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IAN MAC PHERSON TheCo-operative Union of CanadaandPolitics, 1909-31 THECO-OPERATIVE UNION OFCANADA wasorganized in Hamiltonin 1909by sixleaders of consumer co-operatives in OntarioandNovaScotia. Its main purpose, fromthento thepresent, hasbeento unitethemanyco-operative enthusiasts scattered across Canadainto a coherent movement capableof enlisting thesupport ofa growing number ofCanadians. In articulating that purpose, theunion's most important earlyspokesman fromI9O 9 untilhis retirement in I945 wasGeorgeKeen,an Englishimmigrantwho wasits perennial general secretary. Itstwootherprominent spokesmen andleaders in thesame years wereSamuelCarter,another expatriate Englishman who waspresident until I92I , andW.C. Good,a BrantCountyfarmerwhowas president from 192• to •945. Likemostof thepeople actively involved in the cuc overtheyears, the threeprincipals leaders believed that co-operation, or co-opcratism, was a complete ideology capable ofreforming allofsociety. On a material level, theunionleaders believed, co-opcratism's mainprinciples - consumer controloverproduction , approximately equallivingstandards forall,restricted incomes forcapital, andservices at cost - could greatly improve theways in whichmanproduced andconsumed goods. On a higher, to themmoreimportant level, theleaders believed thatthesame principles would ultimately produce achanged outlook among allofmankind: nolonger, insome distant co-operative commonwealth, would selfish individualism bethemotivation The authorisindebtedto Professor D.G.G. Kerr of the Universityof WesternOntario forhisassistance inpreparing thisarticle andthethesis fromwhich it ispartlyderived andtoProfessors R.J.YoungandR. Painchaud of theUniversity of Winnipeg fortheir helpfulsuggestions. Vol. L•VNo 2 June •973 THE CO-OPERATIVE UNION OF CANADA 1909-31 153 formost human activity; nolonger would technology bemanipulated by thefewattheexpense ofthemany. Indeed, asGeorge Keen wrote: TheCo-operative Commonwealth isintended torelieve mankind ofthenecessity ofregarding the procuring ofthemeans ofsustaining lifeastheprincipal object ofit.If wecould co-operatively organise themeans ofproduction, and equitably distribute theproduce oftheworldfortheuseandcomfort ofallinstead offor theprofitofindividuals, it wouldbepossible for thehumanracetoreach highermoraland intellectualattitudesand to attain muchbetterhealthand greater physical efficiency, than has hitherto been possible ...Therealobject of theCo-operative Movement istouse tothebest advantage thematerial resources oftheworld toproduce better men morally, mentally andphysically. • In broadcasting itsmessage theunion reallyappealed totwoaudiences: thepeople already involved in co-operative activities andthose whoknew littleornothing aboutthemovement. Because ofaseries ofdisastrous failures in theearlyyears andbecause theleaders wereconservative businessmen, theunion consistently advised thealready enlisted tostudy programmes carefully ,toexpand slowly, andtobeverycautious about change. Asa result some dynamic businessmen, suchasT.B. Loblaw,left themovement, and some organizations thatwereat least partlyco-operative, such astheUnited GrainGrowers, tended to ignore whatthe½u½ wasdoing.The resultwas thattheunion,ona practical level,madeprogress veryslowly andat the cost ofconsiderable sacrifice to itsleaders, especially George Keen.Noneof thehardships involved, however - including two periods whenKeenwas owedmorethana year's backsalary - alteredtheunion's advocacy of conservafive business methods andgradualist techniques. The attemptto recruitoutsiders to the movement wassomewhat less consistent . Someaspects of the union'swork - publicationof The Canadian Co-operator, speeches bytheexecutives, tours byGeorge Keen,andadvising civilservants on lawsfor co-operatives - did notvaryoverthe years;but involvement in politicalaffairsmostcertainlydid. The union executives always opposed directinvolvement by co-operatives in politicalaction,but theyfoundit difficult asprivate citizens toremainaloof. Asidefrompersonal ambition,the leaders became involvedparflybecause theybelieved that political prominence wouldpermiteffective lobbying on co-operatism's beo half, andpartlybecause theywereinfluenced by the emergence in Great BritainoftheBritish Co-operative Party,a separate organization thatworked closely withtheLabourParty.Thus,downto themid-twenties, theunion's The CanadianCo-operator, Sept.•916,p. •o. Henceforth, thisperiodical will be cited as co. 154 THE CANADIAN HISTORICAL REVIEW executives, whileneverimplicating theco-operative organizations theyled, did become involved in various politicalactivities, especially thoseundertakenbylabourers andfarmers. Thisinvolvement did notproduce happyresults, and,by x9•5,theunion leaders had grownto dismast politicalactivities deeplyand almostcompletely . Reforming society wasfar toocomplicated a taskto beresolved by thepoliticians; onlydedicated efforts onbehalfofco-operatives, widespread educational activities, andvigorous criticism of society's greaterevilscould ultimately change Canada forthebetter. After•925thisapolitical approach wasfurtherjustified bya complicated andmostdisappointing struggle with communists in the co-operative societies of NorthernOntario. Indeed,so agonizing andcostly wasthisstruggle thattheunionexecutives turnedtheir backs onpolitics asa reformmethod andconcentrated mostly uponmaking present members of co-operatives trulyawareof themovement's totalpossibiffties . Just asimportantly, inappealing tounaffiliated Canadians, theunion leaders, asofficials and asprivatecitizens, madeno attemptto utilizethe reforming zealdirectly associated withtheprotest movements of thethirties andforties. Theresult wasthattheunionoperated initsownsphere, a sphere thatseemed tomanyobservers asbeingoutside ofthemainstream of Canadian life. Duringthe union'searlieryearsSamuelCarterand George Keenwere bothdeeply involved in localpolitics, generally supporting theprogrammes oftheprovincial andfederal Liberals? Carter, theowner ofGuelph's Royal KnittingMills, became seriously interested in politicalquestions a decade before the unionwasformed.His approach to politics originally wasthat oftheconcerned patriciananxious to promote causes hebelieved to bebeneficialto labourers andfarmers. At theturnof thecentury hewasmostinterested in promoting prohibition andthemunicipal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 152-174
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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