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Politics for the people – Co-operators in Politics

arcHive Unit 2
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arc Hive

on 18 March 2014

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Transcript of Politics for the people – Co-operators in Politics

POLITICS FOR THE PEOPLE
Co-operators in politics
WAR EMERGENCY CIRCULARS
1844
When the Rochdale Pioneers set up shop in 1844 they aimed to change the world through co-operation. They set out their objectives in a document called ‘Law First.’ One of their principles was political and religious neutrality. This meant that anyone could join the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, regardless of political or religious beliefs. The Pioneers did not want to exclude anyone from being part of the Society and trading in their shop.
Rochdale Pioneers
1917
Formation of the Co-operative Party
1939
Second World War
1964
Abolition of Resale Price Maintenance
1983
A low point: only six Co-operative Party MPs
PRE ROCHDALE POLITICS
In 1844 only wealthy men could vote or participate in the political system. As working men, the Pioneers were excluded from the Parliamentary political system. Many of the Pioneers had been involved in radical social movements such as
Chartism
and some may have been present at the
Peterloo Massacre
. The Rochdale Pioneers decided to try and change society through co-operative methods as they saw that attempts at political reform were failing.
The Pioneers were influenced by the philanthropist and social reformer Robert Owen. Owen pioneered ideas of communal
living and often tried to bring about change through petitioning Government. In 1832 Owen's followers held a Congress.
At this Congress Owen outlined his views of politics in co-operation.
ROBERT OWEN
1881
Parliamentary Committee of the Co-operative Union
1883
Co-operative Women’s Guild formed
1902-04
Attempts by Chamberlain to end free trade
Between 1902 and 1904, Joseph Chamberlain, Secretary of State for Colonies, attempted to introduce a trade tariff on imports into the UK from non-Empire countries. This proposal would have resulted in the abolition of
free trade
. It would have increased profit for manufacturers but would have made food prices higher for working people. The threat led to discussions within the co-operative movement about the stepping up of political involvement to protect the interests of the consumer. Chamberlain’s plans did not come to fruition and the end of free trade didn’t come about until 1933.
In 1883 the Co-operative Women's Guild was formed to give women a voice within the co-operative movement. The Guild became politically active and provided a platform for co-operative women to step into local and national politics. The co-operative women became involved in many progressive campaigns.
The Co-operative Party was established by the
Co-operative Union in 1917. A resolution was passed at Co-operative Congress that year to seek direct Parliamentary and local government representation. Co-operators’ felt they had been harshly treated by the Government throughout the First World War. Despite their commitment to ‘political neutrality’ it was decided that they needed to protect and promote co-operative interests in Parliament.
1918
Election of first Co-operative MP
1927
The Cheltenham Agreement – Relationship with the Labour Party
Following the formation of the
Co-operative Party in 1917 several candidates stood for election under the Co-operative banner in the 1918 General Election. The first Co-operative MP to be elected was Alfred Waterson in Kettering.
In 1927 the Co-operative Party and Labour Party signed an electoral agreement known as the Cheltenham Agreement. Although the Co-operative Party and Labour Party had worked together in
constituencies
since 1917 this national agreement was a formal recognition of the relationship between the co-operative movement and the Labour Party.
1992
A new kind of politics
– or a return to the old?
2000s
Co-operative Commission
Movement for political and social reform, which aimed to convince the government to change the voting system so working people were able to vote. Chartism takes its name from the People’s Charter of 1838.
A demonstration in St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, in 1819, which demanded the reform of parliamentary representation. It later became known as the Battle of Peterloo, or the Peterloo Massacre, as cavalry charged the crowd, causing death and injury.
The Co-operative Union formed a Parliamentary Committee in 1881. This was in response to increasing government intervention in economic affairs, which was affecting the rapidly growing co-operative movement. The role of this committee was to act as watchdog on legislation which would affect the co-operative movement.
CO-OPERATIVE INTERESTS IN PARLIAMENT
Movement for political and social reform, which aimed to convince the government to change the voting system so working people were able to vote. Chartism takes its name from the People’s Charter of 1838.
The success of the Rochdale Pioneers inspired many new co-operative societies to form throughout Britain. By 1880 there were over 900 co-operative Societies. In 1863 the
Co-operative Wholesale Society
was formed in response to the growing needs of these societies. In 1869 the
Co-operative Union
, a national federation of co-operative societies, was created and began to meet annually at
Co-operative Congress
to discuss many of the issues affecting co-operation.
The Trades Union Congress had established a Parliamentary Committee in 1868 to monitor and safeguard legislation affecting Trade Unions. Similar to co-operators, Trade unionists also felt excluded from the political process.
In 1879 a
Select Committee
was set up by the Government to inquire into co-operative stores, which could have resulted in legislation detrimental to their interests. The Co-operative Union wanted to monitor the work of this committee so appointed a Parliamentary Committee to do so.
The Parliamentary Committee played a vital role monitoring, influencing and interpreting Government legislation on behalf of all co-operative societies.
During the First World War the Committee was kept very busy leading it to propose the formation of a Co-operative Party. Its work continued, however, even after the Party was established in 1917.

