I think I have to wrap up the blogs which I’ve been putting in over the last few days from the Quebec cooperative summit with a final posting and, yes, it’s going to be a positive one. Any large-scale event like this has its good and less good features but in the end something did emerge from out of it all. And the final afternoon concluded with a lively plenary which managed to capture some real energy and creativity and which did offer, I think, some hope for the future of a strengthened global cooperative movement. Not all the faces on stage were the familiar ones, either: it was good to see a young person, Gabriela Ana Buffa (the representative of the next generation of co-operators on the ICA Board), up there for example.
One familiar face who is never unwelcome is Pauline Green, the ICA President, who manages on occasions like this to bring out the necessary inspirational words to send delegates away in good heart. She argued that more has been achieved in the two years since the 2012 UN Year of Cooperatives in bringing together a sense of cohesion between different parts of the very diverse coop community than at any time in its past history – a bold claim which, thinking about it, could indeed be the case. And I liked Pauline Green’s message for young people: bring some “edginess and radicalism” back to the movement, she said.
After the summit, perhaps, it’s onwards and upwards…
A thousand words to pick out the key dates in the history of the British coop movement… that was the brief from The Guardian, and my effort is now up on their Social Enterprise website here, accompanied by some really excellent illustrations from the National Co-operative Archive.
I am, of course, now a sitting target for everyone who feels that I’ve got it all wrong. Oh yes, there’s plenty of alternative dates which I could have included. Why do I mention, for example, the Hull ‘anti-mill’ coop but not the earlier cooperative mill in Woolwich? Why don’t I mention that the coop was the first to introduce supermarket shopping after the last war? Where’s any mention of Wales – what about the successful Tower colliery coop for example?
Well, feel free to comment and criticise all you like. The most important thing in the present troubled times, I’d argue, is to remember that the coop movement does have a very long history – and undoubtedly a future, too.
If you’re interested, my report of last week’s conference Ways forward for the co-op movement is now up on The Guardian’s website (here) and awaiting your comments. (Or of course you can also respond here on my blog).
Picking up on one of the points I took from the event, I think there is an urgent need for the UK cooperative movement to learn from (larger) coops abroad about how they handle their corporate governance and member engagement. I don’t necessarily think that large businesses can’t be run cooperatively, but it would be extremely helpful to know which coops have developed the best practice here. My own – very initial – thought on this is that there are a number of Canadian and French coop insurers which would be worth a close look.
One welcome side-effect of the Co-operative Group’s move into its new Manchester head office, I understand, is that a spring clean has been going on in the office accommodation which it has vacated and as a consequence a large number of old archive boxes have been making their way to the nearby National Co-operative Archive.
The Archive has a unique collection of material from the early days of Britain’s cooperative movement. It’s a resource which I have been using on a number of occasions in recent months for research purposes and I commend its helpful and knowledgeable staff.
Using an archive brings home the importance of ensuring that more recent records from the cooperative movement are not lost to future historians. I’ve been concerned for some time that material from the wave of workers’ cooperatives started in the 1970s and 1980s may be being lost. I recently ensured that the records of a cooperative I worked in in the early 1980s in Milton Keynes are now secure in the Buckinghamshire County Records Office and I’d encourage others with boxes of similar material from that period to get them to an appropriate professional archive. Ideally I’d like to see these held centrally in Manchester, but frankly any record office is better than a skip.
That applies to today’s material too. Sometime in the future, somebody will be looking high and low for adequate information about what we’re all up to today.
I have been spending the holiday period in the nineteenth century. Not literally of course, although the festive decorations in my home town do seem a little Dickensian. No, I’ve been immersed in the eight hundred pages of the book Co-operative Production, written by Benjamin Jones and published in 1894, as part of some research I’m undertaking into early producer cooperatives in the UK.
Around page 600 – more precisely, on September 2nd 1871 – we reach an account of the launch of Co-operative News, which announced itself in its first issue (a modest eight pages) as the commencement of “a new era in co-operation, an era of journalism”.
In the years since then, Co-operative News has had highs and lows but it’s hard to deny that it’s been an absolutely invaluable resource for the cooperative movement. The magazine has just relaunched itself ready for 2014 in a new format and with the promise of lots of new features, and although I should probably declare an interest since I sometimes contribute to it, I do think the Co-operative News’ new initiative is an important step forward and one deserving of support.