
In the first fifteen years of the 20th century, cooperatives flourished alongside the Italian economy: from almost 2000 cooperatives in 1902, they grew to 7500 in 1914, in addition to a few thousand popular banks and  rural banks, with membership approaching 2 million. Between 1904 and 1911 crucial laws were approved that allowed for the formation of consortia aimed at competing for public-work bids. The support of municipal governments, led by the socialist and Catholic parties, became an important source of work for the cooperatives. At a national level the Cooperative National Credit Institute was established by Luigi Luzzatti in 1913. This institute was aimed to support credit cooperatives right from their establishment.
 
 
 
[1] Giuseppe Mazzini, founder of Italy’s Liberal Republican movement, attempted to unite Italy as a Republic.
 
 
Further reading:
R. Zangheri – G. Galasso – V. Castronovo, Storia del movimento cooperative in Italia, Lega Nazionale delle Cooperative e Mutue, Torino, 1987.

Research:
Andrea Leonardi, Italian credit cooperatives between expasion and retrenchment  (1885-1945), XIV International Economic History Congress, Helsinki Finland, 21-25 August 2006. File

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