Click here to return to book index Click here to search the website Click here to search the website

Industrial Co-operation:

THE STORY OF A PEACEFUL REVOLUTION.

______________

CHAPTER XIX.

________________

Co-operation in Ireland Organisation and Development.


A
GRICULTURAL AND DAIRY SOCIETIES.

ON examining somewhat in detail the work and characteristics of the various kinds of societies included in the preceding totals, it is interesting to find that co-operative principles have been applied successfully in directions in which co-operators in Great Britain have hitherto made scarcely any progress.

The agricultural and dairying societies form the most important groups of co-operative societies in Ireland.  There were at the end of 1902 no fewer than 371 of these on the register.  A number, however, had not commenced operations, some were in liquidation, and a certain number cannot be found at the registered address and do not make any annual return either to the Registrar or to the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society.

These societies, although, with few exceptions, registered with identical rules and objects, may be divided into two classes, viz., (1) those engaged in the production of butter from milk supplied by the individual members and others; (2) those engaged in the purchase and sale of artificial manures, seeds, agricultural implements, and other articles required by their members, and not carrying on production.

The particulars relating to the societies for 1902 published by the Board of Trade divided the societies into these two classes according to the actual work done by them, as shown by their balance sheets and returns.  In a few cases societies are engaged in both production and distribution, and these are placed in the group which represents the bulk of their work.

As already stated, the rules of both classes of societies are identical.  They may be roughly summarised as follows:—

OBJECTS AND RULES.

The object of the societies is to “carry on the occupations of commission agents, wholesale and retail dealers in farm and garden produce, seeds, artificial manures, dairymen, manufacturers of butter, cheese, and other dairy produce, exporters and importers of live stock, and dealers in any other class of goods the committee may direct; to obtain and disseminate useful
information among its members; to develop and promote the agricultural organisation movement; to make advances to members for productive or economic purposes on security approved by the committee; and to carry on any occupation or manufacture in any way allied to agriculture.”

It will thus be seen that power is taken for development in innumerable directions.  The shares are of the nominal value of 1, payable by instalments, and power is taken to issue guarantee shares.  Power is also taken to establish branches or auxiliaries, provided the milk supply or trade of any other existing co-operative society organised by the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society shall not be injuriously affected, unless by friendly arrangement with such society or societies.  Provision is made for the direct representation on the committee of branches or auxiliaries formed by the society.

By this wise measure the possibility of “overlapping” — a difficulty not unknown in Great Britain — has been foreseen and guarded against.

The provisions as to division of profit are as follows, a different method being provided in the case of productive and distributive departments:—

DIVISION OF PROFITS.

(a) General Businesss. — At least one-half of the net profit arising from the general business of the society, other than dairying, after providing for the charges specified in the general rules, and for the payment of interest on share capital at a rate not exceeding 5 per cent. per annum, shall be carried to the reserve fund until the latter equals the share capital.  The remainder of such profit shall be divided among the members in proportion to their sales through and purchases from the society during the period to which the division relates.  When the reserve fund equals the capital the general meeting shall decide as to the amount to be placed to the reserve fund in each year thereafter.

(b) Dairying. — The net profits arising from the business of dairying, after providing for the charges in General Rule 114, [1] and for the payment of interest on share capital at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum, shall be allotted as follows:—
 
(1) Not less than 10 per cent of the net profit shall be allotted to the workers employed by the society, in proportion to the wages earned by them respectively during the period to which the division relates.

(2) The remaining profits shall be appropriated to the individuals from whom the society has purchased milk, cream, or other dairy produce in proportion to the value of milk, cream, or produce supplied by each to the society during the period to which the division relates; provided that no non-member shall participate in the net profits of the society.”

The committee can exclude from dealing with the society, any supplier who does not take up shares within three months after he commences to supply, provided, however, that the committee use their discretionary power in all cases where the non-member is in poor circumstances.

The committee has also power to direct that shares may be paid up either partly or wholly in (a) cash, (b) kind, and (c) allotted profits.

No portion of the net profits of the society, save and except interest on shares and loan capital, are allotted in cash until such time as the society has an available cash surplus in excess of its liabilities.  But it is provided that the first ordinary business meeting in each year shall allot the net profits of the society as shares or in part payment of shares to those entitled to participate in the profits under the rules.