The role of the Parliamentary Committee during wartime was vital as illustrated by this pamphlet describing its work during the Second World War.
Press
right and left arrows in your keyboard
to read the document
The Women’s Guild called for divorce reform and many other welfare reforms way before the Government implemented any legislation on these issues.
The experience of the Co-operative Movement in the Second World War was very different from the First World War and this was due, in part, to the movement becoming involved in politics. Whereas during the First World War the
co-operative movement felt that it had been unfairly treated and ignored, by 1939 the movement had nine Co-operative MPs and hundreds of representatives on local administrative bodies.

By the outbreak of the Second World War the co-operative movement had greatly expanded in membership, productive societies and wholesaling.

The size and influence of the movement, both economically and politically, meant that it was now impossible for the Government to completely ignore it. As early as 1936 the movement was consulted by the Government’s Food (Defence Plans) Department which was established to plan for possibility of war. The movement also had representatives on nearly all local Food Councils during the war.
In 1964 the practice of resale price maintenance was abolished. Resale price maintenance (RPM) meant that manufacturers could put a minimum price on their product that retailers had to sell that product at. As co-operative stores offered a dividend on purchases many manufacturers refused to supply co-operative stores with their products as the dividend was seen as price cutting.

The Co-operative Party and wider co-operative movement was opposed to the practice of RPM as it was unfair to both consumers and
co-operative retailing. The movement actively resisted RPM by manufacturing its own items such as Defiant Radios in 1935.
1960
The Anti-Apartheid Boycott of South Africa
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Parliamentary Committee Meeting
The Women’s Guild members were a leading voice in Peace Campaigns, particularly in the 1930s when they introduced the White Poppy.
Co-operative women also formed part of Women’s Suffrage campaigns. Many co-operative women supported and were part of the Labour Party, prior to the formation of the Co-operative Party – and prior to the vote for women being introduced. Margaret Bondfield for instance was the one of the first 3 female Labour MPs, the first women Cabinet Minister and a keen
co-operator.

When the vote was extended to women, the Co-operative Party wanted new women voters to support them. Many pamphlets were directed at women to show how the Party was best placed to protect their consumer interests.
WHY IT WAS FORMED
Movement for political and social reform, which aimed to convince the government to change the voting system so working people were able to vote. Chartism takes its name from the People’s Charter of 1838.
The idea of co-operative representation in Parliament had been discussed on several occasions since the late nineteenth century. In 1897 a resolution had been passed at Congress in favour of direct political representation but there was no commitment from co-operative societies to put this into practice after the Congress. The ongoing commitment to the notion that co-operative societies should be politically neutral, combined with lack of financial commitment from societies to political engagement meant that no action was taken.
The experience of the movement during the First World War changed the position of co-operators. Legislation unfair to co-operatives had been imposed such as the
Excess Profits Tax
, which did not take into consideration that co-operative societies did not keep profits as capitalist businesses did. The movement was not listened to or taken seriously on rationing and food controls. The business needs of the movement had also been threatened as co-operatives and their employees were misrepresented at
military

tribunals
, meaning many stores were left short staffed.
Overall the co-operative movement felt excluded from the political agenda. Moving the resolution in favour of representation a member of the Parliamentary Committee stated “It is of no use blinking the fact that the co-operative movement carries very little weight, either with the legislature or the administrative departments of the State...those in authority do not even take the trouble to understand the general lines of our organisation...we are not satisfied with the results of the past year’s work, which considering the numerical strength and political potentiality of our movement, to say nothing as our rights of citizens, are very small indeed”.
WHY SOME OPPOSED IT
There were still many co-operators who opposed the idea of the movement getting involved in politics and would have preferred to remain loyal to the Rochdale principle of political neutrality. This document outlines some of the key reasons why co-operators were against Party Parliamentary politics.
ORGANISATION OF THE PARTY
The Co-operative Party was a department of the
Co-operative Union, and subject to decisions made at Co-operative Congress. The Party was constituted in this way so that it reflected the philosophy of the whole co-operative movement and promoted unity within the movement.
The main aim of the Co-operative Party was to protect and promote co-operative interests in Parliament, with the long term aim of achieving a
‘co-operative commonwealth’
.

