Published: 03 December 2012
Extracted chapter from Griffiths, David (Ed.) Co-operators - Co-operation and Co-operatives, Southeast Housing Co-operative Ltd, 2012, pp 4-5.
2012 is the United Nations’ International Year of Co-operatives with the theme Co-operative enterprises build a better world. There is no better way of understanding the meaning of that statement than to read of the experiences of active co-operators, and how co-operatives have impacted on their lives as members and employees. This collection of essays provides living proof of how co-operatives can help transform lives, and also reveals the frustrations brought about by seeing the scale of the potential and the difficulties in main-streaming co-operation today.
Some of the most powerful contributions are those from activists in the housing co-operative sector. They demonstrate clearly now, just as with the case of the Rochdale Pioneers in the mid 19th century, how ordinary working people can take control of their lives by putting the values of self-help and self-responsibility into practice. Through co-operative action they are able to shape their own lives, not simply respond and react to others.
The publication Working Out of Poverty by the International Labour Organisation, part of the UN organisation, states:
Co-operative members learn from each other, innovate together, and by increasing control over their livelihoods build up the sense of dignity the experience of poverty destroys.This collection supports that sentiment, and emphasises the critical importance of co-operative education in ensuring that co-operatives can fulfil their potential.
In the decades that preceded the successful co-operative model by the Rochdale Pioneers, earlier generations of co-operators worked to develop alternatives to what they saw as the huge inequalities brought about by the rapid development of competition in an industrial society. They saw that, ‘Mutual co-operation in the production of wealth and of equality in its distribution would remove the greater portion of the evils under which society at present labours’*. That remains the vision of co-operators worldwide today.
One of the great textbooks on co-operation by Hall and Watkins published in 1937 states:
But where does all this co-operative activity lead? What is the goal for which co-operators are aiming? Is it merely a more efficient economic system? It is that: but it is something more. It is a more satisfying economic system because it is more moral and because it solves most of the present day problems of industry and commerce.
As the global economy struggles to slowly rebuild from the financial crisis of 2007 that message is as powerful as it was seventy years ago.
This collection shows that the co-operative spirit and vision of a better and more co-operative society is alive and well in Australia.
*Articles of agreement (drawn up and recommended by the London Co-operative Society) [microform] : for the formation of a community within fifty miles of London, on principles of mutual co-operation London Co-operative Society, [London : s.n.], 1826. p 12.
Mervyn Wilson is Principal and Chief Executive of the UK Co-operative College. He has worked in the co-operative sector for over thirty years, primarily in the field of member education, co-operative identity and governance. He has worked with co-operatives throughout the world and led the development of co-operative trust schools and their national network. Mervyn is a co-chair of the global Human Resources Committee of the International Co-operative Alliance, a Trustee of the Co-operative Heritage Trust and the Reddish Vale Trust, and a Fellow of the RSA.