The share of profits falling to the workers are not to be paid in cash, but are to be accumulated as transferable shares in the society.

It is also provided in the rules that “any member who shall supply milk to any creamery other than that owned by the society, for the space of three years from the date of his admission to membership, without the consent in writing of the committee, shall forfeit his shares, together with all money credited thereon.”

Political or sectarian discussion at either committee or general meetings of the society is prohibited by rule, and traders, agents, and dealers in agricultural produce are excluded from membership.

It may be convenient if in describing these societies we deal first with the Dairy Societies.

DESCRIPTION OF THE DAIRY SOCIETIES.

The first Co-operative Dairy Society was formed at Drumcallagher, in co. Limerick, and was registered in 1889, but after working for some time with varying success, it was purchased by the English Co-operative Wholesale Society and ceased to exist as an independent society.  Previous to this Irish butter was made almost entirely by hand at the individual farms, small quantities being churned each day and kept until sufficient was ready to make up a package for market, when it was packed up and taken to the nearest town or to the cross-road shops, and sold to the jobbing butter buyers.  A firkin of butter made in this way would frequently contain, when it reached the British market, samples of various flavours, colours, and texture, and was not always found to be clean when unpacked; nor were the methods of doing business notably economical.

The publican at the cross-roads will give a place in his house to the butter-buyer to put up his scales.  Perhaps it is in the stables he would get it, and even if it is, doubtless it is in the public-house he will pay for the butter.  The men of the parish will collect around him with the week’s butter.  He will welcome them, he will praise the butter, he will praise the women, he will give the highest price to each of them.  He will find no fault with greasy butter, nor with ribbed butter, nor with butter not properly washed from buttermilk, nor with smoky butter.  He will stand them a drink at his own cost — the open-handed man — and he will take leave of them at the shop counter, where they will have another drink or two as a compliment to the publican who gave them the use of his house.  Indeed it would grieve you the talk of the fools going home after that, half drunk, praising the buyer who gave them all “top price,” and none of them thinking that they all got the price of the smoky butter. [2]

Under these conditions it is not surprising that the Danes, the Swedes, and the French, with their adoption of co-operative organisation and their use of machinery and scientific methods, competed seriously with Ireland, and practically beat her out of the British markets.  With the organisation of co-operative dairies and the adoption of improved methods similar to those of continental countries, Ireland is now slowly but surely regaining her lost trade, and winning back her reputation as a butter producer.

A recent publication of the Department of Agriculture in Ireland [3] gives the following description of a co-operative dairy:—

“A fully equipped creamery costs about 700 to 1,500 to establish.  This amount is usually subscribed in 1 shares, each member taking as many as he can afford; the main object being to admit every one who possesses cows.  The shares are paid in four instalments of 5s. each, and interest is paid on them at the rate of 5 per cent.  The first instalment is paid in cash, and the second is usually paid in the same way, but the third and fourth may, at the option of the committee, be paid in milk.  The co-operative creamery is owned and managed altogether by the shareholders as members, who elect a committee to conduct their business.  This committee appoints the manager and all other employees.  It meets monthly or oftener to examine accounts, fix prices for milk and so forth.  The farmers send in their milk, in the summer night and morning, in the spring and autumn once a day, and in the winter every alternate day.  This milk is soon run through the “separators,” and the skim milk is returned free to the suppliers.  When the milk comes in it is measured and tested; thus the supplier who neglects his cows, or waters his milk, is punished by getting a low price, and the thrifty and intelligent farmer gets his full reward.  A certain proportion of the buttermilk is also returned to the supplier.”

SOME EARLY MISTAKES.