Local co-operative societies opted to subscribe to the Co-operative Party, and were encouraged to create their own local Party organisation. By the end of 1919, 573 co-operative societies had subscribed, representing just over a third of societies in the
Co-operative Union.
Although Waterson was the first successful candidate, Henry May was the first co-operative candidate in the January 1918 Prestwich
by-election
.
SUCCESS OF WATERSON AT KETTERING 1918
By 1924, six Co-operative MPs’s were elected. The
co-operative Union published biographies and photo portraits of these here.
CO-OPERATIVE REPRESENTATIVES IN PARLIAMENT
1899
The co-operative movement was invited in 1899 to be part of the Labour Representation Committee, which eventually became the Labour Party. The co-operative movement was very much part of the wider labour movement and refused this invitation not on ideological grounds but on the basis that they at that time were also considering the issue of Parliamentary representation.
1918
When the Co-operative Party was formed in 1917 local co-operative political organisation looked to the established Labour Party for support in constituencies where they wanted a co-operative candidate. The first co-operative MP, Alfred Waterson was elected in conjunction with the local Labour Party and when he entered parliament he took the Labour
whip
.
1924 - FIRST LABOUR GOVERNMENT
In the 1924 General Election the Labour party gained sufficient majority to form the first Labour Government. A.V.Alexander was asked to be part of this Government and was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. The Co-operative Party had succeeded not only in achieving representation in Parliament, but also in government in tandem with the Labour Party.
1927 - CHELTENHAM AGREEMENT
The 1927 Cheltenham Agreement was a reflection existing local electoral arrangements between the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party. This agreement was renegotiated on several occasions. Both the Co-operative Party and the Labour Party expanded throughout the twentieth century and consequently the relationship was faced with many organisational challenges. Ultimately although the Co-operative Party enjoyed electoral support from the Labour Party it needed to remain under the control of the co-operative movement and be independent of influence from outside the movement.
1941 - NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LABOUR
At the 1941 Co-operative Congress it was decided that the co-operative movement join the National Council of Labour on the same terms and rights and responsibilities as the other affiliated bodies.
The National Council of Labour had previously consisted of the Trade Union Congress and the Labour Party. It was a body which met to discuss mutual policy interests. The inclusion of the co-operative movement on the council was to unite what many people saw as the ‘three wings’ of the labour movement.
It was reported at the 1942 Co-operative Party Conference that they were “glad that the co-operative movement now actively participates in the consultations and decisions by the National Council”. Co-operative representatives on the Council contributed greatly to discussions on consumerism and retailing.
FOOD RATIONING
Co-operative MPs were
vociferous
in calling on Parliament to introduce rationing. A.V.Alexander, a particularly prominent member of the co-operative group in the House of Commons and an influential figure in the Labour Party, led the debate in the Parliament
on 8 November 1939 calling for an immediate start to rationing.
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“Most effective and constructive contributions in Parliament have been made by members of the Co-operative Parliamentary Group on the problems of food supplies. The unique experience of the Co-operative Movement has been most valuable in providing guidance when dealing with these problems, and many of the suggestions made have received consideration by the MofF, and some have been subsequently adopted.”

Co-operative Party Conference 1942p9.
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to read the document
War Emergency Circular 4
The Co-operative Union published a 'War Emergency Circular' throughout the Second World War which provided advice to societies on constantly changing legislation, especially on issues such as taxation and rationing. The Parliamentary Committee were crucial in assisting with interpreting the massive amounts of technical legislation.
War Emergency Circular 31
When Germany invaded Russia in 1941 the National Council of Labour, which the co-operative movement had recently joined, began co-ordinating a ‘Help for Russia’ campaign encouraging donation from co-operative societies, trade unions and the Labour Party.
Co-operative societies were actively involved in this campaign and contributed a staggering amount in society donations.
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LABOUR
– HELP FOR RUSSIA FUND
POST-WAR ELECTORAL SUCCESS
– 23 CO-OPERATIVE MPS ELECTED
In 1945 the General Election result was a landslide for the Labour Party, and the Co-operative Party returned a high water mark for that time of 23 MPs to Parliament. Co-operative MPs also had high profile roles in the post war Labour Government, famous for its sweeping nationalisation programme and welfare reforms.
A.V.Alexander was Minister of Defence and Alf Barnes was Minister of Transport.

