Published: 03 December 2012
Co-operators and Co-operatives
Extracted chapter from Griffiths, David (Ed.) Co-operators - Co-operation and Co-operatives, Southeast Housing Co-operative Ltd, 2012, pp 6-13.
‘An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.’
Victor Hugo, Histoire d’un Crime [The History of a Crime], 1877.
The International Year of Co-operatives 2012 has created a unique opportunity for the co-operative movement to celebrate co-operation - and for an idea whose time has come.
Critical to the realisation of the idea of co-operation is to understand the link between the past, the present and the future. Share or Die is a new book promoted as the first book of its kind where members of Generation Y tell the story of a new economy based on collaboration instead of competition. It may be the first book by generation Y on collaboration, but it has been preceded by generations of books and their authors who have written about the idea of co-operation based on the values and principles originally formulated by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844.
In Laws and Objects of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, the Pioneers set out their objects as:
• The establishment of a store for the sale of provision and clothing.
• The building, purchasing or erecting of a number of houses, in which those members desiring to assist each other in improving their domestic and social condition may reside.
• To commence the manufacture of such articles as the society may determine upon, for the employment of such members as may be without employment or who may be suffering in consequence of repeated reductions in their wages.
• As a further benefit and security to the members of this society, the society shall purchase or rent an estate or estates of land, which shall be cultivated by their members who may be out of employment, or whose labour may be badly remunerated.
• That as soon as practicable, this society shall proceed to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education, and government, or in other words to establish a self-supporting home-colony or united interests, or assist other societies in establishing such colonies.
The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was owned and controlled by its members based on one vote per member - a basic criteria for the democratic control of co-operatives.
Co-operation is an inter-relationship between individual co-operatives and individual co-operators. The beginning of any co-operative is individuals coming together as co-operators to meet a common need through co-operatives.
Co-operatives depend on convinced co-operators - the individual members, directors and staff who believe in and practice co-operative values and principles.
The purpose of this publication is to allow individual co-operators to share their experience and aspirations for co-operation and co-operatives. Most of the co-operators represented in the booklet are involved with either SouthEast Housing Co-operative or other housing co-operatives. There are also some contributions from other co-operators. Housing co-operatives are the largest industry group of co-operatives in Victoria - 120 co-operatives providing housing for 6000 people, including 2240 children in 2500 properties.
What all the contributors share is a common commitment to co-operative values and principles - and an understanding of the challenges and complexities. The contributors remain optimistic about and hopeful for the co-operation ethos.
During 2012 there have been some remarkable achievements by the Australian IYC Secretariat and the Australian IYC Committee, e.g. an IYC co-operative coin, an IYC stamp sheet and being featured in the Australian Yearbook. Co-operatives have varied in their support for IYC and some have been exceptional such as the SouthEast Housing Co-operative Ltd. In Co-operative Housing Futures the General Manager of SouthEast, Ian McLaren, writes about how and why the small housing co-operative exceeded its reach in its support for IYC 2012.
Members and staff of the SouthEast Housing Co-operative Ltd reflect on their experience of the co-operative. Three staff - Dale Carroll in Co-operative Unity, Jim Kokoras in Making it Happen and Joy Haines in Take your Pick discuss how they came to the co-operative, what they do and why the co-operative is important to them. In Everything I Can, member director Jan Dickson discusses the meaning of membership and the responsibility of being a director.
In Inclusive Democracy the Chairperson of SouthEast Housing Co-operative Ltd Shirley Faram reflects on the importance of co-operative housing, and on the challenges faced by the co-operative when it did not consult with members on changes to a lease, the subsequent intervention of the Housing Registrar and surviving beyond the intervention. In Members First - Past, Present And Future SouthEast member Greg Nolan discusses the importance of co-operative housing, the challenging demands of Government, the Housing Registrar intervention, the board’s response and the need for improved openness and transparency within the co-operative.
The United Housing Co-operative Ltd based in Yarraville, Victoria, has also addresses the challenge of continued member accountability. At the 30 June 2011 the co-operative managed 90 properties, four owned by the co-operative, and had an annual turnover of $995,000. In Rebranding ‘Co-operative Identity’ Business Manager Rob Wardell reflects on how the co-operative has been working to reinvent itself with members. In A Sense of Home a founding member of the Northern Geelong Rental Housing Co-operative, Cathy Walker, and a member of SouthEast, Avril Lochhead in Co-operative Community comment on the significance of community in co-operative housing to its members. In The Personal Touch another member of SouthEast, Johnny Tessera, emphasises the significance of personal relationships in a housing co-operative. In Co-operation Naturally a former member and director of SouthEast, Terry Brown, reflects on co-operation as the natural way of doing things. In Now and Future Generations and A Life Lived Well, Karen Walker and Rhonda Wilson, respectively, both members of rental housing co-operatives and directors on the board of Common Equity Housing Co-operative Ltd, affirm the importance of co-operative living.
