Limits on Co-op Political Activities?

A reader has raised a question about whether “political” groups can set up co-ops. They were thinking of groups like animal welfare groups, hunt sabs, anti-fascist groups and the like.

My quick answer was “yes” if they meet certain conditions. As long as the hunt sabs, anti-fascists and others:

1. Have a business trade etc as section 2 of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 requires

2. Serve the common needs and aspirations of their defined membership group as the ICA Definition of a Co-op requires, and

3. Respect the other aspects of the ICA definition & principles as interpreted by the FCA as registrar of societies (including the principle of autonomy) in addition to or as part of pursuing their wider “political” purpose there should be no problem with UK registration.

The principle of “political neutrality” was dropped in the 1966 version of the Principles. It had already been downgraded in 1937 – the ICA accommodated/accepted, from 1917-1918, the UK Co-op Party and the co-op movements in the “Socialist” countries like the USSR et al. See my 1996 article and references there. See also Brett Fairbairn’s Paper “Rochdale” for a fuller discussion of the history.

Many early co-ops were about changing society and many current ones still are e.g. Radical Routes and affiliates, other working and housing co-ops and new wave consumer co-ops. Also, some traditional consumer co-ops contribute to the Labour/Co-op Party (for now). All of this indicates that there is no prohibition on politics – and quite right too given the Movement’s origins and history.

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Ian Snaith 2014

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