An open letter to the co-operative movement

Co-operative Party General Secretary Claire McCarthy has written an open letter to the co-operative movement, reflecting on our achievements over the past 100 years, and thanking those who founded the Party and who continue to support it today.

Claire McCarthy

General Secretary


Noting the leading role of co-operators in key events in Britain’s history over the past hundred years, the letter reflects that “we all owe a debt of gratitude to those far-sighted co-operators who decided to create the Party, and those who continue to make the case for it today”, and argues that that the decision “not just to lobby, but to organise” was a transformative one.

Letter text

Dear fellow co-operators,

A century ago, co-operators from every corner of our country met in London in a time of great change and uncertainty.

We were in the midst of the greatest conflict the World had yet seen. More than half the population still could not vote. 1 in 10 of us lived in absolute poverty, and the spectre of sickness and unemployment haunted millions.

Our country would change beyond all recognition over the next hundred years.

And while those co-operators could not know everything that was to come, they were nonetheless certain that there would be, as their Chair put it, ‘things to safeguard, things to stand for, things to achieve’.

In London that October, they decided to create the Co-operative Party to be the political voice of a movement that would help transform our society over the next hundred years.

A shop assistant would serve as Secretary of State, the first woman in history to do so. A blacksmith’s son would lead the Royal Navy in Churchill’s Cabinet. The son of a gassed soldier who lost an eye and a leg in the First World War would pass the world’s first disability rights legislation.

All of them co-operators.

The decision in 1917, to not just lobby, but to organise, was transformative. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those far-sighted co-operators who decided to create the Party, and those who continue to make the case for it today. Thank you.

Because even though the world is a very different place to the one of 1917, this too, is a time of great change and uncertainty. Our country stands at a crossroads. The old economic consensus has been wiped away. Our place in the world thrown open, and old values debated and contested.

As our movement emerges from our own period of turmoil, strengthened and renewed, it falls to us to lead once again.

  • To make the case that successful and dynamic businesses can be run by people, and for people, and that all who contribute to our economy’s success should benefit from it.
  • To argue for a diverse, open, and confident Britain, in which the only barriers are a shared sense of responsibility and a willingness to contribute to the good of the whole.
  • To support communities buffeted by globalisation, using co-operative values to restore prosperity and power.
  • To take on those who would treat co-operatives less favourably in regulation or law.

In a co-operative movement that is united yet diverse, hopeful yet practical, and growing yet grounded, the future is ours to shape. The next hundred years can be a century shaped by co-operators and co-operation even more profoundly than the last – and standing together, we will.

Yours in co-operation and thanks,

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