As in all experimental organisations in the early stages of development, the societies have made many mistakes and encountered difficulties from want of experience.  These mistakes have from time to time been pointed out to them by inspectors appointed by the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society.  For example, in the report of this society for 1899 it was pointed out that —

Too little importance is attached to enlarging the membership of the dairy societies so as to include every milk supplier.  In some societies a mistaken and quite illegal policy of refusing admission to those milk suppliers who in the first instance did not take shares, has been adopted.  The reports show that in such cases the creameries suffered more from the competition of proprietary creameries than where their doors are always left open, as is provided by Act of Parliament, for new members.  The reason is obvious: a milk supplier who is not a shareholder regards the co-operative creamery to which he is supplying his milk as nothing more or less than a proprietary concern.  A fraction of a penny per gallon will tempt him to send to one of its competitors, and needless to say, the policy of those competitors is to offer him such an inducement.  It cannot be too strongly impressed upon societies that their share lists must ever remain open to all eligible applicants for membership, for upon the number of members and their thorough understanding and appreciation of the principles of co-operation will their success mainly depend.

In some of the societies the rules relating to the division of profits have been ignored and the profits carried wholly to the reserve fund.  In some, officials have neglected to give security as required by the rules, and difficulties have arisen.  In others, the committee have exceeded their powers by making advances of cash to milk suppliers without interest, and without security beyond a verbal promise to repay by supplying milk.  These mistakes are, however, such as greater experience and knowledge of the movement will prevent in future, and it is satisfactory to find that year by year a keener interest is being shown in the best methods of management.

THE SMALL SHAREHOLDER.

An illustration of one of the advantages of the movement in Ireland is given in the statement that the development of the system of creameries has given an opportunity to labourers to become cow owners.  “Numbers of them now have cows, and one case has been reported where a man living in an ordinary wayside cottage, with one acre of land, has been enabled to own eight milch cows, from the milk of which he has realised 70 in cash during the last year.  This man’s case is typical of many others.  From grazing one cow by the roadside — on the ‘long farm,’ it is called in the country — he was enabled to buy additional cows, and rent grazing for them, through the profits he derived from the creamery.  The gain per cow over the old butter-making methods is pretty generally estimated at 30s. per annum, but in some cases milk suppliers put it down at a much higher figure.” [4]

TENDENCY TO CENTRALISATION.

The present tendency among the dairy societies is to centralise the butter churning at a few centres.  Instead of each small society making up into butter the supplies of its members, a number of local societies now prefer to separate the cream and send it on to a central society to be churned into butter.  These societies thus become “auxiliaries” or branches of the central society.  A number of auxiliary societies have been already formed and separately registered.  There are obvious advantages in this plan, such as the possibility of procuring for one central creamery expensive plant and more highly skilled management than could be separately obtained by a number of small societies; but there are also difficulties as to methods of testing the cream sent to the centre by the auxiliaries, the division of expenses and of profits between central and auxiliary societies, and various other details, which have to be solved by experiment, and for this purpose model agreements between centres and auxiliaries have been prepared by the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society.

In the opinion of this society the present areas from which milk is drawn by the creameries are too limited, and in order to attain the acme of economy and efficiency the radius from a central creamery must be increased to from thirty to fifty miles, and possibly more.

WINTER DAIRYING.

At present Irish butter is practically absent from the market during the winter months, and until the supply is maintained all the year round Ireland will continue to take a secondary place and lower prices as compared with Denmark, which sends a continuous supply.  The auxiliary and central churning system is regarded as the only possible system for successful winter dairying.  The difficulty in the way of this is, however, much more a question of the backwardness of the Irish railway companies and of railway rates than of dairy management, and to remedy this, strong outside pressure will be necessary.

THE IRISH CO-OPERATIVE AGENCY SOCIETY.

A federation of the co-operative dairy societies was formed in 1893 for the purpose of marketing the produce of the individual societies, and so preventing to some extent the competition of societies in the same markets and the consequent lowering of prices.  There were then thirty dairy societies in existence, with a total annual trade of about 150,000, and it was felt that if the full benefits of co-operation were to be realised some kind of federation was necessary.  The following interesting account of the formation and early days of the agency has been published :—

