Uralungal: India’s Oldest Worker Cooperative

ULCCS’s commitment to democratic and egalitarian principles harks back to its founding years in the early twentieth century. In the 1930s and 1940s, Uralungal was at the vortex of political turbulence, when powerful peasant and workers’ movements sprang up in Malabar, the nationalist movement took a radical turn, and the Communist Party emerged as a hegemonic force in the area. In the cooperative’s formative years, this radicalization of Malabar helped shape the ethos of an alternative economy based on democratic decision making, surplus subordinated to social goals, ecological sustainability, and collective production. Over the years, the cooperative has used its democratic organization, collective decision making, and alternative ethos of people before profits to creatively overcome each new challenge.

Mainstream economists often predict that even if worker cooperatives emerge, survive and prosper, they will soon degenerate into a typical capitalist firm, losing any lofty principles of worker control and worker ownership. Against these arguments, the actual performance of worker cooperatives such as ULCCS stands out as beacons for inspiration and as experiences offering valuable lessons for future practice.

At the center of ULCCS’s success is its commitment to participatory and direct democracy within the cooperative. In the remaining section of this article, I will focus on the role of participatory democracy in that success.

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