In 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers founded the modern Co-operative Movement in Lancashire, England, to provide an affordable alternative to poor-quality and adulterated food and provisions, using any surplus to benefit the community. Since then, the co-operative movement has flourished, extending across the globe and encompassing all sectors of economy.
The beginning of the modern co-operative movement
The earliest record of a co-operative comes from Fenwick, Scotland where, in March 14, 1761, in a barely furnished cottage local weavers manhandled a sack of oatmeal into John Walker's whitewashed front room and began selling the contents at a discount, forming the Fenwick Weavers' Society.
There are a plethera of records of co-operatives started out as small grassroots organisations in Western Europe, North America and Japan in the middle of the nineteenth century, however, it is the Rochdale Pioneers that are generally regarded as the prototype of the modern co-operative society and the founders of the Co-operative Movement in 1844.
The Rochdale Pioneers are regarded as the prototype of the modern co-operative society and the founders of the Co-operative Movement.
The Rochdale Pioneers
In 1844 a group of 28 artisans working in the cotton mills in the town of Rochdale, in the north of England established the first modern co-operative business, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. The weavers faced miserable working conditions and low wages, and they could not afford the high prices of food and household goods. They decided that by pooling their scarce resources and working together they could access basic goods at a lower price. Initially, there were only four items for sale: flour, oatmeal, sugar and butter.
The Pioneers decided it was time shoppers were treated with honesty, openness and respect, that they should be able to share in the profits that their custom contributed to and that they should have a democratic right to have a say in the business. Every customer of the shop became a member and so had a true stake in the business. At first the co-op was open for only two nights a week, but within three months, business had grown so much that it was open five days a week.
An independently formulated co-operative model developed in Germany by Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen and Franz Hermann Schultz-Delitsch. Raiffeisen and Schultz-Delitsch originally formed credit unions in 1862. Since then the model has grown into other sectors and inspired the growth of financial co-operatives across the world.
The co-operative movement today
The principles that underpinned co-operatives' way of doing business are still accepted today as the foundations upon which all co-operatives operate. These principles have been revised and updated, but remain essentially the same as those practiced by the Pioneers in 1844.
Today the sector is estimated to have around 1 billion members. Co-operatives employ, directly or indirectly, 250 million people around the world. The world's top 300 co-operatives by themselves have an estimated global turnover of 2.53 trillion USD (2533,1 Bn), as revealed by the 2016 World Co-operative Monitor.
The International Co-operative Alliance
The International Co-operative Alliance was founded in London, England on 19 August 1895 during the 1st Co-operative Congress. In attendance were delegates from co-operatives from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, and the USA. Representatives established the Alliance's aims to provide information, define and defend the Co-operative Principles and develop international trade. The Alliance was one of the only international organisations to survive both World War I and World War II. Overcoming all the political differences between its members was difficult, but the Alliance survived by staying committed to peace, democracy, and by remaining politically neutral.