A Letter from the Rochdale Pioneers

A Letter from the Rochdale Pioneers lying buried in Rochdale and nearby cemeteries to the Co-operative Group – Don’t Kill Our Co-op

There are 22 of us founding Co-op Pioneers watching you from within Rochdale. We sadly see what you do. We lie here ashamed of the unforgivable losses, the scandalous actions and the questionable decisions that have been carried out recently in the name of the Co-operative Group. We would like to “Have Our Say” but we do not expect you will hear us or regretfully even want to hear us.

The 4th Principle: “Autonomy and Independence” adopted in Manchester in 1995 by the International Co-operative Alliance states: Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.”

Your proposed actions do not meet this ICA principle and essentially replaces one member one vote with one bank one vote.

Now you are acting to remove the democratic heritage of the Co-op, eliminate member control and lock in an undemocratic structure that can never ever again be changed by the most basic principle we asked you to uphold, one member one vote. Don’t ask the members to “Have Their Say” in February of this year and remove it forever in August.

We left you a rich legacy that inspires millions around the world. Yet you have squandered almost all if it without shame. Using the name of the Rochdale Pioneers you have lost billions of pounds in one three year period that thrifty co-operators had built up over 170 years.

For what you have done that has pillaged our collective heritage, not an apology, not a sense of sorrow, seemingly no guilt and not one resignation.

Earlier this year the Co-operative Group management announced with great fanfare a program called “Have Your Say” You said you wanted to hear from us. But did you really? It was declared, “The Co-operative Group today (17 February 2014) announces that it has taken the decision to ask the nation to help shape the future of the 150-year old organisation.”

In the 4.32 minute video, the new CEO perhaps betrayed the new corporate perspective by using the word “customer” twelve times and the word member only twice.

In the first set of Co-op Principles we bequeathed in the late 1800’s to you we warned you against using or giving credit. We said “cash trading” only. We taught members how to save by not buying on credit. If you read George Jacob Holyoake’s history of our beginnings you will see that he told the world how we avoided credit and stayed away from the costs and loss of control that come with borrowing someone else’s money.

If the latter day history was not enough what about present day advice in the ICA (International Cooperative Alliance) Principles adopted in Manchester in 1995. Why are you so blatantly ignoring the principles that guide us?

The 2nd Principle begins with, ”Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions.” …”In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights. (one member one vote)”

When the ICA Congress met in Manchester in 1995 some of you came to the Rochdale Cemetery to pay us thanks. Many of you came to the Pioneers Museum to see where modern co-operation began.

Has what we left you all been forgotten? Has what millions of ordinary people gathered together to achieve been wasted. How can we instill hope and opportunity about co-operatives in young people when we make such a blatant mockery of democracy!

After the death of the Co-op looks like there will only be three elected members left to the carry the coffin.

What a shame.
Don’t Kill Our Co-op

Written on behalf of the Rochdale Pioners by Thom of Toad Lane
(AKA David Thompson, Author of Weaver of Dreams: Founders of the Modern Co-operative Movement. Co-operative Group member and family member in Lancashire since 1860’s.

Speaking from the Rochdale Cemeteries: James Ashworth, Samuel Ashworth, James Bamford, John Bent, David Brooks, John Collier, William Cooper, John Garside, John Hill, John Holt, Charles Howarth, Benjamin Jordan, James Manock, Benjamin Rudman, John Scowcroft, James Smithies, James Standring, Robert Taylor, William Taylor, James Tweedale, Samuel Tweedale and Wilkinson.

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