Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

As we

Instead of being linked closely together, the Consumer or Buyer is at one end of a chain, and the Producer at the other, with an unknown number of links between them. But links are heavy things, and EVERY ONE ADDS TO THE BURDEN THAT THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY HAS TO CARRY. No wonder so many men hesitate to assume the burden, and that we so often hear the unnatural phrase, I cannot afford to marry.

Theoretical Remedies for the Expensiveness of Living. It has been said that if every healthy adult worked three hours of every day, all the work of the world would be as well done as it is now, and everybody have sufficient time left for recreation and self-improvement. When thinkers first began to attack the problem of lessening the expenses of living in proportion to earnings, with that curious tendency of all reformers to make human nature something other than it is before they can help it any, the HOME was supposed to be the great blunder of human society. Accordingly the home was to be swept away, all distinctions of class levelled, and everybody was to live in communities, eating at common tables, doing each a share of the common work, and sharing equally in the common earnings. These were the dreams of the French Socialists, and some of them even went so far as to wish to abandon the family itself, by having the wives also in common !

But to attack the family or the home in any way is not only to fight against the fundamental instincts of humanity, but also against all its most sacred traditions. The French Communists accomplished little, therefore, beyond agitating the subject, and perhaps setting to work upon it minds more practical than their own. observe in other matters, France theorizes and England does. It was reserved for an Englishman,—for that Anglo-Saxon mind which so intuitively deals with humanity as the Creator made it, and not with some ideal human nature of its own, so that it is always advancing, and yet without convulsions,-it was reserved for an Englishman, I say, to find a way to reduce the cost of living without disturbing family relations. The successful manufacturer and remarkable philanthropist, Robert Owen, rightly discerning that the great economical leakage of modern society is the RETAIL STORE, first opened for his work-people a store where groceries and family supplies of all sorts were sold at cost; that is, at what it cost him to buy and convey them to the store and keep them there until they were distributed, without any profit to himself. The idea became immensely popular among the artisan class, and numerous “ Union Stores," as they were called, in which capital was subscribed by the artisans, and a manager elected from among them to carry it on, sprang up in imitation of Robert Owen's, both in England and in this country.

But by 1840, or thereabouts, these Union Stores had almost universally failed from the impossibility of finding managers who were at once honest and efficient. A clever manager was sure to make a profit himself out of the store, or to run off with its funds, and an honest one was sure to waste them.

The Rochdale Remedy for the Expensiveness of Living. In America the failure of these Union Stores brought a discredit upon the co-operative principle which it has not recovered from to this day. But in England, the suffering condition of the artisan class remaining immovably the same, the ardent spirits among them would not abandon that hope of bettering their condition which co-operation, or working together, alone seemed to promise them. In 1842 a new experiment was tried in Rochdale by a small and poor company of weavers. They resolved to open a Union or Co-operative Store on the following principles.

First. All their buying and selling should be for cash only.

Second. They would give honest measure and deal only in the best quality of

every article.

custom.

Third. They would not sell at cost or wholesale, and thereby enter into unfair competition with the regular dealers by underselling them, but they would sell at retail prices and divide the profits among the members in proportion to their purchases, the man who bought £50 worth of goods a year having five times more profit than he who only bought £10 worth.

Fourth. The shares were to be £5 each, and interest was to be paid on them before any profits or dividends were declared.

Fifth. Two-and-a-half per cent. of their profits were to be devoted to education.

The Rochdale Pioneers avoided the mistake of previous experiments of electing a single responsible manager, and giving everything into his hands. They appointed instead a board or committee of management, no one of whom could act without the advice and consent of the others. Thus every measure was so thoroughly canvassed before it was decided upon, even to the buying of a dust-pan for the store, that injudicious action was hardly possible. They began their store with only seventy-five dollars worth of goods on its few poor shelves--viz., a little tea, sugar, bacon and molasses—and great was the derision in Toad Lane (where the store was rented) on the Saturday evening when they first took down their shutters and opened it for

But never toad had such a jewel in its head to gleam forth upon the world as shone out from those poor windows! To thousands and millions sitting in the darkness and blight of hopeless poverty, in the glimmer of those feeble lamps light had sprung up, for then and there true CO-OPERATIVE DISTRIBUTION was born.

The infant store kept open in the evening only and but twice a week. The members performed all the services of the business voluntarily, and this system was continued for years with a single exception. They found that a voluntary bookkeeper meant disorder and loss in the finances. The bookkeeper should always be a paid functionary, no matter how few hours a week he or she devotes to the work, for it is too important to be trusted to any but paid, and therefore fully responsible labor. But to obviate the labor of keeping an account of how much each member bought, they gave to each one over the counter tin checks for whatever money he spent at the store. These checks the members brought back at the end of the quarter. They were then counted up, and the sum they represented placed to his account as the amount of his purchases. This system of making the member himself responsible for keeping account of his own purchases is most important, for, as we found out in our co-operative experiment in Cambridge, to keep the account of the members' purchases in the books of the store is quite as much trouble as the old system of having bills, and would cost a store quite as much in bookkeeping services.

Causes of the Rochdale Success. The Rochdale Pioneers had every conceivable difficulty to overcome in making their experiment a success. They were working men who had to toil twelve hours a day to support their families. They were poor men, with only their small weekly wages out of which to contribute their scanty capital. They were ignorant men, and they had the previous failures in the co-operative cause to discourage them. They met with ridicule and opposition from all the storekeepers in the place and from many of their own class. They were not even perfectly united among themselves, for the Board of Managers contained members who found fault with everything and did all they possibly could in this bad spirit to make the undertaking a failure.

