Little Bits of History

Cooperatively

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 21, 2014
The Rochdale Society

The Rochdale Society

December 21, 1844: The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers opens their store. The group of 28 were from Rochdale, Lancashire, England and formed their consumer co-operative earlier in the year. They were one of the first to pay a patronage dividend one of the basic tenets of the modern co-operative movement. More than half of the original members were weavers. As the Industrial Revolution moved forward, many skilled workers were put out of work and sent into poverty. The tradesmen opted to band together and open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford. They had studied earlier failed co-operatives and learned from their mistakes. Over four months, they worked to pool together £1 from each member. With the £28 of capital, they opened their store on this day.

On opening day, all that was available was some butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal, and a few candles. Within three months, they were able to include new items such as tea and tobacco. They became known for the quality of their goods. They were also known for creating the Rochdale Principles, the set of rules on which their co-op was based. They insisted on open membership and democratic control. The distribution of surplus was in proportion to trade and limited interest on capital as payment. There was cash trading only without any credit extended. They maintained both political and religious neutrality and promoted education. The principles remain in effect, although they have been updated.

Within ten years, the British co-operative movement had almost 1,000 co-ops. Today, there are over 3 million members included. The Rochdale Pioneers traded independently until 1991 although there had been some mergers in the nearly 150 years. They merged in 1991 and today are part of the Manchester based national hybrid society called The Co-operative Group. The Pioneers opened their first store at 31 Toad Lane. They moved to a new location in 1867 but later purchased the original store and today it is run as a museum.

The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) is a non-governmental co-operative federation and still uses the Rochdale Principles as a basis for its own rules. ICA was founded in 1895 and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland and serves the global community. Pauline Green is President and there are 272 national federations as members. There are four major regions: Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The motivation for joining a co-op is financial but there are other reasons as well. The quality of life is improved for members, it is a chance to give back to the community, there is a sense of both altruism and duty included, and there is career experience to be gained. The concept has stood the test of time.

Companies should not have a singular view of profitability. There needs to be a balance between commerce and social responsibility. – Howard Schultz

Money, not morality, is the principle commerce of civilized nations. – Thomas Jefferson

Each co-operative institution will become a school of business in which each member will acquire a knowledge of the laws of trade and commerce. – Leland Stanford

Commerce, trade and exchange make other people more valuable alive than dead, and mean that people try to anticipate what the other guy needs and wants. It engages the mechanisms of reciprocal altruism, as the evolutionary biologists call it, as opposed to raw dominance. – Steven Pinker

Also on this day: Can You Use Ink? – In 1913, Arthur Wynn invented the crossword puzzle.
Norway – In 1962, Norway established its first national park.
Four in One Year – In 69 AD, Vespasian became Emperor of Rome.
Honor – In 1861, the Medal of Honor was instituted.

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