Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, founded in 1844, was an early consumer co-operative, and one of the first to pay a patronage dividend, forming the basis for the modern co-operative movement. Although other co-operatives preceded them,[2] the Rochdale Pioneers’ co-operative became the prototype for societies in Great Britain. The Rochdale Pioneers are most famous for designing the Rochdale Principles, a set of principles of co-operation that provide the foundation for the principles on which co-ops around the world operate to this day. The model the Rochdale Pioneers used is a focus of study within       co-operative economics.


The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was a group of 28 that was formed in 1844.[3] Around half were weavers in Rochdale, Lancashire, England. As the mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution was forcing more and more skilled workers into poverty, these tradesmen decided to band together to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford. With lessons from prior failed attempts at co-operation in mind, they designed the now famous Rochdale Principles, and over a period of four months they struggled to pool £1 per person for a total of 28 pounds of capital. On 21 December 1844, they opened their store with a very meagre selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles. Within three months, they expanded their selection to include tea and tobacco, and they were soon known for providing high quality, unadulterated goods. Ten years later, the British co-operative movement had grown to nearly 1,000 co-operatives.

The objects of the Rochdale Pioneers

At the outset, the Pioneers had a clear set of what we now would call objectives – in 1844 they called them ‘Objects’. 

The objects of the Society were stated in “Law the First” of their rules and were: 

  1. The objects and plans of the Society are to form arrangements for the pecuniary benefit, and improvement of the social and domestic condition of its members, by raising a sufficient amount of capital in shares of £1 each, to bring into operation the following plans and arrangements: 
  2. The establishment of a store for the sale of provisions, clothing, etc. 
  3. The building, purchasing or erecting of a number of houses, in which those members desiring to assist each other in improving their domestic and social condition may reside. 
  4. To commence the manufacture of such articles as the Society may determine upon, for the employment of such members as may be without employment or who may be suffering in consequence of repeated reductions in their wages. 
  5. As a further benefit and security to the members of this Society, the Society shall purchase or rent an estate or estates of land, which shall be cultivated by the members who may be out of employment or whose labour may be badly remunerated. 
  6. That as soon as practicable the Society shall proceed to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government, or in other words, to establish a self-supporting home colony of united interests, or assist other societies in establishing such colonies. 
  7. That for the promotion of sobriety, a temperance hotel be opened in one of the Society’s houses as soon as convenient. 

Many aspects of these objects can be seen directly in the modern-day co-operative movement.  

Definition of a Cooperative

A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. 

Common Bond

Members of a co-operative must have a common bond. This is a common situation that motivates and keeps them working together. The common bond can also be described as the glue that keeps members together. This bond could be geographic location or industry.

Cooperative Values

Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

Cooperative Values Definitions

Self-help: Volunteerism 

Self responsibility: Commitment 

Democracy: Respect of individual rights, freedom of expression, one man one vote 

Equality: Treating everyone the same. Equality aims to promote fairness among people who are in the same place with the same needs. 

Equity: Providing members with what they needs to help them succeed 

Solidarity: A united people of common action. Standing together 

Ethical Co-operative Values of Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

The pioneers of co-operatives believed in the following ethical values and ensured they were part of the operation of the business. 

Honesty:  Trust worthy 

Openness: Transparency 

Social responsibility: Delivering benefits to society 

Caring for others: Sharing with others

Cooperative Principles

The cooperative principles are guideline by which cooperatives put their values into practice.

Cooperatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

Cooperatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner. 

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation. 

Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures. 

Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members. 

Factors TO support co-operative philosophy

  1. TeamworkShared responsibility, working together. 
  2. LeadershipInspiration/Motivation provided  by a board of directors and other elected officials.   
  3. Commitment: Obligation, loyalty 
  4. MembershipOwnership through the buying of shares. Co-operatives must be member focus. 
  5. Accountability: Show responsibility through evidence 
  6. Volunteerism: Self help, Service without pay