This week I listened to a 55-minute lecture on Rochdale and the Early Cooperative Movement. Presented by the National Farmers Union, the speaker, Erbin Crowell, is an expert in the history of cooperatives.
The Rochdale reference is a name familiar to persons working in credit unions. But the reasons for its pivotal place in history are rarely told. Moreover, it was only one example of decades-long efforts by social innovators to improve the lives and status of the English working class.
These multiple reform theories included socialism, capitalism, mutual aid societies and cooperatives as England transitioned to an industrial, post-agrarian economy. One very successful capitalist Robert Owen promoted both factory reforms and utopian socialism. He attempted to establish his vision of an experimental socialistic community at New Harmony, Indiana in 1824.
This lecture describes the context in which Rochdale became a lasting cooperative example. He mentions the Cooperative Group’s role in Great Britain today. One learns that cooperative principles were not an initial framework for Rochdale, but rather assembled only in the 1930’s in the US.
Taking this 55-minute journey will provide more than a glimpse of the past. It presents the cooperative concept as an evolving one, not a static design limited to traditional segments of an economy.