a brief history of the co-operative movement
"Economic advantage is the motive which attracts to the Co-operative Movement the great majority of its adherents and its economic performance sets the standards by which they judge its value to them. Unless their membership of a Co-operative society enables them to effect savings which they would not otherwise be able to make or yields them an income in money or provides a service which they would not otherwise receive, there is scarcely any advantage in their being Co-operators, whatever moral or social benefits Co-operation may offer. Usually there must be very compelling economic reasons for the majority of people to take the trouble to form, join or run Co-operative societies at all. In this sense it is true (although not the whole truth) that Co-operation is the offspring of poverty and distress."
William Pascoe Watkins, former Director of the International Co-operative Alliance, 1951 -1963.
The scope of co-operative activity in the modern world is phenomenal.In a background paper for the United Nations World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, the United Nations said:
"It is estimated that the total number of Co-operators is 800 million persons world-wide, with a further 100 million persons employed by co-operatives.Moreover, because the co-operative enterprise has economic significance not only for members and employees, but also for their immediate families, the total of persons whose livelihoods are to a significant extent made secure by co-operative enterprise approaches three billion people, half the World's population".
What makes a co-operative enterprise distinctive from other forms of economic organisation and industry?Where did the now massive world-wide international co-operative movement originate?To find the answer to this question we need to go back in time to Rochdale in Lancashire, in the early 1800's that became the cradle of the world-wide co-operative movement.Here a group of impoverished weavers, whose traditional hand weaving skills could not compete with the power looms of the new factories of the Industrial Revolution, set up the first successful co-operative.It is by looking at the economic motives of the Rochdale Pioneers and how they used co-operative enterprise to overcome poverty that we will understand and distil the essence of all co-operative enterprises.