Ordering from ONFC

Our Objectives

Our history

Minutes of Meetings


What is a Co-op?

History of Co-op Movement

Links to related information

[Ebytown logo]

The Ebytown Food Co-Operative The Ebytown Food Co-Operative

A history of the modern co-operative movement

The co-operative movement has a long and fascinating history. There is a common thread that runs throughout this history. It is a desire by everyday people to care for each other, and to work together. They demonstrate a common effort to improve their lives and the life of their communities.

The first formal co-operative which was structured as we known most co-ops today, was incorporated in Rochdale, England in 1844 by a group of weavers. At that time, most workers were living and working under terrible conditions. Almost every facet of a worker's life was controlled by the factory owners. This included where the workers could live, where they could shop and what they could buy. Often, the shops and homes were owned by the employers.

The weavers in Rochdale were tired of paying high prices for poor quality food. They decided to start a store of their own. Individually, the weavers did not have enough money. Inspired by the co-operative teachings of Robert Owen, they decided to pool their money.

All of the people interested in become members and co-owners of a store contributed a small amount of money to a fund. When the fund was big enough, the Rochdale Pioneers (as they came to be called) were able to rent a building, buy supplies, and open up shop on December 21, 1844. The shop sold candles, tea, fuel, and basic food stuffs. The co-op kept track of each member's purchases, and distributed the profits in proportion to how much each member bought. The first consumer co-op was so successful that the members were soon able to rent the upper stores of the building. The extra space was used for a library and educational lectures.

People in Rochdale valued the ability to buy high quality goods at a fair price. The weavers of Rochdale had discovered the value of co-operation as a powerful tool for economic freedom.

Rochdale was a turning point in economic democracy. The lessons of Rochdale were the basis for the growth of the co-operative movement as a worldwide phenomenon. The legacy of Rochdale lives on because these pioneer weavers passed on their organizing principles. Today, there are thousands of co-operatives all over the world. More than 600 million people belong to co-operatives using these six international principles of co-operation.

The Rochdale Principles

The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), an international Organization for co-operatives, adopted the Six International Principles of Co-operation in 1966. These are directly based on the original Rochdale principles, and guide co-operatives throughout the world.

  1. Open and voluntary membership
  2. Democratic control (one member/one vote)
  3. Limited interest on shares
  4. Return of surplus (profit) to members in proportion to the amount of business each member does with the co-op
  5. Co-operative education
  6. Co-operation between co-operatives

-- from the Canadian Co-Operative Association

Further Reading

Last updated: April 4th, 2009, by Kay Biefer