ICA Centennial

by Graham Melmoth, CWS Secretary

On 20 September, 1995, in the Manchester Arena dominating the rather
delicate facade of the City's Victoria Railway Station, the XXXI Congress
of the International Co-operative Alliance will be opened to the fanfares
of the trumpets of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and to the voices of the
Cheetham's School Choir.  Apart from a royal presence and representation by
HM Government and Opposition, city dignitaries and British co-operators,
hundreds of overseas visitors and ICA delegates from all corners of the
globe will gather in Manchester in the magnificent new stadium.  It will be
a colourful, special occasion, exciting the attention of the world, of
which Manchester was in the late 19th Century the industrial capital.

It was on 19 August a hundred years ago that the Right Honourable Earl Grey
(Albert Grey) formally opened the first Congress of the ICA in London.  EO
Greening, one of the great builders of Britain's Co-operative Movement, and
a doughty advocate of International Co-operation, gave the keynote address
and with characteristic Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, argued the case for a step
by step approach in constructing the new Alliance.

"Let the conditions of membership be few and simple, the necessary payments
light enough, the organisation elastic in character.  Details had better be
left to a small committee chosen from representatives present who are
interested in our project, and this committee should present a report
before the close of Congress; but we should agree upon the general
characteristics of our Alliance before we separate.  Each country should
pledge itself to establish a centre in which information should be
available to all on what is done by Co-operators in other countries.  These
centres should circulate widely the literature of International
Co-operation, being careful to work as far as possible through existing

"Let us be content to grow slowly but steadily into the larger developments
worthy of our mighty movement".

Lars Marcus, ICA President, in "Looking Ahead to the Next Century" (an
article in the World of Co-operative Enterprise 1994 by the Plunkett
Foundation) points out that a hundred years later, the ICA is a quite
different organisation, comprising more than two hundred co-operative
organisations in over a hundred countries, plus nine international
organisations and collectively representing more than 700 million
individual members.

"Unlike almost all other international non-governmental organisations, it
has survived two World Wars, plus the Cold War.  Its membership is highly
diversified in terms of both sectors of activity and levels of

"The world of today is also very different.  Modern communications have
made it, in effect, smaller; nations have become more inter-dependent; the
gap between rich and poor (nations as well as citizens) is again widening,
and huge multi-national enterprises and markets are being formed.  The
command economy model has failed and there is little opposition to
capitalism as the dominant model for economic growth."

This turning of the circle between 1895 and 1995 brings the Co-operative
system back into sharp relief as a model for economic solutions which can
flourish between rampant capitalism and state corporatism.  The
opportunities for Co-operatives are probably greater today than at any time
in the hundred years of International Co-operation.

The twin themes of the Manchester Centennial Congress are to be
"Sustainable Human Development" and "Co-operative Principles".  The latest
cycles of each debate (since they are themes which have recurred, albeit
under different labels, throughout ICA history) were set in motion at the
XXIX Congress in Stockholm in July, 1988.  Lars Marcus in his home city had
been President for four years, picking up the mantle at an uncomfortable
time in the life of the Alliance; he gave Congress a tour de force on
Co-operative Principles.  The results of the review will be presented in
Manchester by Professor Ian MacPherson, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and
Sciences at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

Bruce Thordarson's life as Director General of the ICA began in Stockholm
in 1988, although for a year or two prior to that, he had been ICA Head of
Development and Associate Director.  In Stockholm, he gave a detailed
analysis of the ICA's contribution to development, pointing out that 60 per
cent of the total ICA membership derives from the developing world in the
South; 53 per cent of the total of Co-operatives in the South were active
in the agricultural sector and 29 per cent in Credit and Savings
Co-operatives.  By contrast, the dominant strain in the North - the
consumer sector - accounted for limited penetration (eight per cent) in the
developed countries.

The international development community - not least the International
Labour Organisation (the oldest member of the UN family) - has done much to
promote co-operative development.  The ICA has, however, come to terms with
the fact that co-operatives are not always the best or most appropriate
development tool.  Whereas co-operatives may not always be well suited to
dealing with the needs of the most disadvantaged of the population, they
have proved their ability to help the poor to band together into successful
self-help ventures.

