Italian cooperatives trace their origins to the Mutual Aid Societies formed by rural workers seeking unity of action to get the highest prices for the labor they sold and lower prices for what they bought. By 1886, the Lega delle Cooperative (League of Cooperatives) had been formed. It proved the basis for the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI). Undermined by the Fascist regime, cooperatives were restored by the Comitati di Liberazione Nazionale/National Liberation Committees (CLN). In the negotiations that culminated in the new republican Constitution of 1948, they were given specific standing in Article 45. A half-century later more than 100,000 cooperatives have over 7,000,000 members and constitute a huge and important part of the Italian economy. The largest federations of cooperatives were closely affiliated with political parties: the Lega with the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI) and the PSI; the Conicoop (Cooperative Confederation) with the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy (DC); and the Associazione Generale delle Cooperative Italiane/General Association of Italian Cooperatives (AGCI) with the lay parties of the center. In the 1880s more than three-fourths of the cooperatives were located in the northern regions, 14 percent in Italy’s center, and 0.5 percent in the South. A century later, of nearly 16,000 co-ops in the Lega, 44 percent were in the North, 24 percent in the Center, and 32 percent in the South, traditionally diffident regarding cooperative efforts.
   The Lega ranks fourth in annual turnover among Italian enterprises and includes one of the largest insurance companies in Italy (UNIPOL), as well as venture capital (Fincooper) and both merchant banking and commercial banking. Producers’cooperatives operate in areas as varied as agriculture, fishing, construction, metalworking, printing, and stone masonry. Service cooperatives range from office cleaning, waste disposal, and building maintenance to transport (trucking, taxis, commuter aircraft, and buses), while professional services can be sought from cooperatives of engineers, architects, doctors, caterers, tax consultants, labor consultants, accountants, and marketing researchers. Consumers’ cooperatives also operate large supermarket chains.
   Italian law allows 10 persons to seek financing for a cooperative. If all the members are between 18 and 25 years of age, they are entitled to receive additional help from regional authorities. State subsidies are available for the first three years. Other benefits include an easing of the social security burden and preferential treatment in bidding for public contracts.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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