As Tom Woodin points out in his Introduction to the book, Co–operation, Learning and Co–operative Values, the Rochdale Pioneers of the nineteenth century Co-operative movement aspired to ‘re-arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government’. The original seven ‘Rochdale Principles’, internationally endorsed in 1937, included the ‘Promotion of Education’ alongside other principles such as ‘Democratic Control’, ‘Political and Religious Neutrality’ and ‘Open Membership’. Those original Principles were revised in 1966, and included the ‘Education of members and public in co-operative principles’. In 1995, following international consultation within the co-operative movement, the current Principles were revised, and Principle Five was restated as ‘Education, training and information’. I have begun this brief review by emphasising the historical centrality of education to the co-operative movement, which today has over one billion members, because it is important to recognise how the principle of education has been formally retained over the course of one and a half centuries to both support and promote the whole body of values and principles of co-operatives and their members.
Today, in most countries, a ‘co-operative’ is likely to be recognised as a legal entity and have to demonstrate that it is constituted according to the values and principles of the 1995 ‘Co-operative Identity’ statement (ICA 2016. That is to say, a ‘co-operative’, being ‘co-operative’ and extending ‘co-operation’ to others has a carefully defined meaning that should not simply be mistaken for a type of ‘collaboration’ or even ‘co-operation’ in the sense that Marx understood it as constituting ‘the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production’. (Marx 1976). In effect, the co-operative movement has developed and retains a highly sophisticated understanding of co-operation as a set of practical and ethical values that are put into practice through seven principles that still aim to ‘re-arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government’.
Tom Woodin, an expert on the history of co-operative education, has produced an excellent edited collection of contributed chapters that span the theory, history, practice and policy implications of co-operative education. Over 13 chapters, the authors cover a great deal of ground and for readers who are looking for a broad, informed and critical introduction to co-operative education, there is currently no better place to start.