New ICA President's Address

This document has been made available in electronic format
     by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA
                     January 1996

            New ICA President's Address

The office of President of the ICA does not pass from hand to hand very
often and I count myself as privileged that the membership of the ICA has
today vested it in me. It has for so long been the natural adornment of my
predecessor that I think it will take both he and I and the staff of the
ICA some time to get used to the change. We must be understanding if Lars
Marcus should sleep-walk into the headquarters in Geneva from time to time!

I am grateful to the British Co-operative Movement, led by George Money,
for its confidence in me and for having supported my nomination for this
office. And also to the Board of my employer, the CWS, and my Chairman, Len
Fyfe, who nominated me in the first place.

I should make it clear to those who believe I shall hereafter be sky-bound
non-stop that I shall be a "Working President". That means I shall continue
in my position here at the CWS. Representatives of the World Movement
should not lose touch with their own organisations. They must be able to
call upon their help and resources in the work of the ICA. Thus in my
travelling, I intend to arrange my itineraries carefully to cover as much
ground as possible and as economically as possible, as I have tried to do
as ICA Vice-President for the European Region.

You may ask, in having conferred the Presidency upon me, what are the
things which I believe in. The British Movement has always stood for the
broadest embrace across the spectrum of Co-operation. I certainly count
myself as an Internationalist and a convinced European. That means I am a
strong supporter of the European Union and its development as a force for
unity and peace on this Continent. One of the best things to have happened
to the Co-operative Movement and to Europe was the election as Leader of
the European Socialist Group of Pauline Green, a Co-operative Member of the
European Parliament, who will address us tomorrow. The British Co-operative
Movement has an attachment to the Co-operative Party of which I am a
member. However, the ICA is staunchly non-political.

Nor does it take up a dogmatic view about the Social Economy. The Alliance
must be broad enough to encompass all political persuasions.

Co-operation is, of course, nothing if it is not about working together
collectively. I  believe fervently in the principle of Co-operation amongst
Co-operatives. As an official, I have struggled with my colleagues with the
difficulties of putting this principle into practice. It is a non-stop
process in which we cannot afford to relax. As a Co-operative Manager in
the CWS for twenty years, I have subscribed to the principle of working
with my colleagues as part of a team. I intend to bring that philosophy to
bear also within the staff of the Alliance.

Membership and membership education have been important elements of my
Co-operative makeup. I do not deny belonging to the school believing in a
lighter and freer rein over membership activity than the more regulated
school of thought. It strikes me that in life, there is a meanness and a
generosity of spirit in equal measure in mortal combat. It won't surprise
anyone to know that I support the latter and regard that as an essential
catalyst for the application of Co-operative principles.

An important element of my makeup must be the fact that I have worked so
long for a great organisation which for over the 130 years of its life has
sailed magnificently through the choppy waters of business in Britain. The
CWS commands a respect and Co-operative support bigger than those who sail
within it and I am proud to have been its Secretary for so long.

So that is a little about what I am and what I stand for.

For those who want to know in which direction I might contribute to the
leadership of the ICA, I say that first this is for the Board in
consultation with the membership. It is for the Board to determine
direction and priorities. We have a planning session marked out for
December of this year. Before then, the Director-General and I, together
with his staff, will be collecting our thoughts. If you were to ask me what
I thought were the priorities of the Alliance, I would echo what Lars
Marcus said yesterday about Africa. I think that the Alliance has to bring
large resources to bear on that Continent. I was happy with what the
President for Africa, Bernard Wolimbwa, had to say about encouraging
participation in the Republic of South Africa and its Co-operative
Movements, and I have already spoken to some of their representatives at
this Congress. I would like to see them as an anchor for Co-operative
activity there.

The Eastern/Western Europe chasm will need more and more attention and, of
course, it is the first priority of the European Region under its new
Vice-President, Lars Hillbom of Sweden, whose election I warmly welcome as
a colleague and friend. The ICA President needs to get closer to the two
energetic regions of the world in Asia and the Americas. There are many
prospects for the further development of Co-operative activity there.

