Consumer activism will be the major social force in the next decade, reminiscent of the civil rights movement in the 60s, according to Carol Greenwald, president of the National Consumer Cooperative Bank, who last Saturday spoke at the annual meeting of the Greenbelt Cooperative at the University of Maryland.
"There is a general distrust of big government growing in this country. People are now learning to take care of their problems themselves working with community groups," said Greenwald. "People must now go out to the market place and go to the suppliers and tell them this is the type of product that we want."
Greenwald said that cooperatives are the natural extension in the 80s of the consumer movement and replace weak government consumer regulations.
The Greenbelt Cooperative is the largest in the eastern United States, owning and operating a number of area supermarkets, service stations and the Scan contemporary furniture stores.
Members said that a major motivating factor for joining a co-op is to exercise a certain amount of democratic control, since each member has an equal voice on a one-member, one-vote basis. Savings resulting from the operation belong to the members, and provisions are made to distribute them in proportion to members' contributions.
Greenwald spoke of inflation as a problem area in the coming decade, but emphasized that people should not join cooperatives just for refunds and discounts.
"We can have cost savings, yet we do not want people to join for the discount alone. Co-ops are a hell of a lot more than a discount store operation. They have to be more than that," she said.
Greenwald emphasized that food stores are "for the people. When you enter a cooperative, it's instantly recognizable that the store was designed to serve the consumer rather than the supplier." Greenwald said. "They sell junk food like everyone else but they tell you that it is junk food."
The president of the year-old Consumer Bank emphasized in conclusion that the future of the consumer movement was in the hands of the people.
"The bank can only act a catalyst to provide resources and finances but it is the people that have to put in the time to make these things work, to make them realities," said Greenwald.