A guest post by Dr Gregory Roberts (pictured)
The Cooperative Movement has had a long and enduring tradition in many countries from which the Black, Asian and Ethnic minority communities are drawn. In the days of the colonial times, the formal arrangements of the movement, whether credit unions or marketing/purchasing groups, met with the informal but entrenched and largely successful group approaches to tackling problems. It is rather unfortunate that the Coop movement is barely visible and nowhere near as active in the BAME communities of the UK as in the mainstream White communities.
This year has brought to the fore the many intractable problems of inequities and inequalities that affect BAME communities in the UK society. While some are not restricted to BAME communities, their stark display within these communities cannot be ignored. Government at the various levels, business firms and third sectors organisations have scrambled to address these issues. I, for one, believe the maxim, that where there is a problem, there is a cooperative solution waiting to be realised and utilized. Coops have proven effective in arresting decay while bringing sustainable development and progress to communities up and down the country. By addressing issues in food security and justice to employment, housing, health and education, among others, it has been shown that individualism and direct state action are not the only active options for solutions to local and national problems.
It must also be appreciated that cooperative action and mindset are already present within BAME communities. Cooperation between neighbours, religious groups, within extended families and by individuals coming together to effect strategies and changes has been the story of migrants in the UK and the world over. In the 1940s, many graduates of Rochdale College went to countries like Jamaica to train young men and women in the tenets of the Cooperative Movement. It was this generation that responded to the UK’s call for help to rebuild the urban areas left devastated by the War. It was also this generation that started the credit union movement and were in the vanguard of the trade union movement and housing associations. It is also this generation, within the BAME communities, that has been most affected by COVID-19.
Given the history and realities of BAME communities, the seed of cooperativism are very much present and proven. It is time that the wider movement grab the opportunity to engender, support and grow cooperatives within BAME communities, up and down the country. Many first and second generation BAME people would love to farm more than inner-city allotments. Many would like to see coop shops selling food that they eat and being made to feel that they are welcome on arrival.
If cooperation is good for the UK, then it must be good for BAME communities. There is the need and opportunity for the cooperative movement to engage on a totally different level and a definitely higher plane than it has done to date.
by Dr Gregory Roberts