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How Rochdale Pioneers changed commerce forever
13 of the original Rochdale Pioneers
The Rochdale Principles were written by the original Rochdale Pioneers in 1844

The Rochdale Pioneers Museum has been awarded £1.5m to redevelop itself and show off the importance of the co-operative movement that started there.

As important as the building is, it was the guiding rules laid out within it that truly impacted on the wider world.

Known as the Rochdale Principles, the seven rules still have a radical ring to them, 166 years after they were first written down.

They included guidance on equality, political neutrality and trading.

The Rochdale Principles were born out of the meetings of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, a consumer organisation that was one of the world's first co-operatives.

The idea of a co-operative is that the business is owned by its customers and everyone works together for a common goal, that of good service over the pursuit of profit.

THE ROCHDALE PRINCIPLES
Open Membership
Democratic Control
Dividend on Purchase
Limited Interest on Capital
Political and Religious Neutrality
Cash Trading
Promotion of Education
The principles were set down in 1844 and updated by the International Co-operative Alliance in 1966

The Rochdale Society was no different. The small number of textile mill workers who formed it did so with the hope of serving the community around them with goods they couldn't usually afford.

The Industrial Revolution was expanding technology at a mind-boggling rate and, as a result, more and more skilled workers were falling into poverty, their jobs taken by machines.

In 1844, they decided to make a stand against the capitalist ideologies of the Industrial Revolution and set about writing down a list of rules by which they would run their new society.

The principles were based on both the Society's members' ideals and the experiences of similar organisations, which had failed to achieve their co-operative aim.

They were simple ideas, but they had a radical ring to them, in keeping with the general atmosphere of radicalism that was bounding round England's North West at the time.

The Rochdale Principles

The first two principles were those of Open Membership and Democratic Control, meaning that the co-operative was open to everyone and everyone had a vote in it.

The Rochdale Pioneers Museum

Given that it would be another 74 years until women achieved suffrage and that, at the time, only around 1 in 7 men in the UK had the right to vote, such equality was practically unheard of.

These two principles are backed up with a later list entry, Political And Religious Neutrality, which ensured that the society and the co-operative was open to all the local workers.

The next two principles, Dividend On Purchase and Limited Interest On Capital, deal with the monies earned by the co-operative.

They ensured that any money taken by the co-operative was mostly either ploughed back into the society or held in reserve to help at a later date, instead of the norm of the time, which was to divide profits amongst shareholders.

Another later list entry, Cash Trading, added to this with the underlining of nothing being allowed to be sold 'on tic'.

This ensured that debts and bills couldn't be run up against the limited funds of the co-operative and, as such, put it at risk financially.

The final principle was possibly the most important for the wider world, as it promised a commitment to the communities the co-operative served in the form of Promotion Of Education.

Opening the shop

With these rules decided upon, the Rochdale Pioneers set about creating their co-operative store in an old warehouse on Toad Lane.

It opened on four days before Christmas Day in 1844 with the most meagre of offerings.

ROCHDALE PIONEERS
The Toad Lane store in the 1920s
The Rochdale Pioneers store opened on 21 December 1844 with the following stock:
Butter, 1 qr 22lbs
Sugar, 2 qrs
Flour, three sacks at 37s 6d and three at 36s
Candles, 2 doz
Oatmeal, one sack
The total cost of the goods was:
£16 11s 11d

In stock were a few pounds of butter and sugar, six sacks of flour, one of oatmeal and 24 candles.

Within a few months, they were able to add the luxuries of tea and tobacco to their shelves and, despite the small amount of goods, the shop was a success.

By 1854, the British co-operative movement had taken up the Rochdale Principles and over 1000 such stores were open.

Another decade on, the North of England Co-operative Society, the group that would become the modern Co-op, was born out of the local successes.

The Rochdale Principles had changed the world forever, bringing a social conscience to business which echoes loud into the modern world, as all over the globe, co-operatives use the rules set down by those original Pioneers as a basis for their own trading.




SEE ALSO
Co-op museum gets 1.5m funding
20 Jul 10 |  Manchester


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