The history of Co-operatives in pictures: new graphic novel uncovers radical roots of UK’s Co-operative movement

October 08, 2012

The history and principles of the co-operative movement, which began in Rochdale in 1844, have been turned into a stunning 80 page graphic novel to shine a new light on the origins of the co-operative movement and celebrate the "most successful grassroots campaign the world has ever known."

It is well established that 28 weavers and artisans got together and established a co-operative shop in Toad Lane, Rochdale in 1844 – and this went on to kick-start a global co-operative movement that is now a billion members strong - the novel is published as part of the celebrations to mark the United Nations 2012 International Year of Co-operatives.

What is less well known is the links between the Rochdale Pioneers and the radical politics of the day – their aim was so much more than the provision of unadulterated, affordable food. Friends and family had fallen at the nearby Peterloo massacre and they were determined that the failing campaign of ‘votes for all’ would not be for nought. .

In addition to the new historical context, the Novel tells of the incredible diversity of the 1.4million co-operatives that now operate across the world (from snake catchers in India to the supporter-owned FC Barcelona) It also explains how scientific thinking has evolved in recent years to recognise that co-operation is a major driving force in nature – equalling the power of selfish genes. The Co-operative Revolution - A Graphic Novel: begins with moments that inspired it, including the Peterloo Massacre, Manchester, in 1819, where 15 people were killed and up to 700 injured when when cavalry charged a crowd of up to 80,000 pro-democracy campaigners that had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

The novel ends with a glimpse of a vibrant, sustainable and optimistic future, in which a 'Co-op spring' has transformed society. Set in the year 2044, the bi-centenary of the Rochdale Pioneers, the Novel visits a world poised on the brink of a manned Mars landing, as the staff of Rochdale Aerotech Co-operative wait with baited breath to discover if the enormous supersonic parachute they have manufactured for the mission has withstood the fiery descent to the surface of another world.

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals and Sustainability at The Co-operative, said: “The story of the Rochdale Pioneers is incredibly relevant to the challenges the world faces today. Back in the nineteenth century, the political establishment would not tackle the ills of democracy or poverty, and so the Pioneers and thousands of communities took action themselves. Today, the world over, new revolutionaries are tackling everything from feeding a growing population to generating clean renewable energy.”

Author Paul Fitzgerald said: “As a social justice campaigner, and an active member of the Co-operative movement, bringing this story and its characters to life again was an intense and often moving experience- we hope the end result will resonate deeply with everyone who craves a sense of hope and optimism in these challenging times.” The graphic novel is available in paperback and e-book formats.

The Graphic Novel has been commissioned to mark the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives, 2012 – a year dedicated to highlighting the contribution of co-operatives worldwide to socio-economic development, particularly their impact on poverty reduction, employment generation, community cohesion and social integration.

Additional Information: 

More information about the novel can be found at www.co-operative.coop/graphic-novel   

  • The Co-operative Revolution - A Graphic Novel - paperback £5.99 – ISBN: 978-1-78026-082-2 - 80 pages
  • About the author: Radical political cartoonist and activist, Polyp (Paul Fitzgerald) has been working with campaigning organisations around the world for over fifteen years, and is the author and illustrator of Big Bad World Cartoon Molotovs in the face of corporate rule and illustrator of Speechless: World History Without Words. He lives and works within a large Co-operative housing block in Manchester
  • About The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel: From the opening of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Co-operative in 1844 - and the birth of the movement as we know it today - to the billion global members that are today part of the International Co-operative Alliance, the co-operative movement has, without doubt, been witness to enormous political change and has played a critical role in the lives of millions over the course of more than 150 years.  Now, in a new book, published as part of the celebrations to mark the United Nations 2012 International Year of Co-operatives, the story of the most durable and powerful grassroots movement in the world is told in a unique and compelling way. Combining stimulating narrative with an array of eye-opening facts, figures and case studies drawn from co-operatives around the world, and with fabulous illustrations by renowned artist and political activist, Polyp - real name, Paul Fitzgerald - The Co-operative Revolution is divided into four core chapters. We learn how, from humble beginnings of one small shop in Toad Lane, Rochdale, the co-operative movement has grown into a global force and are shown the diversity of the co-operatives today, from snake catchers in India to cranberry growers in the US. We are able to explore new evolutionary theory that shows how co-operation and not selfishness is the most important driving force and join the author in future gazing to what might be happening in 2044 when the bi-centenary of the Rochdale Pioneers will be celebrated. An informative timeline also shows how historical events, such as the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, motivated and influenced the thinking of the original Pioneers.

Contact Information:

Andrew Torr
The Co-operative Group Press Office
T: 07702 505551
E: andrew.torr@co-operative.coop