The regionalisation and decentralisation of the ICA, which came about as
the result of the adoption of  Rules at the Tokyo Congress in 1992, are
also a recognition of the need for the ICA to tackle development issues at
the grass roots level.  ICA Europe, not having on its doorstep some of the
more testing economic problems of Africa, Asia and South America, has taken
as a priority the need to address a development assistance strategy in
Africa.  Bjorn Genberg, the co-ordinator of this ICA Europe project, has
drawn attention to the structural adjustment programmes afoot in  more than
30 countries in Africa.  He has pointed out that many co-operative
organisations bear characteristics limiting their ability to meet
challenges arising from a rapidly changing environment. Low business
efficiency and limited credit worthiness constrain the ability of many
co-operatives to compete with private traders.  ICA Europe was certainly
arguing for a less starry eyed view of co-operative progress and a more
analytical (even ruthless) approach to the problems on the ground when a
presentation was made to the Region's First Assembly in Prague in October,

This hard nosed sense of realism, born of harsh experience, will
undoubtedly also be a feature of the Congress debate in September, 1995.
The Rio Conference on sustainable development considered the economic,
social and environmental elements of the subject.  The Tokyo Congress in
1992 recommended that "member organisations, as well as regional
structures, of the ICA should formulate their own action programmes toward
the compilation of the Co-operative Agenda 21 to be presented at the ICA
General Assembly in Manchester in 1995".

Thus, the two strong themes embraced enthusiastically in 1988 and brought
to a climax seven years later will be central to the Agenda for the
Centennial Congress.

So much then for the main menu; what about the side dishes?  First, Lars
Marcus will step down at the end of Congress; a new President will be
elected to take the ICA into a new era, Lars Marcus having laid down his
burden after an 11 year stint.  Amongst the candidates to succeed him, the
Assembly may look amongst the Vice Presidents (Horuichi of Japan, Rodrigues
of Brazil, Wolimba of Uganda and Melmoth of the UK) or otherwise look to
such members of the Board as Hasle Nielsen (Agriculture, Denmark), Etienne
Pflimlin (Banking, France), Jens Heiser (Housing, Germany), Yang Deshou
(Multi Purpose, China), B.S. Vishwanathan (Banking, India).  In any event,
if the President retires, his successor will be drawn from a member of the
Board and thus a Board vacancy will also need to be filled by the ICA
membership at large during the General Assembly which under the new Rule
book must follow Congress.

After the Opening Ceremony of Congress which takes place on the morning of
20 September, 1995, for the remainder of the week the business will move to
New Century Hall in the CWS Headquarters Complex.  These have been largely
refurbished to accommodate our overseas guests.  Minibuses will be on hand
to ferry our visitors up to Toad Lane, Rochdale and between Manchester
hotels and the Co-op complex.  Side meetings will be taking place in the
CIS, Co-operative Bank and Co-operative Union buildings,  a marquee of
giant proportions will be staked out on the forecourt of New Century House
to provide space for exhibitions and for the registration and reception of
delegates.  The International Co-operative and Mutual Insurance Federation
(ICMIC) will also be holding a major conference in New Century Hall prior
to Congress and the CIS will be playing a major role as chief host.
President Marcus is due to open the new CRS Headquarters Building in
Rochdale on Friday, 15 September, 1995.

The Lord Mayor of Manchester will preside over a civic reception in Alfred
Waterhouse's Gothic Town Hall during the evening of 19 September.
Manchester's famous Royal Exchange Theatre (an auditorium built into a
spaceship, as it has been described) has been reserved for delegates on 20
September for a classical production.  The Centennial Dinner at the
Piccadilly Hotel will take place on 21 September, 1995.  The farewell
concert given by the Halle Orchestra under their new charismatic
Japanese-American Conductor, Kent Nagano, is to be held on Friday, 22

A whole range of study tours and visits to Co-operative premises in the
vicinity will round off an action-packed Congress.  The occasion will
emphatically usher in the second century of the International Co-operative
Alliance and we in Britain have good reason to look forward with pride to
the launch in Manchester of the ICA's new century.