There is only one way in which man can always possess all happiness of which his nature is capable of enjoying, and it is the union and cooperation of all for the good of everyone

Robert Owen, The Social System Constitution, Laws and Regulations of a Community, 1826

The first forms of cooperation

In 1844 the “Equitable Pioneers”, 28 English weavers, went down in history as the “Rochdale Equitable Pioneers”. They were motivated by Robert Owen’s model of philanthropy and led by Charles Howart, and together they set fundamental principles of cooperation in their statute or rather solidarity, democracy and internal mutual assistance. This is how the first consumer cooperatives were created. They gave members the opportunity to purchase products needed, different than those of production and work, and in which the main objective is to create goods and services that ensure employment to members. The first production cooperatives and employment were created in France in 1848, in response to the high unemployment of the time. The most famous production cooperative was the social Atelier of Clichy, specialized in producing garments for the National Guard upon the principle of equal pay for all and equally distributed profits.

The cooperative movement in Italy

A decade later with respect to Italy the first cooperative experience was registered in 1854 in Turin (Social Security Warehouse), followed two years later by the production and labour model of the Glass-making Artistic Association of Altare, a small town in the province of Savona. 84 glass-blower workers who were unsatisfied and harassed gave life to a cooperative. The cooperative was created on Christmas Eve of 1856 thanks to the moral drive of the physician Giuseppe Cesium, who was a follower of Mazzini and philanthropist. Bringing together capital and labour to the same hands, the glass-blower workers from Liguria immediately establish the first forms of social security, a pension fund and a mutual aid society.



The values of the cooperation

Free and voluntary membership

Democratic control exercised by members

Member economic participation

Autonomy and independence

Education, training and informing

Co-operation among cooperatives

Commitment to the community

From the handshake, the nineteenth century iconographic image of the Lombard cooperation to date, the intertwining of business and solidarity continues to be strongly present in the cooperative mind. This logo, which Legacoop updated and that was created by the designer Bob Noorda in the 1990s, updated this shared vision. The handshake becomes two crossing semicircles, which is a symbol of the strength of a union and the power of solidarity. These values are still alive and consolidated despite economic and social transformations that are not always favourable.

To support an entrenched identity of values is the centrality of the person around which the Legacoop associative governance rotates. Democratic participation, equal opportunities, the principle of one person one vote, corporate intergeneration, social responsibility, cooperation and fairness are essential values of the cooperative ethic without which there would be no mutuality or rather mutual protection and assistance “without purposes of private speculation” as the Italian Constitution states, in full benefit of working members.

Legacoop transmits the traditional identity established by the founding fathers through the promotion of values, both at national and regional levels, and by helping to define the cooperation as a viable and exportable business model.



With the flourishing of cooperative activities and the growing need for better working conditions, in the autumn of 1886 one hundred delegates representing 248 companies and seventy thousand members, gathered in Milan in Congress to give rise to the National Federation of Cooperatives and the League of Cooperatives was founded in 1893. It is an organizational structure able to coordinate the cooperative movement in all its diversity. In the beginning this was done by combining both Catholic and secular-socialist inspirations. The separation took place in 1919, after the Great War, with the creation of the Confederation of Italian catholic cooperatives. After the dissolution and freezing under the Fascism regime and the Second World War, Legacoop was established again in 1945 and was legally recognized by Ministerial Decree of 12 April 1948 as the “National Association of representation, assistance, protection and review of the cooperative movement”.

Driven by the economic boom of the fifties and sixties, the cooperative movement increasingly became a competitive entrepreneurial structure on the market. It was consolidated over the next decade and became aggregating in the eighties as a social, economic and productive tool. The positive trend also continued in the nineties, especially for social cooperatives officially recognized by Law No. 381 of 1991. Shortly thereafter, in 1995, the UN proclaimed the Day of cooperation. In the same year, the International Cooperative Alliance celebrated the centennial of its constitution with the final drafting of the “Declaration of Cooperative Identity” in which we read the definition of a cooperative as “an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet their economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through the creation of jointly owned and democratically controlled company”.