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Industrial Co-operation:



Table of Events

1824 Combination Acts repealed.
1832 Reform Bill passed.
1848 Slave Emancipation Act.
1833 Factory Act.
1834 New Poor Law.
1835 Municipal Reform Act.
Growth of Chartism.
Growth of agitation for Ten Hours Bill.
Growth of free trade agitation.
1838 Anti-Corn Law League.
1st period of trade union activity.
1st period of co-operation activity
(both in manufacture and distribution).
Series of congresses.
1828 Brighton Co-operative Society.
1830 172 Co-operative Societies. [1]
1833 Over 400 Co-operative Societies. [2]
1832-34 The Crisis.
1832 The Labour Exchange.
1834 The New Moral World.
180-44 Queenwood Community.


Period I., 1824-1843 — Enthusiastic Experiment.

POLITICALLY, this was one of the most active periods of the nineteenth century.  It began with the repeal, in 1824, of the Combination Acts, and the consequent rapid development of trade societies or clubs (unions, as we should now call them).  This was followed in 1832 by the success of the agitation for political reform, which, far more than the efforts of Owen for factory reform, or the work of Francis Place against the combination laws, had occupied the attention of working men.  The reformed Parliament quickly carried through the Abolition of Slavery, the Factory Act of 1833, the amended Poor Law, and Municipal Reforms.

Soon, however, some at least of the workers seem to have realised that something more was needed than the enfranchisement of the middle classes.  The People’s Charter, demanding a further extension of the franchise and other political reforms, embodied this feeling, and filled the minds of many of the working class.  The manufacturing class, moreover, saw that its interests were interfered with by the duties on exports and imports, and by the high price of food resulting from the prohibitive tax on corn.  A vigorous campaign for tariff reform was carried on from 1838 by by the Anti-Corn Law League.  The work for further factory legislation, begun by Robert Owen, was carried forward by Richard Oastler and by the Earl of Shaftesbury.

There was a corresponding degree of activity in the co-operative world, as yet not sharply defined from the trade union world.


About 1828 several trading societies, small distributive stores, apparently somewhat of the type of that set up by the Economist Co-operators of 1821,[3] came into existence, working men seemingly having realised sooner than did Robert Owen, that any improvement in their conditions of life should come from themselves rather than from the richer classes.  They hoped by trading in groceries, provisions, clothing, &c., gradually to provide the capital required for the large schemes from which they still expected great things. In several cases the stage of manufacture was reached.

As their funds increased some of them employed their members, such as shoemakers, tailors, and other domestic trades, paying them journeymen’s wages, and adding the profits to their funds.  Many of them were also enabled by these moans to raise sufficient capital to commence manufactures on a small scale, such as broadcloths, silk, linen, and worsted goods, shoes, hats, cutlery, furniture, &c. [4]

Some account of these societies and of the Labour Exchanges which they necessitated will be given in Chapter VII.

Towards the close of this twenty years, co-operative societies of this type, Union Shops as they are sometimes called, sank into oblivion.  Some failed for want of legal protection against unscrupulous members; others simply from the apathy of members, disappointed perhaps at the slowness of the journey towards a better order of society.  It needed the stroke of practical genius which was to be achieved by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 to remove the latter difficulty, and improvements in the law, which were not made till 1852, to guard against the former.  These early ventures were before their time!


Between 1825 and 1830 several co-operative journals were in circulation. The Co-operative Magazine, The Brighton Co-operator, The Associate, The Co-operative Miscellany, The British Co-operator, The Co-operative Mirror, The Birmingham Co-operative Herald, The Magazine of Useful Knowledge and Co-operative Miscellany, and The United Traders’ Co-operative Journal, are all mentioned by G. J. Holyoake, one frequently disappearing after a few months to emerge later under a new title.

Robert Owen’s two successive magazines, The Crisis (1832-4) and The New Moral World (1834-45), recorded the progress of the Labour Exchanges and of the work designed to expedite the coming of the millennial order, and emphasised the idea of communities which should, more or less, reproduce the essential features of Owen’s successful experiment at New Lanark. [5]


This was a time of Co-operative Congresses.  The first was held in Manchester in 1830, the second in 1831 at Birmingham, at that time an active centre of co-operation.  The third, held at Gray’s Inn Road Institution, London, in 1832, requires special mention as a distinctly epoch-making gathering.   This congress declared that “co-operators as such are not identified with any religious, irreligious, or political tenets whatever;” it issued a circular indicating that “the grand ultimate object of all co-operative societies . . . . is on land,” and that for this a weekly subscription “from a penny to any other amount agreed upon, is indispensably necessary” until sufficient capital be accumulated; it divided the United Kingdom into nine missionary co-operative districts, with a council and secretary for each.  This or some similar organisation seems to have been maintained for years.  Lloyd Jones, himself one of the number, informs us that in 1841 “eighteen missionaries and paid lecturers were constantly at work.”

This series of annual congresses continued and came to be identified with a series of societies for the regeneration of Society, or rather with one protean society — periodically reorganising itself and changing its name (presumably also its aims and methods) from time to time; constantly, however, keeping the teaching of Robert Owen as its centralising force.

There seems to have been in 1833 some movement towards a “General Union of All Trades.”  Early in 1834 was started the “Grand National Consolidated Trades Union,” whose ephemeral success is noticed later.  At the 1835 congress is formed the “Association of All Classes of All Nations” (in connection with which the term “socialism ” was first introduced [6]); and a little later the National Community Friendly Society.”  These two merge in 1839 at another Birmingham Congress, which we are told sat for sixteen days, into “The Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists,”[7] which had already been outlined in 1838.

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1. Report of British Association for Promoting Co-operative Knowledge, February 1830.

2. London Co-operative Magazine, May, 1832.

3.  See Chapter VII. page 54.

4. Life of Lovett, page 41.

5. See Chapter VI., page 51.

6. History of Co-operation, G. J. Holyoake, Vol. I., page 210.

7. Ibid, Vol. I., page 193.