Victoria’s rental housing co-operatives of the 1980’s were preceded by housing societies established since 1936 in NSW to enable workers to purchase or rent their own homes, as loans were not available from banks. In the 1940s the Young Christian Workers Co-operative Movement in Victoria formed housing societies. In Y.C.W. Co-operatives Ted Long discusses the role of the Melbourne Young Christian Workers (YCW) in forming co-operatives - including housing co-operatives. It is an article written in 1945 by a co-operator who is no longer with us but is reproduced in 2012 because it effectively captures the essence of the YCW Co-operative Movement at the time - a Movement that was based on a clear co-operative philosophy and practice. In Historically Unique, Maryknoll, Angelique Eccleson and Des O’Connell remind us how co-operative housing was an important part of the St Mary’s Co-operative Society - a settlement established in 1949 in Victoria supported by the National Catholic Rural Movement. Both the YCW Co-operative Movement and Maryknoll shared a commitment to transforming the world through a Co-operative Commonwealth.
The SouthEast Housing Co-operative Ltd has adopted the theme of Beyond 2012 - a commitment to ensure that there are legacy initiatives that will continue beyond IYC 2012. SouthEast Housing Co-operative has committed itself to an ongoing renewal of co-operative values and principles. The Australian IYC Secretariat and the Capricorn Society have embarked on an important and ambitious quest to persuade large co-operatives throughout Australia to adequately fund a new peak body for co-operatives. In the meantime, there is Co-operatives Australia - the existing national peak body for State Co-operative Federations.
In Australian Co-operatives and Co-operatives Australia the Acting Chairman David Griffiths has provided an explanation of the activities and achievements of State Co-operative Federations and Co-operatives Australia. Statements prepared by Co-operatives Australia over recent years are published, with permission, to provide an Australia-wide context for co-operation - Public Policy and Co-operatives, Co-operative Education and Valuing Co-operation. In 2009 Co-operatives Australia also initiated an annual listing of Australia’s top co-operatives, credit unions and mutuals by annual turnover and we have published the 4th list. Historically all these publications are important in understanding the challenges for co-operative federations and co-operative values.
In Grasping the Principles the former Chairman of Co-operatives Australia and Co-operatives Victoria Tony O’Shea reflects on the difficulties of promoting and advocating the co-operative option without a commitment by co-operatives to co-operative education and co-operation between co-operatives. In Co-operation between Co-operatives David Griffiths examines why co-operatives do not always naturally follow solidarity and unity but, instead, follow a path of individualism, which is counter-intuitive to co-operative values and principles. Co-operation between co-operatives is central to the co-operative identity.
In The West - Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow Peter Wells reflects on co-operatives and Co-operatives WA in Western Australia. In Co-operative Equality Linda Seaborn argues that the co-operatives provide a model for the democratisation of workplaces. It is an argument that Race Mathews has pursued through a series of books and articles.
Co-operative education is central to maintain the co-operative identity, renew co-operative values and continuously engage members. Co-operative education throughout Australia, however, is either episodic and irregular or absent. When the managers of co-operatives talk about education it is more likely to be about educating members to buy more products and stop opposing board decisions.
In Canada’s Values and Education John McInerney reports on a visit to Canada’s housing co-operative and the centrality of co-operative education to the survival and future of co-operatives. CEHL has an active and extensive education program for the members of its 120 co-operatives.
Co-operation and co-operatives do not exist in isolation from politics - a term that is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs. In 1892 George Jacob Holyoake said that without a co-operative newspaper there can be no intelligence, without intelligence there can be no party and without a party there can be no power. Politics and politicians determine the political conditions that influence the development of co-operatives through legislation, regulation, policies and programs.
In Victoria, for instance, housing co-operatives are incorporated under the Co-operatives Act 1996, The co-operatives, however, are also subject to the Housing Act 1983 and politics and politicians decided that certain clauses in the Housing Act can override the Co-operatives Act and these enable the imposing of any number of directors on a co-operative - even a majority. These provisions are inconsistent with co-operative philosophy and principles.
Without this overriding capacity, however, the Government would not have tolerated the continuation of housing co-operatives and would have prevented their registration as housing providers. The current reality is that housing co-operatives are surviving in Victoria whereas in other states such as New South Wales, Queensland and SA, housing co-operatives have been or will have disappeared over the next few years with State Governments forcing their demutualisation. The Victorian Government is currently reviewing social housing - public, community and co-operative.
An apolitical tradition characterises most of Australia’s co-operatives and particularly the co-operative federations. There is a Co-operative Party in the UK. It was formed on 17 October 1917 and furthers its agenda through the Labour Party.
The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was a Canadian political party founded in 1932 in Calgary, Alberta by a number of socialist, farm, co-operative and labour groups, and the League for Social Reconstruction. The party had its greatest success in 1944 when a CCF Government was formed the Saskatchewan and established universal healthcare in the Province/State.
