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Industrial Co-operation:





Co-operation Production General Survey.

AS will have been gathered from frequent references in previous chapters to Co-operative Production, this phase of the Movement presents a peculiarly interesting and somewhat complicated division of our subject.

To the general mind the application of co-operative methods to manufacturing processes gains special interest from the fact that it appears to leave room for the individual worker to claim consideration by reason of his productive capacity.  Within the co-operative ranks also this attitude of mind is not rare, and finds its chief satisfaction in those methods of production which give prominence to the worker rather than to the consumer.

Thus we see in established agencies for co-operative production a notable variety in types of organisations practically unknown in agencies for distribution.  Before describing in detail the type of society — that of Co-partnership Association — now holding chief place amongst organisations expressly formed for co-operative production, it may be well to bring into review all the varied types of societies engaged in manufacture, and to summarise their work.  The student will then be able to see more clearly the extent to which production has grown, and the proportion attributable to each group or type of organisation.  He will also be better able to trace the main trend of co-operative opinion regarding the best form in which to carry on manufacture — an opinion that has grown out of many years of conflict and discussion among co-operators.

The variety of methods by which production is carried on is still so considerable that it is somewhat difficult, in some cases, to say definitely to what group a particular society should be assigned.  It has therefore seemed wisest to adopt, as far as possible, the impartial grouping and classification used by the Labour Department of the Board of Trade, from whose official records most of the statistics used in this book are drawn.  The group of co-partnership societies described in Chapter XVII., which have been detached and dealt with at length as being of special interest, are included in and form part of the comprehensive survey covered by the Report on Workmen’s Co-operative Societies published by the Labour Department in 1901. [1]  The figures quoted, however, are those for 1902, brought up to date in the Labour Gazette for January and April, 1904.


Co-operative Production in the United Kingdom, which in 1902 amounted in value to 14,422,744, is carried on by societies of various types, which may be grouped roughly into the following four classes :—

(1) Retail Distributive Societies;

(2) The two Wholesale Societies, English and Scottish; [2]

(3) Horn Mill Societies;

(4) Other Societies formed specially for Production.

The societies in the first three classes, which produce about 81 per cent of the total value of goods manufactured, may be broadly described as based upon the principle of production for and in the interest of the consumer, supplying a known demand, thus avoiding the fluctuations of the competitive system; while those in the fourth class, with the exception of a few societies, may be regarded as the outcome of the movement in favour of associations for production in the interest of the producer, initiated by the Society for Promoting Working Men’s Associations in 1850-52, [3] producing for sale to co-operative societies and also in the open market.  See Chart and Table (7) in Appendix.


Class (1) consists of retail distributive societies which have established departments for the manufacture of goods required for the use of their members.  In 1902 there were 774 of these societies, employing 17,473 persons in production, the goods produced amounting in value to 5,262,083, or 36.5 per cent of the total production by co-operators in the United Kingdom.  The wages paid by these societies amounted during the year to 956,075.  The goods so produced are usually transferred to the distributive departments of the societies, and there sold to the members.  The character of the goods produced will be seen by a reference to Table (10) in Appendix.


Class (2) consists of the English and Scottish Wholesale Societies, which, as explained in Chapter XIV., are federations of retail societies which have also established by factories and workshops for producing on a larger scale goods required by the members of the retail societies, the goods so manufactured being transferred as required to the retail societies for distribution to their members.  In 1902 the two Wholesale Societies employed in production 13,919 persons, who produced goods to the value of 5,099,565, or 35.4 per cent of the total production, the wages paid to these workers amounting to 674,988.  The character of these productions will be seen by reference to Chapter XIV. and Tables (11) and (12).

Class (3) consists of eight corn mill societies, which differ somewhat in constitution, but are mainly federations of retail societies, although some of them have a considerable number of individual members.  They employed in 1902 406 persons, who produced flour, &c., to the value of 1,303,682, the wages paid to these employees amounting during the year to 33,112.

In the case of all those three classes of societies, the policy of producing their own requirements in their own workshops and factories, instead of purchasing from private manufacturers and merchants, results in the saving of the profits which otherwise would go into ordinary competitive channels; and, what is of even greater importance, enables the co-operators who consume the goods so produced to know and regulate the conditions under which the work-people are employed, and to secure themselves against adulteration and dishonesty in the production.  It will also be seen that this form of organisation for production approximates very closely to the ideal of production advocated by the early co-operators of 1828, described in Chapter VII., page 58.


The societies in Class (4) comprise many different forms of organisation, including, for example, the Birtley Tinplate and Ironworks Society, which is purely a federation of retail societies; others, such as the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society, having a mixed membership of individuals and retail societies, but practically controlled by the latter; others, again, in which the membership consists entirely of individuals, many of whom are employed by the society to which they belong; it includes also most of the “Co-partnership” societies described in Chapter XVII., and the Irish productive societies dealt with in Chapter XVIII.

This class includes altogether 332 societies, who, in 1902, employed 9,613 persons, producing goods to the value of 2,757,414, or about 19 per cent. of the total production, the wages paid by them during the year amounting to 489,304.  The character of the productions by this class is practically covered by the description given in Chapter XVII., page 135.

Totalling up the number of societies in the four classes, we find that 1,116 co-operative societies of various kinds were engaged in production, employing a total of 41,411 persons, the wages paid during the year amounting to 2,153,479, the value of goods produced being 14,422,744.  See Tables (8) and (9).

Of these totals, 726 societies, with 27,914 employees, and productions amounting to 9,543,824, or 66.2 per cent. of the total, were in England and Wales; 201 societies, with 12,131 employees and 3,865,202, or 26.8 per cent. of the total production, were in Scotland; and 189 societies, with 1,367 employees and 1,013,718, or 7 per cent. of the productions, were in Ireland.

In Tables (13) and (14) are shown the share of employees and others in the membership, capital, and management of societies formed expressly for production, and the profits allotted to productive employees by societies of all classes.

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1. [Cd., 098]

2. Note.—The Irish Co-operative Agency Limited has since commenced the manufacture of butter in two districts of Ireland.

3. See Chapter VIII.