People started credit unions because banks were either not interested in serving them or they felt they were not being treated fairly.
So they formed a group to organize their own services for loans, savings accounts, and chequing services (whatever they needed). These people wanted to have a say in the terms of their services and wanted democratic control. We all should have the right to be heard and influence decisions that affect our lives because the human spirit is liberated by democratic processes and structures through which control is shared.
Should there be limits on democracy in our society?
The renowned Yale University political theorist, Dr. Robert Dahl, argued that if democracy is based on the belief in the dignity of every human life (and is the best way to make decisions about society as a whole)—then it’s logical that it’s also the best way to make economic decisions. Economic decisions, he reasons, also impact our individual dignity and society as a whole.
The more our society and economy are focused on meeting individual, family and community need, the better our world will be. A democratic economy is the best way to ensure that economic decisions are made in the interests of humanity. Co-operatives are the most powerful tool we have to make our economic decisions democratic.
The co-operative business model recognizes that we are responsible for our own lives and for the impact of our actions upon others and ourselves. Groups are also responsible for the impact of their actions on individuals, other groups and society in general. We are at the same time an individual—two inseparable sides of the same coin.
What does this have to do with being a member of a credit union?
If you’re a member of a credit union, you have the right to vote for the directors who govern its affairs. Every member has equal voting rights. If members are concerned about how the organization they own is run, its services or its operations and how it treats workers and members, they have the ability to raise their concerns with the elected directors. If their concerns are not met they can vote for a change in directors. You cannot do that at an investor owned bank, where voting is based on how many dollars are invested.
Only very wealthy investors can influence who directs a bank’s direction.
A right (not a privilege)
This ability to influence how a credit union functions rests on co-operative values, principles and purpose which are enshrined in the incorporation documents and By-Laws of your credit union and accepted internationally by co-operatives of all types. A one-member one-vote democracy is enhanced and invigorated by other organizational and personal co-operative ethical values such as:
- Mutual self-help
- Caring for others
The principle of democracy is also deepened and enriched by other co-operative principles, including open membership, education and autonomy.
But in the end all of these powerful ideas are less meaningful if members aren’t voting. Members must weigh the actions of directors and the positions they adopt if they’re to ensure the credit union serves them well. In other words, vote! Because if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.