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Industrial Co-operation:





Miscellaneous Activities.


IN Great Britain little progress has been made in the application of co-operative principles to agriculture, owing mainly to the naturally conservative character of the agricultural worker, and in some degree, probably, to the fact that the advocates of Co-operation have mostly been townsmen, for whose “new-fangled” ideas the farmer and the agricultural labourer has an honest if paralysing contempt.

During the nineteenth century, however, there were a number of experiments in co-operative farming, impelled chiefly by the community idea, all of which, with the exception of two, passed out of existence in the course of a few years leaving some scanty records behind which have been carefully gathered up by Mr. B. Jones in Co-operative Production. [1]  Of these two early societies, which were still in existence at the end of 1902, one, formed at Assington, Suffolk, in 1829, has never been registered, and particulars regarding its history or present position are not obtainable.  The second was formed a few years later in the same district and by the same philanthropic landowner, Mr. John Gurdon.  Both societies enjoyed an unbroken success up to 1876,[2] after which a series of bad years supervened up to about 1883, when the strength of the younger society was found to be completely broken.  An appeal was issued on its behalf by the Guild of Co-operators — a propagandist organisation in London — and the society was wound up and re-organised as the Assington Agricultural Association, with capital supplied by a number of societies, individuals, and members of the old society.  It has never, however, succeeded in working at a profit, and a considerable amount of share capital has been lost; for some years no interest has been paid on shares.

A third society is at Coln St. Aldwyns, in Gloucestershire, and has worked more successfully.  The total acreage of the two registered societies is, however, only 475 acres.  In addition to the acreage farmed by these societies some 7,714 acres were, in 1902, being farmed by 75 retail distributive societies and the English and Scottish Wholesale Societies, the net result of the year’s working being a surplus of £1,939.  It cannot yet be claimed, therefore, that farming is amongst the successful co-operative adventures in Great Britain.

Since the beginning of the present century, however, the tidings of the success of agricultural co-operation in Ireland has reached the ears of farmers in this country, and the British Agricultural Organisation Society has been established, with the object of doing for Britain something of the work the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society is doing for Ireland.  The society has received the cordial support of the English Board of Agriculture, and its inauguration being coincident with an attempt on the part of agricultural implement makers to form a ring and increase prices, considerable interest was quickly aroused, especially in Wales.  It is expected that the next few years will see a considerable development in agricultural co-operation, whether the new movement has come to stay or not.  Certainly British farmers have never before displayed such an active interest in co-operative organisation, and their activity is being encouraged in every way possible by the Board of Agriculture, the Co-operative Union, and by very many leading authorities on agricultural matters.

If this development should prove successful, its effects may be very far reaching.  The growth of a spirit of association in a class so intensely individualistic as are agriculturalists, foreshadows changes in character that may lead to quite unexpected results, both social and economic, and the progress of this new movement will be watched with keen interest by all students as well as by politicians of all parties.

According to the second report of the Agricultural Organisation Society there were at the end of 1902 some 60 registered societies connected with agriculture, which were classified as follows :—

35 Agricultural supply societies.
13 Dairy and milk societies.
8 Poultry societies.
2 Allotment and small holding societies.
1 Stock improvement society.
1 Pure water supply society.

Of these many had not begun work, and others were only in process of organisation.

The Board of Trade statistics for the same year show that returns were obtained from 22 agricultural societies in Great Britain, showing a total membership of 1,443; capital amounting to £5,263; a total trade during the year of £51,952; and a loss of £103.


A very important application of the principle of mutual association is found in the Co-operative Insurance Society Limited.  This society had its origin in Rochdale, and its first registered ofiice was at the Equitable Pioneers’ Stores, in Toad Lane.  At the date of its establishment, in 1867, the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts did not provide for the registration of an insurance business, consequently it was enrolled under the Companies Acts, and continued as a company until the amendment of the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts permitted of its registration as a society.  This was accomplished in 1899.

