The Industrial Revolution in Europe of the 19th century saw the replacement of hand weavers by looming machines in textile factories. The weavers became increasingly poor and were prone to manipulation by unscrupulous merchants. In response to the situation, a group of 28 trades people and weavers formed the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in 1844, which marked the beginning of the cooperative movement. They created the society to provide a means for the members to sell food and other items that they could not afford. The movement focused on improving the domestic and social conditions of its members. They opened a store in December 1844 along the Toad Lane Street. The store was known for having quality goods at affordable prices and soon attracted members outside Rochdale. The store was later renovated in the 20th century and currently stands as the Rochdale Pioneers Museum.
The Rochdale Principles, drafted in 1844, provided the operational guidelines for the Rochdale Society, which has become the focus of study in co-operative economics. The principles were legitimately adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) in 1937 as the Rochdale Principles of Co-operation. The principles included open and voluntary membership to all people regardless of their economic background, the right for each member to vote on the one man one vote principle, and social responsibility for the community whereby members were to work towards the improvement of the society. Democratic control of the cooperative by all members allowed for autonomous control of the cooperative by all members and not just a reserve of a few privileged members.
Modern cooperative movements, notably the International Cooperative Alliance, have adopted the Rochdale Principles several times. The ICA adopted the Rochdale Principles in 1937 and developed their updated version in 1966. In 1995, the principles were adopted as the cooperative principles. The principles dictate whether a cooperative is fitting to be a member of the ICA or not. The first principle allows voluntary and open membership to all individuals free from discrimination. The second principle is the democratic control of the cooperatives which includes equal voting rights for both men and women. The third principle is maintaining economic cooperation through equitable contribution and sharing of economic responsibilities and benefits. The fourth principle is cooperative autonomy and independence - the societies exist as autonomous organizations owned by their members. The fifth principle ensures education, training, and provision of information is in place for members to increase their productivity. The sixth principle is the cooperation among regional, national, and international cooperatives. The seventh principle is the concern for the community within the cooperative.
Role of the Principles
The Rochdale Principles have played a significant role in the understanding and development of modern co-operatives. The principles distinguished the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers from the existing cooperatives by establishing a society not defined by social classes, income levels, race or other societal, political, religious, and economic divisions. The establishment of the society and the principles differed from the existing role of cooperatives as a means towards financial gain for the leading members. The society’s principles act as the guiding principles for the operation of modern cooperatives with slight improvements and adjustments made to the principles concerning changing social and economic conditions. Currently, the Rochdale Principles are an important part of cooperative economics.