The Agency was established by sixteen dairy societies, who took shares in it proportionate to the amount of their trade.  The capital thus raised amounted in cash to 137.  The societies bound themselves to sell all their butter through the agency at a commission of 2 per cent, for which they were indemnified against bad debts.  They selected a committee of management and established the head-quarters of the Agency at Manchester, the greatest centre of butter distribution in the north-west of England.  A series of misfortunes followed, and unsatisfactory management resulted in two law suits in which the Agency lost all its capital; the societies wavered in their allegiance to their federation, and some broke their agreements and refused to consign their produce . . . . The societies by their refusal to consign forced the society from its original position of a commission agency and obliged it in brisk markets to purchase its supplies at firm prices, just like any competing firm of butter merchants, and only when its prices were equal to, or higher than, those obtainable elsewhere did it “get the preference.”  In dull markets the creameries made it their “dumping ground” for butter which they could not sell elsewhere.  Frequently butter refused by its competitors, was thrown upon the agency for sale, and in such quantities (and sometimes too of such bad quality) that the low prices which had to be accepted were quoted against the agency in comparison with those that some societies, more fortunate than the rest, had realised elsewhere. [5]

The Agency Society, however, has persevered in spite of the apathy and lack of support of the societies, and is now one of the largest shippers of creamery butter in Ireland.  Some years ago it transferred its headquarters to Limerick, where it now has commodious premises, and it also has branches and depots at Manchester, Liverpool, London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and the Isle of Man.  In 1900 it purchased the creamery of the Rathduff Dairy Society which was in difficulties, and has since carried on butter-making as a branch of its business both there and at Donoughmore, where it has also acquired a creamery.  The total production of butter by the society during 1902 was about 6,000, while its total distributive sales amounted to about 184,000.  Although the progress of the society has fluctuated considerably since its establishment, it has in recent years steadily improved its position, and has adopted the policy of carrying all its profit to a reserve fund, which at the end of 1902 amounted to 2,470.

The total amount of bad debts incurred by the society during nine years has been only 256 upon an aggregate trade of about one-and-a-quarter millions, and this loss has been met out of the profits, so that no loss whatever has been sustained by the societies who have stood by the federation.

A NATIONAL BRAND OF BUTTER.

An effort is now being made to induce the dairy societies to guarantee to the agency a regular supply of high quality butter, which should be sold under a national brand or trade mark, and so obtain for Irish creamery butter the reputation it deserves.  It is urged that such a plan if adopted would also meet one of the chief evils of the present system — that of competition of the societies with each other for customers, with the consequent cutting of prices.  The societies, it is said,
 
Have it in their power to create through the Agency in the space of two or three years, a federation so strong, so powerful, so effective that it will practically establish a “corner” in Irish creamery butter on behalf of the united producers, and control the market for that commodity.  Isolated individual action, even when taken by the largest society at present existing, can never accomplish this.  The combination must be national to be effective.  It must be founded upon principles and upon a constitution fair to every society alike, its objects and its methods must be understood and its rules strictly adhered to. [6]

The Agency Society is formed upon lines somewhat similar to those of the British federations.  Each society in the federation must take at least twenty 1 shares, of which 5s. per share only need be paid up on application, every society having the right of representation at all meetings and of taking part in the election of the committee, and sharing in the profits.

For a short period, in 1896, the society carried on a department for the supply to its federated societies of manures, seeds, implements, &c., and for the marketing of barley, live stock, and other produce of the members, but early in 1897 it was decided to form a separate federation for this purpose, and the Irish Co-operative Agricultural Agency was established, but was subsequently replaced by the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society, described on page 160.

AGRICULTURAL SOCIETIES.

In these societies the members are associated for the combined purchase of seeds, manures, implements, &c., required by their members on their individual farms, &c., and also for marketing the produce raised individually by the members.  In the earlier societies special rules were prepared for them, but in recent years, as already stated, rules giving powers for dairying, &c., have been added, and both Agricultural, and Dairy societies are now registered as “Agricultural and Dairy Societies,” with identical rules.

As may be expected from the wide powers taken in their objects and set forth in the rules, the activities of these societies have covered a wide range, in nearly all cases with success.  In the purchase of artificial manures alone they have found it possible in many cases to reduce the cost by 40 to 50 per cent. and to obtain a superior quality, guaranteed and analysed by the public analyst.  In farm seeds they have secured equal advantage, and in implements and machinery they have gained at least 25 per cent. by dealing directly with the manufacturers.

