Cooperative Production

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First Example in the UK ?

Andrew Bibby:

"“The history of the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society deserves the attention of our co-operative historians.”

The article admittedly was not penned by our current editor. It appeared in the publication on July 9th 1881, and the writer was the leading co-operator and propagandist of his day, Edward Owen Greening, later to oversee the successful co-operative festivals held at Crystal Palace.

Greening, who lived in London, had recently visited Hebden Bridge to see the fustian mill at first hand. For him, what was happening at that mill was an exemplary case study of how workers could successfully run manufacturing businesses as co-operatives.

“For a co-operator not to know Hebden Bridge is to argue himself unknown,” he told his Co-operative News readers.

Greening also enthusiastically suggested that a statue should be erected in Hebden Bridge to the co-operative’s founder and leading light, Joseph Greenwood. It never, of course, got put up. Despite that plea in Co-operative News the history of the Hebden Bridge co-operative did not see the light of day either.

Or at least, not for over 130 years. The launch, during the Co-operative Congress weekend later this month, of the book All Our Own Work represents my very belated attempt to offer to readers something of what Greening may have had in mind.

Greening died in 1923, Joseph Greenwood a year later and it is almost a century since the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society last filed its annual return. And yet, I’d want to argue, what happened at Hebden Bridge and the other pioneering early productive co-operatives in the later 19th Century is still very relevant to us.

Indeed, at a time when the British co-operative movement is exploring its future role and relevance, it is valuable to be reminded of those early experiments in co-operative business which did not follow the usual route of the locally based grocery store." (