The Co-operative Insurance Society is a federation, in so far as the major proportion of its members are co-operative societies, but it also has a certain number of individual members.  The shares are £1 each of which the smallest number that may be held by any one society is five, but only 4s. per share has been called up.  Interest is paid at the rate of 6 per cent.  Each society shareholder is entitled to one vote, or one delegate, for every £50, or fractional part thereof, paid by it in respect of the premiums or insurances effected through its agency in the preceding year.

Four forms of insurance are undertaken by the society, viz.:—

(1) Insurance against damage by fire of any property, whether belonging to any member of the society or not.

(2) Guarantees for the honesty of persons employed by co-operative societies.

(3) Insurance of the lives of members of co-operative societies or their relatives.

(4) Insurance of members of co-operative societies against death by accident.

The first fire insurance policy was issued on February 21st, 1868; the first fidelity guarantee policy was issued on June 25th, 1869; and the first life policy issued on August 14th, 1886.  In 1871 the office of the society was removed to Manchester.  It was originally proposed to dispense with agents and to carry on the whole business upon a “profit-sharing basis,” that is to say, that any surplus remaining after paying interest on capital was to be divided between the policy-holders.  This plan was, however, given up after one such division had been made, upon its being found that agents were a necessity, and that after paying interest, central office expenses, and the commissions of agents the surplus remaining was too small and too uncertain to make its division amongst policy-holders advisable.  By a new rule, registered in 1887, a revised plan was adopted, under which the Fire, Fidelity, and Life insurances are considered as separate departments; balances remaining in each department, after all claims and expenses have been met, are placed to separate funds.  In the Fire and Fidelity departments, the balances are retained to provide for the fluctuations that occur year by year, and for the growing liabilities of the society under its policies.

In the Life department, the liabilities under the life policies are calculated every five years by an actuary, and the surplus, except a reasonable provision for contingencies, is divisible exclusively with life policy-holders.  Whenever possible, co-operative societies are appointed as agents, but individuals are also appointed.

In the present year (1904) a scheme has been laid before the co-operative movement, offering special life insurance benefits to purchasing members of retail co-operative societies, under a new method of “collective life assurance.”  It is proposed that societies should contribute from their reserve funds, or profit and loss accounts, one penny for each £1 of members’ purchases; and the Co-operative Insurance Society would assure to any purchasing member of such society four shillings at death within the terms of the policy for each penny so contributed.  The scheme is interesting and novel, but being as yet untried can only be mentioned here as offering a possible development from which a useful economy in co-operative life insurance is predicted by its promoters.  The Insurance Society makes a separate report annually to Congress; the figures given in Table (17) show its position at the end of 1902.


Next to “Community on Land,” one of the chief ultimate aims of Co-operation is to provide for its members good and sufficient housing accommodation.  The plans of the early “communities” always included the comfortable housing of settlers as one of the attractive features of their schemes, and the Rochdale Pioneers, as we have seen, made the “building, purchasing, or erecting of a number of houses” one of the definite “objects” of their association.  It was an object, however, that must necessarily have been slow of realisation, because, in the nature of things the house that shelters him — whether paid for in rent to a landlord or bought as a personal possession — is one of the most costly items in the expenditure of a working man.  Until co-operators, therefore, had acquired a certain amount of accumulated capital they had perforce to postpone this part of their programme.

But the object has never been lost sight of, and to-day a large number of co-operative societies have realised to some extent the hopes of the Pioneers.  Whether Co-operation has done all that it might have done in actual practice to solve the “housing question” — which stands in the front rank of urgently needed industrial reforms — is a moot point; but it may fairly be claimed that in raising the standard of general living amongst its members, the movement has had no small share in raising also the standard of housing accommodation required by working-class families.

Largely owing to the instigation of the Educational Committee of the Co-operative Union and the Women’s Co-operative Guild, co-operators have given much attention of recent years to the more public aspect of the housing of the people, and practical constructive work within the movement has been stimulated and encouraged by vigorous discussion.

