U.N. will declare 2012 to be the International Year of Cooperatives

By David J. Thompson

Oct. 24 is a red-letter day among supporters of cooperatives.

The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society became a legal entity on Oct. 24, 1844. From that day on, modern cooperation became an organizational reality.

The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society was registered under the Friendly Societies Act of 1836. It is believed that the word “cooperative” was left out of its title because of the memory of the failure of the previous Rochdale co-op on Toad Lane during the 1830s.

Co-op Month is celebrated in October in the United States, commemorating the month in which the co-op in Rochdale was incorporated.

Oct. 24, 1945, is the date the United Nations came into formal existence. On that date, the U.N. Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and a majority of other signatories. United Nations Day is celebrated on Oct. 24 each year.

So on the same date 101 years apart, two of the most important organizations in the world began their organizational journeys. With them both being committed to democracy, peace and a better life for people, they will always share the same path and work for similar outcomes.

This year, Oct. 24 is the date on which we need to start designing what we do in 2012 to celebrate our past and come together for our future.

The global cooperative movement and the United Nations will juxtapose beautifully next week. Due to my role internationally with the cooperative movement, my authorship of “Weavers of Dreams: Founding of the Cooperative Movement” and my presidency of Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation, I am one of the few Americans who have been invited by the International Cooperative Alliance and credentialed by the United Nations to attend the General Assembly in New York City on Oct. 31.

That day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will declare 2012 the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives. Due to the popularity of the event among each of the country delegations, there are limited seats for nongovernmental organizations.

While in New York City, I also have been invited to participate in a parallel workshop on housing cooperatives sponsored by cooperative organizations in the New York area.

But back to history:

The United Nations Charter and the Charter for the Economic and Social Council were drafted in the same room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The Garden Room is a small event room to the left as you enter the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel. There is a modest plaque on the wall describing what U.N. actions took place in the room.

Wally Campbell was delegated by the Cooperative League of the USA and the International Cooperative Alliance to be an observer and reporter of the U.N. meetings in San Francisco. He once described to me how he traveled there by train more than three days from Washington, D.C., with hundreds of other reporters and observers from nongovernmental organizations.

Campbell presented the U.N. organizers with the International Cooperative Alliance’s request to be selected as a Category A member of the proposed Economic and Social Council. He spent many hours with the drafters in the Garden Room and laid the foundation for the ICA to become one of the first organizations to be awarded nongovernmental status with the U.N.

My cousin, Joan Constance Lyons, was one of the first employees of the United Nations. She began working for the U.N. on Jan. 1, 1946, at Church House, Dean’s Yard, Westminster, in London. Her first position was secretary to the U.N. Chief of Service and she was assigned responsibilities for conferences and general services. She then went on to staff the following history-making events:

* The first session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which took place Jan. 10, 1946, in Westminster Central Hall in London;

* The first meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 17, 1946, at Church House, Westminster in London; and

* The first meeting of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations on Jan. 23, 1946, also at Church House.

ICA was among the first of three organizations approved for the highest nongovernmental position with the U.N: the International Cooperative Alliance, the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Federation of Trade Unions.

Later meetings of the Economic and Social Council were then held in Lake Success on New York’s Long Island. My cousin worked for many of the U.N. conferences and in 1946 worked both in London and at Lake Success. From late 1946 on, she was stationed at Lake Success until the United Nations buildings were completed in 1952 when all the staff moved to Manhattan.

On behalf of the United Nations Secretariat, Joan Lyons worked in trouble spots such as China in 1947-48 (at the height of their civil war) and in Lebanon in 1958 (during the crisis and the U.S. intervention) as well as in other countries. Her work for the Special Operations Executive with the French Resistance Movement during World War II prepared her for work under dangerous conditions.

She rose to become one of the secretaries to U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and accompanied him to Lebanon and stayed there until the U.N. staff left in December 1958. She shared with me many stories especially of the long hours working for Hammarskjöld during his stewardship of the Congo crisis until his untimely death in 1961.

In 1968, she transferred from the U.N. Secretariat to the United National Development Program. She retired from the U.N. in the 1980s and died in 2000.

In 1995, during the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, and in honor of the 100th anniversary of the International Cooperative Alliance, I was invited to New York City to work at the United Nations. During that time, I wrote papers on cooperatives and credit unions in Africa. My paper on credit unions in Africa was published by the United Nations Africa Renewal Magazine. I was also invited to attend Hillary Rodham Clinton’s talk to the U.N. on the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A history of cooperation

* On Oct. 17-18, 1917, more than 900 delegates representing 500 cooperatives met in an emergency conference to create the Co-operative Party. In 1977, my wife Ann Evans and I attended the Diamond Anniversary Rally of the Co-operative Party. At the meeting, we were introduced to the British Prime Minister James Callaghan.

* On Aug. 8-9 this year, I made a pilgrimage to the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Our family stayed on the same floor the U.S. delegation had occupied in 1945. The leader of the U.S. delegation lived in the penthouse of the Fairmont and hosted frequent meetings there of the Big 5: China, France, United Kingdom, United States and the Soviet Union.

* In 1946, the office of the International Cooperative Alliance was at 14 Great Smith in Westminster, just across the street from the Church of England headquarters, where the United Nations meetings were held. G.F. Polley, the acting general secretary of the ICA, was able to walk across the street in support of the ICA’s request for inclusion.

* The United Nations has online a few filmed excerpts from that first ECOSOC meeting. There are a few women participating in the staffing of the meeting. My cousin likely is one of them.

* Wally Campbell served cooperatives all his adult life. While continuing to serve on the board of the Cooperative League of the USA, he worked in various cooperative sectors. His most important efforts were in the creation of CARE, now the world’s largest development organization.

CARE originally stood for Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, and sent food from co-ops in the U.S. to cooperators in Europe. Campbell left the U.N. meeting in San Francisco to return to New York to kick-start CARE, which also was founded in 1945.

— David J. Thompson is a longtime Davis resident. Reach him at [email protected]

Special to The Enterprise

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