Three of the 23 Co-operative MPs were women – a first for the movement. These were Caroline Ganley, Edith Wills and Mabel Ridleagh.
CO-OPERATIVE PARTY – VOICE OF CONSUMERS
The Co-operative Party was increasingly recognised as the first and only political Party with a definite consumer interest. It built upon the legacy of the Rochdale Pioneers who wanted to provide pure and unadulterated food at a fair price for the consumer.
SOUTH AFRICAN GOODS BOYCOTT
The Sharpeville massacre of 21 March 1960, when 69 unarmed protesters were shot dead by the South African police, triggered a huge upsurge of protest across the world, including Britain. The previous year, a group had come together to argue for boycotts of South African goods. Renamed the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), it identified the co-operative movement as potentially sympathetic to their call for sanctions against South Africa.
The Co-operative Union declined to be involved in the AAM’s campaign stating that
“they [did] not think that it [was] practicable or advisable to pursue a policy of boycott of South African goods”
. The co-operative movement, despite considerable pressure from the membership, maintained that,
“it is unfair to ask the movement to take the lead in this matter when many societies are facing trading difficulties”
. Ultimately securing a consistent supply of produce and maintaining market share was prioritised over the ethical concerns of trading with the South African apartheid regime.
Some co-operative members supported the calls for a boycott and proposed motions at meetings of their local societies. The London, Manchester & Salford and Surrey Societies all joined in the boycott.

Until the mid 1980s, the CWS (now the Co-operative Group) argued that its role was simply to supply a range of goods and let the consumer decide what to buy depending on their own criteria.

In 1985, the CWS became active in the boycott.
A number of co-operative societies refused to stock South African goods from the 1960s, in protest at
apartheid
.

A global movement to boycott South African products to protest against apartheid started in the UK in 1959. Some co-operative societies supported the boycott; others did not - citing commercial pressures.

The Co-operative Party had rejected racism at its 1945 Conference. “This Conference considers the time is ripe for legislation making every form of racial persecution illegal, and that groups of persons proved guilty of uttering or publishing racial attacks should be liable to heavy penalties".

This was 20 years before the 1965 Race Relations Act was passed
– the first legislation in the UK to address racial discrimination.
In the 1983 General Election, only six Co-operative Party MPs were elected. The co-operative movement was in a period of decline and stagnation and had lost its identity. This is reflected in poor election results.
POLITICAL WILDERNESS
In 1981 a faction of the Labour Party split away to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in response to what they alleged was a takeover by the far left and trade unions. Several Co-operative Party MPs joined the new party, which formed an alliance with the Liberal Party. In the General Election of 1983, the SDP-Liberal Alliance gained 25% of the vote, and came close to pushing the Labour Party vote (including the
Co-operative Party) into third place. The result was a landslide for the Conservative Party, and only six
Co-operative Party members kept their seats.
Dick Douglas
Barry Sheerman
Laurie Pavitt
Alf Morris
Ioan Evans
Jim Craigen
In 1992 the Co-operative Bank launched its Ethical Policy and the co-operative movement became the first major retailer to sell Fairtrade Mark Cafedirect coffee.

The co-operative movement began re-discovering its ethical and radical roots and has subsequently been at the forefront of campaigning and practical action to build a better world.

The movement was coming full circle back to the Rochdale Pioneers who in 1844, wanted to side step the mainstream political parties, and build a ‘New Moral World’ through very different means.
One of the main ways the co-operative movement has been at the forefront of ethical business, and in providing practical ways of improving the world has been through the adoption of ethical policies and fair trade.
The Co-operative Bank ethical policy was at the forefront of this development and the food business of the Co-operative Group was an early proponent of Fairtrade. It has expanded the Fairtrade market into the mainstream where it had previously been confined to small niche retail outlets.
The Co-operative Bank developed its policies through an extensive consultation with customers, a process which no other UK bank has undertaken. As a result of the Bank’s policy it has turned away over £1.2 billion of business that customers have said are unethical.
And the Co-operative Group has gone far beyond simply stocking Fairtrade products. It has actively supported members to join campaigns to turn their local communities into fair trade towns, and it has also sought to re-engineer the supply chains.
1999 - Fairtrade Products in all stores - This meant that the Co-op had the largest number of outlets selling FAIRTRADE Mark products.
2002- The first Fairtrade mangoes go on sale in the world in UK co-operative stores. All own-brand chocolate converted to Fairtrade. The Co-op brings the world's first Fairtrade pineapples to the UK.
2000 - FAIRTRADE Mark Bananas – The Co-op was the first retailer to bring FAIRTRADE Mark bananas to the UK.
2001 - The UK's first supermarket fairly traded wine from Chile – supplied by a co-operative.
A turning point in renewing
co-operative enterprise as a viable alternative to capitalism.