In 1902, at the request of the Exeter Congress, the Co-operative Union instituted an inquiry with a view to ascertaining “to what extent the co-operative movement is trying to carry out that part of its programme which relates to the housing of the people.”[3]  The result of this inquiry was presented to Congress at Doncaster (1903) in a report of which Table (18) in the Appendix is a summary.  It will there be seen that co-operative house-building proceeds along three general lines, societies adopting any or all of the following plans as may best suit their local circumstances or the requirements of their members:—

(1) Advancing money, at fixed rates of interest, to members for the purpose of buying or building houses, such advances being covered by a mortgage upon the property and being repayable by instalments extending over a number of years.

(2) Building houses which are retained by the society and let at a rental to members.

(3) Building houses which are sold to members outright, or upon terms of payment extending over a number of years in the form of a rental, plus an additional sum enabling the society at the end of the period to convey the property to the member.

The relative value of these several plans is a matter for serious discussion whenever a society proposes to embark upon a building department, both from considerations of practical expediency as well as from considerations of principle.  The question of expediency in individual cases must of course remain outside the province of the student to discuss, but the question as to whether, broadly speaking, it is more completely in accordance with co-operative principle to “let,” or to “sell” houses has an important bearing upon the future development of this branch of co-operative enterprise.

It is contended that to build and let houses enables a society to extend its corporate influence beneficially over the domestic comfort of its members, and that the mutual ownership of houses — including generally the land upon which they are built — is an important advance towards realising the complete ideal of the co-operative movement, namely, “community on land.”  On the other hand, it is affirmed that to enable an individual co-operator to become the owner of the house he lives in, is to give him stability, self-reliance, and an assured provision for comfort in old age.

The valuable principle involved in the first case is, however, frequently overborne by the practical difficulty of locking up large amounts of capital in land and house property, and it will be seen that the majority of co-operative houses are built by individual members on advances made by societies; 23,940 houses having been built in this way, against 8,247 houses built and owned by societies, and 5,080 built by societies and sold to members.

Besides the building societies mentioned in Chapter XX., which are more or less co-operative in character, special interest attaches to “The Tenant Co-operators Limited,” a society established in 1888 for the express purpose of “providing dwellings for workmen and others upon a co-operative system,” and which has successfully applied the Rochdale plan to the owning and letting of houses.  The “Tenant Co-operators” is registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act with shares of £1 each and loan stock, both carrying interest at 4 per cent.; the society also has power to obtain loans from the Public Works Loan Commissioners, repayable by instalments, and bearing interest varying with the period over which repayments extend.

The method of working is as follows:— Houses in suitable positions are either acquired or built by the society, and let at the ordinary rents of the neighbourhood, to tenants who must be shareholders taking up at least one £1 share.  At the end of each half year, the surplus profit — after providing for expenses, repairs, depreciation, &c. — is divided among the tenants in proportion to the rents paid by them.  The dividend is not withdrawable in cash, but is placed to the tenant’s share account, and provides a fund out of which any arrears of rent can be met, any damage to property made good, and internal repairs paid for.  This system ensures the interest of the tenant shareholder in the welfare of the whole society, and affords great security to the capitalist shareholder in making losses by arrears of rent and careless use of property practically impossible.

The success of the Tenant Co-operators has been considerable, a dividend of from ls. to 2s. 6d. in the pound has been regularly declared, and the society now owns estates at Upton Park (Essex), Penge (Kent), Plashet (East Ham), Camberwell (S.E. London), and Epsom (Surrey).  The total number of houses and tenements owned was, at the end of 1902, 122, let at an average weekly rental of 8s., the total amount of capital involved being £28,680. 12s. 4d.  The “Ealing Tenants Limited,” established in 1901, and several other societies are working on similar lines, with the exception that the shares of the Ealing Tenants are £10 each and tenant shareholders must take up five shares.  This society has acquired a freehold site at Eaton Rise, Ealing, for the erection of fifty-four houses, which are planned for the occupation of a superior type of workman at an average rental of 13s. per week.

