It was something you had to remember when your mother sent you on an errand to the local co-op shop. When you had made your purchases, the counter assistant wrote your number on a slip of paper, or cheque, which you tucked safely in a pocket to carry home. And woe betide you if you lost it!
The cheque proved mother's entitlement to her dividend, "the divi" in workers' slang, a three-monthly pay-out from the co-op based on how much you had spent. For many poor families, the divi meant the earth - the difference between a bearable life and hardship, between having shoes on your feet or going barefoot. Modern businesses believe they invented workers' profit-sharing schemes, but the co-op started doing it more than a century and a half ago.
Just what is, or was, the co-op shop? You could call it the last remnant of a typically British dream, one that was designed to overthrow capitalism and change history. Other countries achieved this by bloody revolution. We tried to do it by selling cheaper flour and butter. No wonder Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers!
The principles of co-operation are essentially simple. Alone, it is all a working man can do to survive in a world of capitalism and big business. But unite in your hundreds and thousands, and you suddenly have a very loud voice.
Unhappy about being exploited by shopkeepers or employers' truck shops? Why not open your own shop, sell goods to yourself, and pocket the profits? Why not go further, and manufacture the goods you are selling?
Or better still, why not build your own co-operative communities, where you can live and work on your own terms, for the common good, with the profits from your labours being ploughed back into the community, to provide schools, libraries and leisure facilities, instead of going into the pockets of grasping, capitalist employers?