In 2000, the UK co-operative movement established a Co-operative Commission, which paved the way for a turnaround in the fortunes in the co-operative sector, and helped to position the co-operative idea as an alternative to mainstream capitalism.
The bid highlighted the movement's weakness. The wider background was one of long-term decline of the sector, in terms of numbers of societies, market share, and profitability.
A new leadership realised that the best long-term defence was to operate successful businesses that celebrated the co-operatives difference, including its ethical and social ethos. As we saw earlier, in the 1960s and 1970s, the CWS had rejected joining the boycott of South African goods.

For many, the co-operative sector appeared old fashioned.
During the 1990s, nine mutually owned building societies demutualised, accounting for two thirds of building societies assets at 1994 values. The idea of demutualisation became fashionable, as there were rich rewards for managers and directors. In 2000,
Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd (CWS) just escaped a hostile attempt to de-mutualise.
The report highlighted the movement's weakness. The wider background was one of long-term decline of the sector, in terms of numbers of societies, market share, and profitability.
The Co-operative Commission was established in an interesting way, through a letter by co-operative leaders to Tony Blair, Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party. Part of the letter read “The Labour Movement in the UK has three wings: the Labour Party, the Trade Unions and the co-operative movement. All are united in their commitment to achieving economic efficiency and social justice. We are writing to you as the Leader of the Labour Party to ask for your assistance in helping in the further development and modernisation of the co-operative movement.”
The Commission met for the first time on 29 February 2000. Its terms of reference were divided into three key questions:

o What is the vision of the co-operative movement as
we enter the new century – in terms of commercial
objectives and social goals?

o How close to delivering the vision are we?

o What structures do we need to close the gap between
the vision and the reality?
Tony Blair asked John Monks, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress to Chair the Commission – and therefore all three wings of the Labour Movement played a part.
While the report dealt with the co-operative movement, and not the Co-operative Party, it clearly recommended that the movement’s political involvement should be through the Co-operative Party (Recommendation 46).
A key theme of the report was the idea of a “virtuous circle” that attainment of social goals provided a competitive advantage leading to commercial success, which then reinforced the ability to meet the social goals.
The Co-operative Wholesale was set up in Manchester in 1863, and is the forerunner of today’s Co-operative Group, the biggest co-operative society in the UK.
The national federal body of
co-operative societies.
POLITICS FOR THE PEOPLE
Co-operators in politics
Committees comprise a cross section of MPs that investigate and report on a variety of subjects, which subsequently could inform proposed legislation.
Trade between countries without taxes or restrictions.
An additional tax imposed on top of existing taxation to boost government revenue in times of financial strain (such as during war).
During the First World War, employees could apply to Military Tribunals to be excused from being called up to fight.
A society based upon co-operative principles, where the means of production, distribution and consumption will be co-operatively owned.
Special election held between general elections to fill a vacancy.
Policy of racial segregation in South Africa which was repealed in 1992.
Specified electoral areas.
Vote in Parliament in accordance with the policy of a particular political party.
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Before you start...
An annual event held by the Co-operative Union which brought together representatives from co-operative societies to make decisions on things affecting the movement.

Aid for Russia from
Grimsby Co-operative
1869-1880 Conservative Co-operatives
Between 1869 and around 1880, a small number of Conservative co-operatives were established. These societies are listed in the editions of the Co-operative Directory, but little is known about them as they do not seem to have taken part in joint activities with other co-operatives.

In 1869, conservative co-operatives were established in Rochdale, Bacup and Ramsbottom;
the following year, Smallbridge started business. These were followed by Lower Darwen and Milnrow in 1874 and Haslingden and Wardle in 1880.
A further society was formed in Westminster.

Co-operatives go to Parliament
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The growth of the co-operative movement had political consequences, as legislation was beginning to impact on co-operative trading. Co-operative societies were given legal recognition in 1852 by the
Industrial and Provident Societies Act
. Co-operators tended to be working men and women and they were still excluded from voting rights let alone representation in Parliament. The composition of Parliament included no-one with
co-operative interests at heart.
A piece of government legislation which provided for the formal legal recognition of co-operative societies.
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Full transcript