Another project which should have an interest for co-operators may be appropriately mentioned in this connection, although its organisation is not strictly on the lines of industrial co-operation.  This is the “First Garden City Company,” which has been formed to purchase and develop a large estate near Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, upon lines proposed by Mr. Ebenezer Howard, the author of To-morrow.  Garden City Company is composed mainly of persons interested in the improvement of urban social conditions.  The common ownership and development proposed for Garden City estate should provide good environment for the growth within its borders of co-operative institutions of many kinds; in the establishment of stores for the supply of its inhabitants; of co-operative industries for their employment; in co-operative ownership of cottages, dairies, small allotments, and many other enterprises in which the spirit of the “old ideals ” may find modern expression.


As the result of a desire for some form of mutual benefit society as a provision against sickness and temporary loss of employment, that had been stirring amongst Co-operative Employees for a number of years, several local employees’ benefit associations were inaugurated between 1889 and 1891, notably in London, Bolton, and Manchester.  At the latter place the association was the outcome of a conference of committee-men and employees, convened by the Manchester and District Co-operative Association (in connection with the Co-operative Union), and it soon began to give evidence of permanence and stability.

After four years’ experimental working as an employment bureau and propagandist agency, the Manchester District Co-operative Employés’ Association amalgamated with the Bolton Co-operative Employés’ Trade Union, and registered, in January, 1895, under the Trades Union Acts, as The Amalgamated Union of Co-operative Employés, “with provision for nearly all the ‘rainy days’ through which a co-operative employee is liable to suffer.” [4]

From time to time the rules of the Amalgamated Union have been amended and altered, and its objects as now set forth are:—

To promote the social and intellectual welfare of its members by (a) periodical discussions and meetings for the interchange of ideas on practical and theoretical subjects affecting the well-being of co-operative employees and the movement; (b) the advancement of the co-operative cause generally, and of the interest of employees in particular, by any means which may appear to the members judicious; (c) the establishment of a minimum wage of 24s. per week for all male employees over twenty-one years of age — each district and branch to be empowered to adopt a higher scale if practicable; and (d) the raising and maintaining of funds for mutual benefit, by the contributions of its members, which shall be applied for the following purposes:—

1. To provide a weekly allowance for members when out of employment.

2. To provide a weekly allowance for members during ill-health or temporary disablement.

3. To assist in defraying the funeral expenses of members and their wives.

4. To provide a fund for the superannuation of members.

5. To provide for the payment of a sum of money to all members permanently disabled.

6. To provide legal aid for members when necessity arises.

7. To compile and keep a register of all members out of employment or desirous of a change of situation, and recommend such to societies when requested.

8. To enable each Branch of this Union to be represented on the Trades Council and other bodies in its respective locality.

In its constitution the Amalgamated Union follows the lines of the Co-operative Union — individual members being enrolled into local branches, and the branches uniting into districts for the election of district councils — approximating to the sectional boards of the Co-operative Union.  The district councils each appoint representatives to form a Central Executive Council, which arranges for the annual delegates’ meeting of the employees.  Each member has, if he chooses, a vote in his branch meeting on every important subject, and in the election of district councils and general officers.  Each branch sends delegates, in the proportion of one for every twenty members, to represent the views of its members at the annual meetings. [5]

Co-operative employees can join the Union either as members or as associates.  Members subscribe either 2d., 3d., 4d., or 6d. a week, according to the scale of benefits selected; while associates — who pay a subscription of 6d. a quarter only — include employees who are already insured in other institutions, and those who are over 50 or under 16, and consequently too old or, too young to be admitted as benefit members.  The scale of contributions and benefits are shown in Table (19) in Appendix, together with particulars as to the present strength and financial position of the Union.

It is claimed for the Union that “the indirect moral and social benefits, shared in alike by the members who pay full contributions and the associates who only pay a nominal sum, form a very important part of the objects of the Union. [6]  Its position and status within the co-operative movement is that of a valuable agency in “keeping co-operative societies up to their ideals as regards conditions of labour,”[7] and its efforts to improve the rates of wages, the working hours, the holidays, and the general conditions of employment in co-operative societies have met with considerable success.  Its method of approaching these questions is co-operative and pacific rather than militant.