Besides rescuing them from the wasteful and extravagant way of buying at the cross-road shops, a society helps its members in many other ways.  Through it they can obtain the use of thoroughbred sires for the purpose of improving the breed of their farm animals, and hire costly machinery such as they could not afford to buy.  The society can also sell the corn, eggs, pigs, or other produce of members in the best markets and for the best prices, and thus avoid much individual haggling and waste of time and money.

The expenses of these societies are small.  In many cases very little capital is required, no special buildings being needed for stock, &c.  Generally the requirements of the members are ascertained by the secretary of the society, himself frequently a farmer acting as secretary for a merely nominal salary.  The members’ orders are bulked, and estimates for the total obtained direct from the manufacturers or from the Agricultural Wholesale Society.

Until recently, the manufacturers of manures — doubtless under pressure of their local agents who had previously supplied the individual farmers at a good profit to themselves — refused to supply the co-operative societies at less than 2% per cent. increase upon the prices at which they supplied the local dealers.  After considerable negotiations between the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society and the manufacturers, the latter have now given way, and the agricultural societies are supplied upon the same terms as other dealers.  This result has probably been helped by the fact that a number of the societies have commenced the compounding of special manures for themselves, thus putting to practical use the knowledge gained from the technical lectures and instruction given at the local centres by lecturers of the Department of Agriculture and of the County Councils.

Other societies have developed in the direction of renting grazing land and re-letting it to their members, while others again have arranged for the working of demonstration plots by members; the object being to test the value of various artificial fertilisers, with and without farm-yard manures, and also to test different varieties of seeds, the working of the different plots being carefully supervised and the results accurately recorded for the benefit of the members and co-operators generally.

THE IRISH AGRICULTURAL WHOLESALE SOCIETY.

The Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society Limited was registered in 1897 with “ordinary shares” of 5s. each, issued only to societies in Ireland registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, at a rate of interest not to exceed 5 per cent. per annum, and cumulative preference shares of 5 each, issued to individuals and bearing a fixed interest at the rate of 5 per cent.  The “profits,” after payment of interest and provision for reserve fund, are divisible among the members who make purchases from, or sales to the society.  Its first committee of management consisted partly of delegates of shareholding societies and partly of individual holders of preference shares.  The object of the society is to supply the local co-operative agricultural societies and other members with their requirements in artificial manures, seeds, feeding stuffs, machinery, &c., saving them from numerous commissions of middlemen, and protecting them from the possibility of having their industry injured by the use of inferior manures, seeds, &c.  Like the Agency Society, the new Wholesale met with many difficulties in its early years, the chief being that of finance.  As the local agricultural societies were small and had little share capital of their own, they did not supply the federation with sufficient capital to carry on its business efficiently, and at the end of 1898 its total share and loan capital amounted only to 2,440.  It has, however, steadily improved its position in spite of the apathy of the societies and the antagonism of the private merchants and manufacturers.

In the annual report of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society for 1900 it is stated that “the Irish agricultural machine manufacturers, and many English firms as well, still persist in their boycott of the Wholesale Society.  Meanwhile the Wholesale Society and the federated societies are procuring their machines elsewhere, and thus, through no fault of the co-operative movement, but through an extraordinary piece of short-sightedness on the side of the manufacturers, a large sum of money is annually leaving the country.”  In 1902 the trade of the Wholesale Society had grown to about 53,000, its membership consisting of 28 societies and 54 individuals, but it is still hampered by want of capital.  The financial difficulties in 1902 were such that it would have been unable to carry on its business had not the committee succeeded in negotiating a special loan of 5,000.  Its members again, like those of many English societies, are frequently wanting in loyalty to their own organisation.  “The most serious difficulty against which the Wholesale had to contend was that notwithstanding its efforts to combat and break down the influence of the various rings and syndicates which exist in the agricultural requirements trade in this country, many of the societies actually used the exceptional quotations given them by the Wholesale Society in order to make more favourable contracts with firms outside the movement, whose interest it naturally was to prevent any form of combination of farmers for trading purpose taking place.” [7]

EGG AND POULTRY SOCIETIES.

