Case study - Cooperatives - Portugal

Sociedade Cooperativa de Crédito e Consumo 'A Sacavenense', Lisbon, Portugal 


Type of institution for collective action


Name/description institution  

A Sacavenense





Name of city or specified area 


Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

First headquarters was in Lisbon, at the Largo da Saúde, the second in Rua Almirante Reis.

Surface area and boundaries


Foundation/start of institution, date or year


Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?


Foundation act present?

Yes, see underneath.

Description of Act of foundation

The foundation had its inaugural meeting, in January 1900; the statutes were promulgated by the government by September 1900.

Year of termination of institution

Continues to operate today.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?


Act regarding termination present?



Description Act of termination


Reason for termination?


Recognized by local government?

Yes. The statutes were promulgated by the governement in September 1900 by publication in the Government’s official Gazette on September 3, 1900.

Concise history of institution

Savanense credit and consumer cooperative was founded by the workers of the Sacavém’s Tableware factory in 1900, a ceramic plant of great importance in the national context. The scripture was attended by a barber, an employee, and two potters. Although the factory employees had a majority weight, the institution was rooted and open to the local community. It even integrated women, which was exceptional in the Portuguese associative movement at the time. At the first meeting it was decided that 'not only plant personnel, but also all the people who do not belong there' might take part in the federation. At the second meeting several residents of Sacavém and the neighbouring parishes were present. The cooperative that started off with 221 members increased in size and comprised an ever increasing proportion of the village inhabitants. In 1982, the society members represented 33 percent of the parish households.


This institution was founded at a time when the working and middle classes, especially the urban ones, were victims of increasing living costs. Consumers’ cooperation was meant mainly to supply the local community with food at affordable prices. Like many other societies founded in this period, Sacavenense combined economic cooperation with social providence, creating a mutual fund aiming to aid its members in case of disease and labour crisis. Subsidies were granted in case of illness from 1934 onwards.


In 1920, Sacavenense joined the National Federation of Cooperatives (FNC) ensuring its integration into the group of companies regarded as having an economic function of public utility (Decree of 16 October 1924), and thus benefiting from significant tax breaks. On November 27, 1956 it was decided by acclamation to integrate UNICOOPE. In the following year, Sacavenense cooperative come to assume the position of secretary in the new federative structure.


In 1957, The Cooperative Newsletter considered Cooperative Sacavenense one of the most important in the country, ranking third in sales volume. The division of profits was proportional to the consumption of members. A small percentage was reserved to gratify the partners who had distinguished themselves in volunteer work. When the size of the cooperative started to require the engagement of professional employees, which came to be 47, the management work and supervision continued to be voluntary and the gratifications merely symbolic.

In the late seventies, the cooperative experienced a period of recession. An analysis performed by the Directorate of the Centre for consumer cooperatives support, within the Ministry of Trade and Tourism, stressed the oversize of the company in terms of area and number of workers,  - as compared to the volume of sales and members -, and hence advised a drastic reduction in size.

After a long process of reorganization, the cooperative now focuses on the areas of culture, leisure, sports, and recreation, using their facilities to serve its members and the population in general.

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

During the First and Second World Wars, consumer cooperatives played a key role in curbing speculation and hoarding. It was during the conflicts and their aftermaths that the cooperative model proved its uniqueness and its social nature. At the beginning of the World War I, Sacavenense’s board urged shareholders to deposit their dividends in order to allow supply crisis mitigation. The following letter, signed by the President of the cooperative, was posted at the cooperative headquarters: 'Comrades, once more to you I appeal, increase your fund in this cooperative, the only bastion of half a dozen workers in Sacavém, a minimum number but large enough to hindrance the vile traders without scruple nor humanity (…)'.


Despite the efforts of the cooperative, scarcity and hunger dramatically hit working-class families. At the end of 1918, Sacavém’s population was also victim of the Spanish flue. Faced with this challenge, the general meeting decided to provide some families above their credit limits, corresponding wuth the percentages of their shares.


When World War II broke out, the Sacavenense cooperative rented a warehouse designed to store sufficient food provisions to prevent speculation and hoarding. Throughout the conflict, the direction sought by all means to acquire the scarce foodstuffs such as potatoes and olive oil, contracting new suppliers and negotiating directly with producers.


Numbers of members (specified)

Graph of number of members of A Scavenense over the years. Source: Canhão (2010).

Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

According to the statutes, the institution was first and foremost devoted to working-class families. Chapter III states that 'all the individuals which are workers without distinction of colour, creed, sex or nationality, provided that they accept and comply with the precepts of these statutes and regulations' could join the cooperative. This chapter made also clear that no 'senior clerks, foremen, masters or owners of workshops, factories, warehouses or offices' were eligible for membership of the cooperative.


In 1917, the statutes were amended to incorporate other social strata, as can be seen in Chapter IV, which states that 'all individuals older than 18 years who did not have a trade with an identical purpose of this cooperative' could join, 'irrespective of professions, beliefs, genders and nationalities'. However, during crises, admittance was sealed, since the number of candidates would exceed the society’s possibilities. In such periods, like World War II or the crisis of the seventies, only members’ sons who were married, were allowed to join.

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

Apart from the limitations, mentioned in the statutes and during crises (see above), members have to pay for the diploma, the statutes, and the weekly fees.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

The non-payment of assessments was the key motive to banish members. Nevertheless, according to the statutes of 1900, there were main reasons to be tolerant: good behaviour and regular partner, lack of health, labour crisis, and forced absence were considered to be 'softening circumstances'.

Advantages of membership?

Membership was promoted by three main advantages that the cooperative offered over traditional commerce:

  • the system of credit sales
  • the annual return
  • the existence of the mutual-aid fund 

Obligations of members? 

  • The possession of at least one share, wish could be acquired in installments
  • The payment of a weekly fee
  • Payment for the diploma
  • Payment for a copy of the statutes

Literature on case study

  • Canhão, José António, 2011.  A Sacavenense: história de uma cooperativa.  S.l.: Cooperativa A Sacavenense.
  • Cooperativa de Crédito e Consumo A Sacavenense, 1950. Bodas de ouro: 1900-1950. S.l.: s.n.

Sources on case study

All sources are kept in the cooperative headquarters in Sacavém. Researchers interested in these sources need the society directors' permission.


  • Printed documents:
    • Centro Cultural da Cooperativa A Sacavenense, 1984. O cultural Loures magazine. Sacavém: C.C.C.S., 1984;
    • Centro Cultural da Cooperativa A Sacavenense, 1977[?]. Circulante: boletim interno da Cooperativa de Consumo A Sacavenense. Sacavém: C. C. S., 
    • Centro Cultural da Cooperativa A Sacavenense, 1963[?]. Relatório de 1962. Sacavém: A Sacavenense.
  • Manuscripts:
    • Minutes of general assemblies
    • Minutes of board meetings
    • Members' enrollment registration
    • Audit reports
    • Terms of office of governing bodies
    • Attendance records of shareholders at the general assemblies

Links to further information on case study:

Case study composed by

Joana Dias Pereira, Instituto de História Contemporânea da Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa