Italian Center for Documentation on Cooperation and Social Economy | Virtual museum - The years of consolidation

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The years of consolidation

During the 1970’s economic growth was slow and progress stopped. The Italian economy found itself in the middle of the first and most serious crisis of the post-war years. During this time inflation grew as well as the country’s public deficit, affected by the increase of terrorism and worrying signs of domestic and international instability.
It was precisely in this difficult decade that the cooperative system demonstrated its worth as a force of progress: capable to generate employment and new services, to defend production and real purchasing power of consumers, to protect the quality of consumer products and of the environment.
The movement began to appeal to a wider range of social classes and professionals for reasons that could not be attributed solely to their protection of weaker groups. This was evident particularly among the younger generations and women, manifesting itself as a need for qualified labour, for self-management and a better quality of life. The years between 1977 and 1979 saw a period of exceptional growth within the cooperative movement and it was not by chance that they coincided with the political phase of “national solidarity”.
But the development of the cooperative movement cannot be measured in quantitative terms alone; there were, in fact, new forms of associations and new structures within sectors that had so far been ignored and neglected: cultural and social services, tourism, and professional training. During these years, faced with the difficulty of implementing a welfare-state model in which public bodies were the only protagonists, the first cooperatives were formed in the field of health-care and social services. Hopes were also raised among unemployed youth and in Southern Italy.
In 1985, the cooperative movement managed to bring into legislation the “Marcora Law” (no.49, 27 February) which provided for the establishment of a special fund for the cooperatives created by unemployed workers in cassa integrazione (welfare benefit for reduced work hours). Similarly, two laws established between 1985 and 1986 encouraged entrepreneurship among youth in Southern Italy.
The greatest innovation of the 1980’s was the flourishing of social cooperatives with the establishment of consortia, the first of which was founded in Brescia in 1983, while in 1985 the first national assembly of the social cooperatives was held in Assisi. Law 381 of 1991 completed the innovation of the social cooperatives, which saw the principles of solidarity applied not only among members, but also in favour of other users. Among those involved, volunteer workers were also inserted.
On the national level, then, the cooperative movement acted as the main moving force behind business growth in a period of great difficulty and, faced with this responsibility it proceeded to equip itself – thanks to large-scale investments – with the managerial skills needed to face new challenges.
In this way the cooperative movement, during the 1970’s and 1980’s, was able to continue to evolve so as to fulfil an important function in the country as a social, economic and productive vehicle, able to gather together the diverse interests of many different groups, allowing them access to employment and production-opportunities in their own interest and in the interest of the general growth of the country as a whole.
Further reading:
G. Sapelli, La cooperazione come impresa: mercato economico e mercato politico, in G. Sapelli (ed.) “In Movimento cooperativo in Italia. Storia e problemi”, Torino, 1981, pp.254-349.

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