No provision for strikes is to be found in its rules, though should any Co-operative Society . . . victimise a member, he can be recompensed, if necessary, by an extension of the out-of-work benefit allowance. [8]

The membership of the Union was primarily intended to include shop assistants only, but the question of admitting to membership piece-workers and other employees working at trades which have unions of their own, has recently engaged the attention of the executive council.  The question is by no means so simple as it would appear; there are in the employment of co-operative societies workers in many trades who may become involved in disputes of a highly technical nature with which a mixed union would be incompetent to deal.  Nearly all of these trades have unions of their own, and, after careful consideration and inquiry, the Amalgamated Union decided not to accept into membership any workers in trades having effective unions of their own, unless they are at the time members of the unions connected with their respective trades, and are willing to continue such membership.

This policy is calculated to prevent overlapping and to keep the Amalganiated Union in touch with the general body of trade-unionists.  Its connection with the trades union movement is also maintained by sending representatives to the Trades Union Congress, and by joining in efforts to secure legislative reforms for shop assistants.

The Union is untiring in its efforts to educate co-operative employees in the principles of Co-operation, “teaching them that they are not mere shop servants, but powerful factors in the success of a great movement.”

As we have seen in Chapter XII., there is much to be done before all co-operative societies and their employees can be said to have arrived at a full appreciation of their mutual responsibilities towards each other and towards the high ideals upon which the movement is based; there is, therefore, ample scope for the work of an organisation following the lines of the Amalgamated Union of Co-operative Employés which, while approaching questions of industrial relationships within the movement from the point of view of the worker, does so in the spirit of the true co-operator.


The Co-operative Movement cannot be said to be rich in its literature, although such records as exist of the birth and growth of its principles and organisation are of undoubted interest.  Pamphlets and periodicals of the Owenite days and of the times of the Christian Socialists are to be found scattered throughout the libraries of co-operative societies and individual co-operators, but no very determined or sustained attempt has yet been made to gather together into an accessible co-operative building a complete library of co-operative and economic literature.

It was hoped that such a library would have been formed by co-operators as a memorial to the life and labours of Robert Owen, but the project — after coming before the Congress for several years in succession — met with such indifferent support that it had to be given up in favour of a less significant memorial, namely, the contribution of an “Owen wing” to the public library raised at Newtown in commemoration of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  The student, therefore, who comes into possession of an Owenite tract, or a volume of any of the long series of journals which recorded, under various picturesque titles, the progress of the co-operative idea from 1821 onward [9] may count himself fortunate.

With the exception of certain works, notably, The History of Co-operation, The History of the Rochdale Pioneers, and The Co-operative Movement To-day, by Mr. G. J. Holyoake; A Manual for Co-operators, by Mr. E. V. Neale and Judge Hughes; The Co-operative Movement in Great Britain, by Miss Beatrice Potter (Mrs. Sidney Webb); Working Men Co-operators, by Messrs. A. H. D. Acland and Benjamin Jones; Co-operative Production, by Mr. Benjamin Jones; and the works of various social economists to whom reference is made in the bibliography given on page 267; the annals of Co-operation must be sought for in innumerable annual reports, congress addresses and handbooks, conference papers, and fugitive pamphlets.  Many of these can be obtained from the Co-operative Union, which annually distributes some 70,000 such publications.  Others can be obtained from the offices of the associations from which they emanate.

The movement has never been quite unrepresented by some organ especially devoted to its interests, and in 1860 the Manchester Equitable Society endeavoured to establish an official organ in the Co-operator.  This little monthly paper passed into the hands of Mr. Henry Pitman, [10] and under his management served as the organ of the movement for a number of years, passing through many financial vicissitudes and ending in 1871 heavily overburdened with debt.  The Scottish Co-operator, established in 1863, circulated in Scotland, and also continued up to 1871, when it was merged, together with the Co-operator and the Social Economist 
published in London — into the Co-operative News, the present official organ of the movement. [11]

The prospectus of the Co-operative Newspaper Society was issued in 1871 by the Central Board, acting under the instructions of the Manchester Congress (1870), when it was decided to establish a paper which should be owned and governed by co-operators instead of for them.