The objects of these societies are stated in their rules to be “to carry on the business of wholesale and retail dealers in poultry and eggs and other articles connected with the poultry industry; to improve the breed of poultry in the district, both for table use and for laying purposes; to procure and distribute among its members all the requisites for their industry and to market the produce of members on their behalf.”  The shares are transferable only and of 5s. each, payable in instalments upon call.  The net profits, after providing for the charges in General Rule 114 of the Model Rules of the Co-operative Union, are divided as follows:
Interest on capital at a rate not exceeding 5 per cent.; of the remaining profit 5 per cent. is carried to the reserve fund and the remainder to members in proportion to the value of the poultry and eggs supplied during the period to which the division relates, but no dividend is paid upon feeding stuffs or other articles bought by members from the society, all profit accruing under this head being carried to the reserve fund.  Profits are divided half-yearly, but no dividend or interest is paid in cash until the shares are fully paid up.  Other rules are similar to those of the agricultural societies.

Previous to the starting of these societies the trade in Irish eggs was a decaying one.  This was due largely to the system — or want of system — upon which the industry was carried on.  The practice among farmers’ wives all over Ireland had been to hold their eggs until they had a sufficient quantity to make it worth while taking them to market, particularly when prices were going up.  The injury done to the trade by this abominable system of “holding up” eggs was enormous.  The Irish egg — under proper conditions the best in the world — was sold at the lowest price and was difficult to sell at all.  About 1897 there was a crisis in the Irish egg export trade.  The Liverpool and Glasgow egg merchants had issued a circular stating that they would in future refuse to purchase Irish eggs unless they were clean, fresh, and properly packed, similarly to the continental eggs.  At this juncture Co-operation was brought to bear upon the problem by the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, and poultry societies began to be formed and to introduce better methods of trading into the business.  They at once started on completely new and improved lines — which practically amounted to a revolution.  Eggs were bought from the members by weight instead of by the dozen or score, and all were refused but the perfectly fresh and clean, while these were packed on the continental plan, in non-returnable cases and in wood wool, in accordance with the instructions given by an expert of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society.  Although the prejudice against Irish eggs brought about by the old system is very hard to break down, progress has been made, and to assist this still further the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society has registered and advertised a trade mark for eggs exported by the poultry societies.

The purchase by weight and condition has had the effect of inducing local poultry keepers to pay more attention to the freshness and cleanliness of the eggs, and to adopt the advice of experts as to the best breeds of poultry to keep.  Prices have advanced to a point hitherto unknown — the gain in some cases amounting to 3d. a score — and the local egg dealer, who heretofore made it understood that he conferred a favour when he bartered tea and sugar for eggs, has now to raise his price to that paid by the local society.  The system of barter that gave two profits to the egg dealer and none to the hen-wife, is giving way before the cash system of the society, which gives the poultry-keeper the full value for her improved produce and leaves her free to spend the cash where she will.

TABLE POULTRY TRADE.

Some of the societies have commenced the table poultry trade, a much more diflicult and risky business than the egg trade, but one which can be considerably developed.  The fowls are bought by weight, killed, plucked, and trussed ready for market in the manner taught by Irish Agricultural Organisation Society experts.  The sales are steadily increasing, and profits hitherto unknown are being realised.  One society reported in 1899 that in one trial consignment alone a profit of one hundred per cent over the prices that could be obtained locally was realised, but this was, of course, an exceptional experience.

A further development of these societies will probably be in the direction of central federations for collecting and marketing the produce and for the fattening of poultry for the market.  Two of the local societies have already commenced experiments in the fattening of fowls.

HOME INDUSTRIES SOCIETIES.

These societies have a special significance in relation to the annual emigration from Ireland of thousands of her young women.  The Home Industries of Ireland are organised to promote forms of employment which shall make it possible for these young women to support themselves at home, or at any rate provide an auxiliary wage-earning industry that can be carried on in rural districts together with work on the farm.  The difficulties of organisation are very great, since the industry has in many places to be created upon nothing more definite than “a vague desire for employment on the part of the would-be workers.” [8]

The special rules of these societies state that “the objects of the society shall be to develop and improve among the members of the society home industries, such as poultry and egg production, pig rearing, knitting, lacemaking, and needlework of all kinds, weaving, wood-carving, or any other industry which may be suitably carried on in the homes of the members; to provide them with the technical instruction needed for these industries, and with the material and appliances required for them; to obtain a market for their produce, and to save for them the profits derived from its sale.  One-half of the net profits of the societies, after paying 5 per cent. upon capital, is to be carried to a reserve fund until this equals the share capital, the remaining profit is to be divided amongst the members in proportion to their wages earned, their sales through or purchases from the society.  No portion of the net profits, however, except interest on share and loan capital, is to be allotted in cash until such time as the available cash surplus of the society is in excess of its liabilities.