We must return to the issue of financing the Alliance. The subscription
income just about covers its day to day role. There are, I think, some
successful and prosperous Movements yet to make a commensurate contribution
to the Alliance. The Development Trust will be an important initiative for
the ICA.

The re-organisation of the ICA led by Lars Marcus, consummated in 1992, was
clearly right for the time, but I suspect the organisation as a whole will
need re-adjustment. We have to be careful that the central core of the
Alliance remains strong and that the devolution to regions and the creation
of autonomous specialised bodies are not allowed materially to weaken the
work and role of ICA Geneva. I think we must address the relationship
between the ICA and the specialised bodies. The Director General and I will
have an opportunity tomorrow to discuss these issues with the Chairmen of
the specialised bodies.

The Regional Assembly of Europe (and I hope this Assembly) has adopted a
motion calling for more equal treatment of men and women in Co-operatives.
There clearly is an element of lip service to the principle of equal
opportunities. I say "equal opportunities" because I think the word
"gender" signifies so very little in English. We are talking about equal
treatment of men and women in business and every other aspect of life. The
ICA could set an example and a standard for others to follow and I hope,
with the support of Raija Itkonen who has in recent years dedicated herself
to promoting the cause, that we can make something of a breakthrough so as
to ensure improved representation of women in the councils of the ICA as
well as in the domestic Co-operative Movements.

May I now pay some tributes? First of all to Lars Marcus, a distinguished
President for eleven years and a hard act to follow. He will go down as one
of the great "Popes"; there are those elected for a short period and who
fade away without  leaving their mark and there are others who publish
encyclicals and contribute permanently to the life of the Church. I am not
sure that the analogy is entirely apposite, Lars Marcus having no claim to
being a religious man, but as regards the Presidency of the ICA, there is
the sense of the apostolic succession about it. I would pay tribute to
Bruce Thordarson - a deceptively understated personality, with a keen brain
and much charm, for whom I have great regard. Also to all his colleagues on
the staff of the ICA, not least Arsenio Invernizzi, the Regional Council
Secretary, and to the members of the Board of the Alliance amongst whom I
count many good friends.

An incidental concern during this Congress, as some people may recognise,
has been the organisation of this Centennial event. I had the pleasure of
chairing the Committee appointed by the host organisations: a good and
positive Committee which proves that Co-operation amongst Co-operatives is
more than possible. We achieved a great deal together. I accorded the
rather grand title of "Chief of Staff" to the main organiser, Tony
Luscombe. Many delegates will know him as the bustling character who
appears in several places at once like a genie out of a bottle. I will not
single out any other member of the staff from the host organisations who
have exemplified the team spirit to which I referred. Sufficient to say
that in my view, the work of that team has been magnificent. The team's
success is theirs. The failures of organisation are mine.  Amongst them I
would count the omission from the video at the Opening Ceremony of a
reference to Agricultural Co-operatives to which Edgar Parnell, a good
friend and colleague, drew attention. I am afraid that because the CWS
being Britain's biggest farmer was shown in the video, the enormous
contribution of Britain's Co-operative farming community somehow fell
victim to the Editor's cutting machine. That should not have happened. I
pay tribute here and now to the significant contribution which Britain's
Agricultural Co-operative Sector has made to the British economy and to the
Co-operative Movement here. I know this, of course, from direct personal
experience as Secretary of the CWS which has a number of Farmer Co-ops as
members. The Chairman of the United Kingdom Co-operative Council (the
UKCC), Denis Carter, is a distinguished agricultural Co-operator in his own
right. The ICA is strongly supportive of the Agriculture Sector. Indeed,
the ICA must be seen as an emphatically INCLUSIVE organisation. There is no
reason for seeing it otherwise.

Finally, before we return to the rest of the business of this Assembly, I
should refer to the two women in my life: my secretary of twenty years,
Irene Gigner, who has had to put up with so much, not always
uncomplainingly but always efficiently and loyally; to her, grateful
thanks. And then to my wife, Jenny, who as some of you will know speaks
good French and Italian and a little German; she, if anything, is more of a
convinced Internationalist than I am and writes much better poetry than I
do. To her I owe a great deal.

To them and to everyone else, I am very grateful for their generous support
on having been accorded the Presidency of the ICA. Thank you.