The Ten Greatest Co-operative Ideas

YOU may have noticed television&#039s latest wheeze is concocting time-filling shows based on the ‘ten greatest&#039 this and that – comedies, actors, soaps and almost anything else that...

YOU may have noticed television&#039s latest wheeze is concocting time-filling shows based on the ‘ten greatest&#039 this and that – comedies, actors, soaps and almost anything else that passes the time of day at minimum expense.
Soon we&#039ll have ‘the ten greatest television commercials&#039 – nostalgic given the departure of media expenditure by once major consumer advertisers, to ‘below the line&#039 activity.
We may also see ‘the ten greatest party political broadcasts&#039, but by that time DVD players will have replaced the tuning knob on the receiver.
But what of the Ten Greatest Co-operative Ideas?

Let&#039s start with Number Ten

The role of the Co-operative College being bound up with ideas of a learning community – not so much a retreat from the demands of the store, office or other business activity, but time to learn from lectures and from personal encounter.
At the College, at Stanford Hall and the pre-war Holyoake House era, the presence of students from overseas co-ops enhanced this interchange, and for all today&#039s degrees and diplomas, I do not think that distance learning or intensive degree programmes replaces it. Creative thinking needs …time.

At Nine

Thrift was almost the heartbeat of Victorian families, and one might recall Mr Micawber&#039s warning, that to spend sixpence less than total income of one pound represented happiness, to spend sixpence more was to encounter misery.
Credit trading was long disdained by the co-op so ‘cash only&#039 became a sort of unwritten commandment.
Today, concern internationally lies with there being too much saving, possibly creating an economic crisis, but in the UK, personal bankruptcies are more common, including those of students. Not exactly, what the co-op pioneers expected.

In at Number Eight

Most people collecting merchandise from the shelves of my CWS Retail supermarket – and for that matter – staff restocking them, will not have the foggiest idea of the arguments presented here. The Co-op has a distinct identity based on some consumer benefits, the divi perhaps, a reputation for fairness.
Chart Entry Seven

It hardly needs stating that the Co-operative Movement pioneered quality standards for consumer goods, and had these been taken more seriously within the wider labour movement, including trade unions, our manufacturing industry might have been better able to survive import competition from the 1970s.
Ironically, while the Movement does little to express its values through media, books published on both sides of the Atlantic, warn about the limitations of the planet to support the kind of consumerism that we exercise.

Straight in at Six

Relating to child education – in which Robert Owen was a visionary – the use of discovery- and co-operative-learning seems to show that the young child is by nature ‘co-operative&#039, learns best as a member of a participative group.
Problems of ‘juvenile delinquency&#039 in the 1960s have grown, involving a degree of violence little imagined at that time.
Young people and children carrying knives and other weaponry have a view of the world which clearly indicates a failure of nurture.
For them, the environment is threatening, to be met with self-assertion and if necessary violence. If co-operative principles have anything to say to our time, it is surely here.

A Mid Entry at Number Five

When in some future century, explorers from another planet visit our alas barren earth, they will learn from some archaeological research that, while we failed to care for the planet, we were whiz kids at setting up bureaucracies.
At Number Four

Today&#039s disenchantment with national political structures means we need to explore the original co-operative cause.
In its early days, it possessed the genius to transmute the ‘big ideas&#039 from idealists like Robert Owen to accessible aspirations in the marketplace.
Philosophy has to work in a way that makes retail and self help activity effective, efficient and on the whole, happy for those involved.

In at Three
Some of the most fervent debates in co-operative archives which have to do with the political stance of the Movement; eventually, a Co-operative Party seemed vital, as perhaps it was. Bert Youngjohns, a former student and tutor at the Co-operative College, later a co-operative registrar overseas, found himself in hot water by showing that historically there was a tension between the ‘top down&#039 approach of socialism and the ‘bottom up&#039 or grassroots approach of co-operation.

And in at Number Two

The ‘divi&#039 was something of an afterthought, a lollipop for consumers, but, as you can discover from reading Congress debates, it obscured the possibilities of pooled resources for local co-op enterprise. J. C. Gray, Secretary of the Co-op Union, delivered a sobering Presidential address in 1906; he thought the divi, as then offered, made ‘little capitalists&#039 rather than people with a co-op outlook.

Top Spot

The returning emphasis on ‘localism&#039 and the limitations of centralised policy planning relates to the co-operative viewpoint, and for all the awed respect for ‘Rochdale&#039, the pioneers were all about reviving local well-being.

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