Considered by many historians as the birthplace of the modern co-operative movement, the Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Society was set up in 1844, in an attempt to provide a way to deal with economic differences and social and political tensions.
Since its early beginnings, the global movement, represented by the International Co-operative Alliance, has consistently campaigned for peace, including during the two World Wars. The Alliance established relationships with the International Peace Bureau as early as 1902 and at its congress in Manchester it passed a resolution that called for a permanent treaty of arbitration between the UK and France. This could be considered the Alliance’s first peace resolution. Another resolution was passed in the run-up to WWI at the Alliance’s general assembly in Glasgow in 1913.
Iain Macdonald, former director general of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), says: “The resolution was a great statement about what peace was about – co-operation is not just about business economics, but about world peace and behaving in a different way – that gets forgotten.”
In 2006 the United Nations recognised the importance of co-operatives as agents for peace by theming the 2006 International Co-operative Day as ‘peace-building through co-operatives’.
The idea that co-operatives could inspire a new model of international solidarity was also explored in June 2006 at the conference Co-operatives and the Pursuit of Peace in Victoria, British Colombia. The conference resulted in a book of the same name, edited by Joy Emmanuel and Ian MacPherson, which includes essays based on the presentations delivered by keynote speakers at the event, who look at how co-ops make an impact throughout the three stages of the peace making efforts: the pre-conflict or preventive stage, times of conflict and post-conflict peace building.
“As organizations based on values of self-help, democracy, social responsibility and solidarity, co-operatives can be incubators of peaceful, respectful relationships among its members,” says Ms. Emmanuel. “This may seem like a simple statement but it can cover everything from how members are treated equitably within a multi-stakeholder co-operative to how a co-op might embrace members who were formerly engaged on two sides of an armed conflict.”
At the International Co-operative Alliance’s General Assembly in 2011, Prof MacPherson put forward a proposal to create a Co-operative Initiative for Peace and Social Inclusion. The project aimed to take forward the research into the role of co-operatives in peace building.
The Alliance expressed its conceptual support for the project by passing a declaration concerning peace. In this declaration, the Alliance urged national and international institutions working towards peace to do so in partnership with the ICA, the co-operative movement and the Co-operative Institute for Peace and Social Cohesion.
The Co-operative Initiative for Peace and Social Inclusion was developed under the umbrella of the Centre for Co-operative and Community-Based Economy of the University of Victoria, which Prof MacPherson had set up in 2000.
However, with Prof MacPherson sadly passing away, the University of Victoria, which hosted the research initiative, lacks the expertise to take the project forward. Sarah Alldred, international programmes manager at the Co-operative College, says the college is looking for partner universities to continue the research started by Prof MacPherson.
Prof MacPherson and his colleague Dr Yehudah Paz (who passed away in 2013) were also working on a second volume of Co-operatives and the Pursuit of Peace. “I was editing that second volume,” says Joy Emmanuel. “As yet I am uncertain if we will be able to finish the book but I am hoping we will be able to go forward.”