In Australia individual politicians have and are championing co-operation and co-operatives. In Disruptive Capitalists in a ‘Lucky Country’ Melina Morrison writes about the challenging, perhaps subversive role, of co-operatives within capitalism. In Towards a Co-operative Party Graeme Charles and Peter Jamieson argue that the only way that co-operative values and principles can be reflected and reinforced in politics is through the formation of a co-operative party - that there is a need to go beyond the support of individual. But, then, it is arguable that only the ‘mainstream’ political parties are capable of creating and sustaining long-term change. This insistence will be of some discomfort for those who prefer the mainstream political duopoly and majority governments and who refuse to recognise that Independent MPs and minority parties can be and are a legitimate influence, because they don’t believe they should be influential. The appeal of a Co-operative Party is, of course, that you would not have to explain the values and principles of co-operation and justify the co-operative way.
This book celebrates the past, present and future of co-operation and co-operatives through individual co-operators - including the complexities and challenges to the survival and development of co-operatives and their federations. The focus is primarily, but not exclusively, on rental housing co-operatives in the State of Victoria, Australia, with a 35-year history.
Victoria’s housing co-operatives share common values with a worldwide co-operative movement with nearly one billion member-owners of 1.4 million co-operatives employing 100 million people. In this worldwide movement there are over 210,000 housing co-operatives with more than 18 million properties and 27 million members. Co-operatives, then, are not a niche, old fashioned or fringe model of doing business.
Co-operatives must come together as a movement which accepts what they have in common - wishing to change value systems with shared goals, expectations and actions. Without this there will be minimal co-operative education and no co-operative movement. Victoria’s housing co-operatives are at the beginning of this realisation and only time will tell what and how this evolves. Too few co-operatives and co-operators share that beginning, however, but this can change when the many stop seeking seeing things as they and ask why? and, instead, dream things that never were and ask - why not?
There are critical underpinning, variously explicit and implicit, interconnected assumptions that are threading through the disparate contributions:
1. Co-operation is based on interdependent co-operative values and principles.
2. A co-operative business such as a housing co-operative is a co-operative means towards co-operation. It is not an end in itself.
3. The ultimate goal of co-operation is a co-operative commonwealth of co-operatives.
4. This goal will be forgotten, displaced and neglected unless co-operative values and principles guide the co-operative business.
5. Values and principles will only guide a co-operative if there is an ongoing sense of history and a co-operative identity.
6. The maintenance of co-operative values and principles depends on an ongoing co-operative education program which actively engages members.
The end of IYC 2012 should be the beginning for the renewal and revitalisation of the co-operative movement - the continuation of the vision of the Rochdale Pioneers to transform the world. It is hoped that this publication will contribute to an understanding of the co-operative education imperative - unless education development keeps pace with the economic development of co-operatives, then, co-operation has ultimately failed. This was understood by the Rochdale Pioneers, the Antigonish Movement in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the YCW Co-operative Movement in Victoria.
• Bamford, W.M. Over Fifty Years 1871-1921 Jubilee Souvenir of the Co-operative News, The National Cooperative Publishing Society Limited, 1921, p 21.
• Boyle, Rev. James April 1937, A Middle Way, Extension Department of St. Frances Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
• Coady, Rev.M.M. 1962 The Social Significance of the Co-operative Movement, Extension Department, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Originally published 1945 as a presentation to the Royal Commission on Taxation of Co-operatives, 24 pp.
• Co-operative Education - A Handbook of Practical Guidance for Co-operative Educationalists, c 1961, Co-operative Union Limited.
• Dawson, Lilian March 1923, A Co-operative Education, Fabian Tract No 205, Fabian Society, London.
• Extension Department of St. Frances Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia 1947 The Antigonish Way, Co-operative Union of Saskatchewan, 72 pp.
• Harris, Malcolm (Ed) with Gorenflo, Neal, Share or Die: Voices of the Get lost Generation in the Age of Crisis, New Society Publishers, 2012.
• Johnson, Harry G 1944 The Antigonish Movement - A Lecture to the Students of Acadia University, Extension Department, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia 1944, 14 pp.
• Laws and Objects of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, Rochdale, 1844.
• MacDonald, Rev R.L. 1937 Some Wider Aspects of Co-operation, Antigonish, Nova Scotia 1937. Address given at Industrial and Rural Conference 19 August 1937, 13 pp.
• Twigg, H.J. 1924 An Outline History of Co-operative Education, the Co-operative Union Limited.
David Griffiths is a Governance Officer to the SouthEast Housing Co-operative Ltd. He is a lifetime member of the National Co-operative Business Association (USA). He is Secretary of Co-operatives Australia (since 2009) and Co-operatives Victoria (since 2001). He was Chairman of Co-operatives Victoria 1997-2001 and has been Acting/Chairman of Co-operatives Australia 2010-11 and from mid 2012. He is also a member of the IYC 2012 National Committee. He founded the websites australia.coop, victoria.coop and education.victoria.coop. In 2010 he wrote the booklet, The Phoenix: the SouthEast Housing Co-operative Ltd.