“A number of these societies are at work, the members being mostly engaged in lacemaking, needlework, embroidery, weaving, knitting, and shirtmaking, a large number of workers being engaged in the work, whose earnings vary from 5s. to 15s. weekly.  Some of the societies pay several hundreds yearly to their workers, and though the total appears small, yet when a girl is enabled to earn 7s. or 8s. weekly it means often the difference between comfort and poverty in the small farmer’s home.  The work itself has a refining effect upon the character; the production of a beautiful piece of lace or embroidery marks an epoch in the ordinary country girl’s ideas and tastes.  Here, as in other branches of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society’s work, the indirect results, the reflex action upon character, are as important as the direct material gain for which the societies are ostensibly organised.”[9]

In a number of these societies the members work under the direction of an expert instructor, whose salary is met by grants from the Technical Education Department in Dublin.  In some cases the members work together in rooms provided at a convent by friendly Sisters, who superintend the work of the girls and make arrangements for marketing it.

FLAX SOCIETIES.

Four co-operative flax societies have been registered, but up to the end of 1902 only two — at Dunboe and Dromara — had started work.  The object of these societies is to scutch and market flax grown by the individual members, and to assist in the improvement of its cultivation.  The first one was established at Dunboe in 1900, beginning work on September 3rd of that year, and it has been so successful that in 1903 it contemplated acquiring another mill.  The total capital at the end of 1902 was only 16. 5s., paid up by 63 members on 65 shares, and this is found to be sufficient at present.  The members grow and supply the flax to the mill, which charges for scutching it and markets the flax, the amount realised being divided among the members in proportion to the value of the flax supplied by each.  It is estimated that the average price realised in 1902 by the proprietary mills in the district was less by 6s. per cwt. than that obtained by the co-operators.  This improved price obtained by Co-operation is stated to be the result of improved cultivation of the flax under the advice of an expert, the payment of weekly wages instead of the usual piecework system, and the use of directly imported seeds and suitable manures procured by the society.  The total net profit of the Dunboe Society amounted in 1902 to 161, but this large profit is partly due to the fact that the manager of the society is an expert whose salary is paid, not by the society, but out of grants made by the Department of Agriculture and the Flax Supply Association.  The society, however, in the absence of these grants would still have made a net profit on its working of some 21.  The Dromara Society also reported very satisfactory success, stating that prices had been improved by the co-operators, and that the area under flax cultivation is now double what it was before the society started.

These societies are an interesting example of State assistance, through co-operative societies, in the revival of what was a dying industry.

OTHER SOCIETIES.

Co-operative societies of beekeepers, with a central federation in Dublin, are formed with similar objects and rules.  At Sligo, a productive society for shirt-making, formed upon co-partnership lines, is in operation, and various other societies are in existence.  The Irishman seems ready and able, in fact, to apply the principle of Co-operation to all the circumstances of his industrial life, and in many directions as yet unthought of by our unimaginative British co-operators.  Probably, however, the most interesting group of societies are the Agricultural Banks, which have taken root in Ireland and have met a very real need.  For the details of the working of these, however, the student must turn to the next chapter.

Click for next chapterClick for next chapter

________________________

NOTES.

1. Model Rules of Co-operative Union.

2. The Advantages of Co-operation. Prize Essay in Gaelic, by Patrick O’Shea (translated).

3. On The Best Method of Organisation for Agricultural Co-operation and Credit, by H. C. Smith, M.A., LL.D.

4. Irish Agricultural Organisation Society’s Report, 1899.

5. Irish Agricultural Organisation Society’s Leaflet No. 60, Trade Federation, 1902.

6. Ibid.

7. Irish Agricultural Organisation Society’s Report for 1902.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.
________________________