50 years of the Union Cooperative Society
1969 - 2019
In late December 1968, after operating informally for some time from an “older-style shopping establishment with no display windows”, on Lutwyche Road, Windsor, a group of unionists held a meeting to establish a trading cooperative. The Union Cooperative Society - the UCS – was registered on 22 January 1969 and ‘officially’ began trading. The Co-op purchased 2 Latrobe Terrace, Paddington, which was then the site of Brisbane’s first Cash and Carry supermarket. This landmark site has been at the centre of the Co-op’s history for its entire 50 years.
The Co-op’s founders started with a democratic vision to take responsibility for bettering their own economic circumstances and their communities, and not look to ‘the church or the State’ for assistance. They established a business to supply goods and services to union members and the broader community at fair prices.
The members saw their organisation as having a place in the larger struggles of the working people of the political left and provided a community focus for this. They believed unions should fight for wages and conditions, and decency in the workplace; that cooperatives should secure the value of their earnings through fair prices; and the Labor Party should build a just and civil society through political action and public policy.
Throughout the 1970s the Co-op expanded from the original store in Paddington to Ipswich, Redcliffe, Maryborough, Gladstone and Moura, and was supplying household goods, groceries, fuel, and running a credit union. And in 1986, the town of Moranbah was added. At its peak, the Co-op had over 6,000 members across seven locations in Queensland.
In later times the Co-op built up a stock of social housing units and other property in Latrobe and Given Terraces, and Mort St. It also provided space for entertainment and gatherings, as well as political discussion on the pressing issues of the times, by opening Workers Clubs in Paddington and Moranbah.
The Co-op continues to operate from its headquarters in Given Terrace, operating a mutual investment fund, retail and rental housing properties - and the Brisbane Workers Community Centre on the site of the old grocery store and Paddington Workers Club.
The Co-op has a 50-year legacy of furthering the democratic and economic interests of its members and the social change agenda of the labour movement, while keeping true to its cooperative values. These values endure, with plans for development of the historic Paddington site with a new environmentally-built cooperative precinct. The Co-op now stands on the threshold of a new era with a renewed vision of equality, community and sustainability.