The constitution of the Co-operative Newspaper Society is now entirely that of a federation of co-operative societies, the individual shareholders, who were originally invited to join, being eliminated after the registration of the society under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act in 1873.  The rules of the society limit the interest on share capital to 5 per cent. and apply any surplus profit to reserve or to the improvement of the paper.  Some difficulties were experienced in the early years of the society until the Co-operative News, under the editorship of the late Mr. S. Bamford, became firmly established and widely supported.  At the end of 1902 the circulation of the News [12] was 63,494 copies taken by 834 societies.  324 societies were members of the Newspaper Society, and the share capital amounted to £11,402.

As the official organ of a many-sided movement, the Co-operative News must of necessity steer a course of complete impartiality, and it is sometimes felt that some power of “leadership” is lost in the endeavour to avoid partisanship.  Mr. Holyoake’s vivacious description of the policy proper to a representative journal has special point when applied to the Co-operative News.  He says:—

A representative journal owes equal respect and equal protection to all parties, and might guide with dignity and secure progress with good feeling. There is a difficulty in conducting an official paper, and I put the difficulty in the front because everybody ought to see it from the first — and the difficulty is this, that an official journal must be impartial, and impartiality is generally considered insipid.  Few writers can be entertaining unless they are abusive, and few editors are good for anything unless they are partisan.  If they have to strike out of an article the imputations in it they commonly strike out the sense along with it, until the paper has no more flavour than a turnip.  Still, if there be no choice, it is better to have a turnip journal than a cayenne pepper organ. [13]

It is probable the outsider may miss the flavour of cayenne pepper in the Co-operative News, but the co-operator finds in the motto which it has adopted as the expression of its policy “In Things Essential, Unity.  In Things Doubtful, Liberty. In All Things, Charity” — a guarantee of impartiality which constitutes its chief value.

Scotland again revived the Scottish Co-operator in 1894 as a monthly journal — but now issued weekly, by the establishment of the Scottish Co-operator Newspaper Society Limited, and Ireland is served by The Irish Homestead as the official organ of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society.  It was established in the same year (1894), and is published weekly.  Labour Co-partnership is published monthly as the organ of the co-partnership productive societies.  This also was established in 1894, and seeks to be the record, “not of a district, but of a form of co-operation.”[14]  Many societies and conference districts publish a “Record” of their own, which serves the useful purpose of disseminating local information.  At the end of 1902, four districts and thirty-two societies published such “Records” — either monthly or quarterly — the total circulation of which was about 178,500 copies.

In 1896 the Co-operative Wholesale Society issued a monthly publication called The Wheatsheaf, which contains certain pages of general matter dealing more particularly with the progress of wholesale co-operation, and certain pages adapted to the insertion of local matter provided by societies.  In 1902, 373 societies made use of the Wheatsheaf as a local “Record,” the total monthly circulation being about 220,000 copies.

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1. Co-operative Production, Chapter XXIV.

2. Ibid, page 616.

3. Congress Report, 1903, pages 70 and 158.

4. The Amalgamated Union of Co-operative Employés, by A. Hewitt (Pamphlet).

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Mr. J. Shillito, Presidential Address to Congress, 1903.

8. A Co-operative Service Union, letter by Mr. A. Hewitt, in Co-operative News, June 14th, 1902.

9. See Chapter II., page 14.

10. Mr. Henry Pitman, still (1894) serves the movement as the official reporter of Congress proceedings.

11. See Working-men Co-operators revised edition page 153. History of Co-operation, Vol. II., pages 369-374. Co-operative Production, page 593.

12. The Co-operative News is publislied weekly, price 1d., but the general practice is to sell it at half-price as a means of educational propaganda.

13. History of Co-operation, Vol. II., page 376.

14. Our Aims.   Labour Co-partnership, Vol. I., No. 1.