But for twenty years or more they had been thinking and talking about co-operation. A set of men called “ Social Missionaries,"'--poor and obscure persons from

the working classes—had been going about for years lecturing to artisans on Robert Owen’s theories, and getting them to try one abortive scheme after another. Cooperation, therefore, had long hovered before their eyes as a blessed vision, could it only be realized. And they had one grand thing in their favor. Their condition was so bad that nothing but combined and sustained effort among themselves could improve it. This all-powerful motive it was that bound the Managing Committee together, inspired its ablest and most active men, and kept the stockholders faithful in the main to their own store. The share of each member was five pounds, but the rules did not require it to be paid down before membership was possible. They only required the new member to place his or her profits to the capital of the store until it reached the amount of the share, after which the profits were paid over to them as dividend whenever there was anything to divide; but generally the mombers preserred to leave their profits to be invested by the store, which then paid them interest upon them just as our savings banks do upon their deposits. Thus the Rochdale Co-operative Store, without any of that effort at self-denial on the part of its members which savings imply, actually performed the inestimable function of a SAVINGS BANK for them all, and gradually accumulated for them the daily pence and shillings of profit on their slender purchases which otherwise would have gone to enrich the middle man or retail dealer.

Other stores sprang up soon after that at Rochdale, and on the same principles, but often they struggled along in obscurity for years, as that did, until suddenly prosperity would come. In Halifax, England, for example, the first two attempts at a Co-operative Store failed entirely, and in the third it took the members of the committee six months of anxious storekeeping before they could divide a profit of fiftysix cents to each member! Now, the Halisax Association is one of the largest and richest and most prosperous in England. I wonder how many women there are here who would take the trouble to go themselves to a store, bring home their own bundles, attend all the business meetings and help with the buying and selling for six months for the sake of putting fifty-six cents in their purses at the end of it? And yet in all co-operative stores it is the making the first penny that is the problem.

There are now many hundreds of Co-operative Stores on the Rochdale plan in Great Britain, all of them, I believe, among the artisan class. Many of them manufacture their own boots, shoes and clothing, and the more enterprising own flour mills and farms. The number of heads of families who are members of Co-operatiye Stores is between one-quarter and one-half a million. Women are members on the same financial footing as the men, and they vote precisely as men do in the affairs of their societies; but as yet no women have been elected to any of the Boards of Management. * Not the least important results of this wonderful movement among the working class are the libraries, the reading rooms, the theatre, the lectures, the concerts and other innocent recreations that the societies get up for their amusement and improvement. Beginning with twenty-eight members, the Rochdale Association now numbers over eight thousand, and the Halifax Association the same. In 1864, over two hundred Co-operative Store Societies combined to organize a Wholesale Store from which they could replenish their retail stock. It now does business for five hundred and thirty-one societies, to which it sells about $12,000,000 worth of goods a year, and it employs twenty different mills and factories of its Does Co-operation

own.

* It is said, however, that the young men who are locking about for wives prefer the young women who are shareholders in Co-operative Stores.

Pay?" The most important question to be answered after hearing this marvellous story is _" Does it pay?” Is there really saving enough effected by co-operation to make it worih while for people to give the money, time, attention and trouble to make it succeed that it undoubtedly requires ? I asked Mr. Tom Hughes* and Mr. E. (). GreeningŤ this very question in London in July last. Their answer was that ten per cent. is certainly saved in money, as their regular profit is two shillings in the pound, and that five and perhaps ten per cent. more are saved by getting a superior article, and in all cases securing good weight and measure. But the most striking answer to the question is found in the improved condition of the co-operators themselves, for where co-operation has been successfully carried out it has raised the artisan population from indigence and hopelessness and shiftlessness, into comfort and intelligence and enterprise. It is the almost incredible fact that many members of the Co-operative Stores are actually living now in their old age upon the profits on their purchases that their Store has gradually accumulated for them, and this without ever having paid in one pound of capital! Mr. Greening has calculated that if members would always buy only at their own stores, in twenty-five years they would be able to buy up all the railways in the kingdom, or in fisty to pay off the national debt of England itself! Such is the love of free range and of a free choice in the human heart, however, that the members do not on an average spend at their own stores more than a fourth of their whole annual outlay; but even in spite of this the accumulations are so undoubted that at one time the Rochdale Store had to pay back to its members, much to their disgust, three hundred thousand pounds of accumulated profit that the committee did not know what to do with. But, my friends, the calcu lation is easy. Most of us are women in middle life. Suppose we could have saved one-tenth of all we have spent on ourselves or our families since we were twenty-one years old. Should we not all be capitalists and property-owners now?

Aristocratic Co-operation in England. The Rochdale or Savings Bank form of co-operation, has hitherto been confined to the working classes. The well-to-do classes in England have not attempted this form, but for the last ten years they have been trying the old plan inaugurated by Robert Owen and abandoned by the poor. In London the gentlemen of the Civil Service and the officers of the Army and Navy, and I am not sure but the members of the Law Courts, have organized Union Stores on the most gigantic scale. I visited the oldest of these associations six or seven years ago,-the celebrated “Civil Service Supply Association” begun in Morkwell Street by the Government clerks in the National Post Office. At that time it had 20,000 members, including most of the House of Commons, about 2,000 clergymen, and nearly all the Bishops of the Church of England, both home and colonial, and its annual sales amounted to two million dollars worth a year. But these stores never send goods home or send for orders. The members take all that part upon themselves, and the same is true of all the North of England stores. Customers either take home their own packages or pay an expressman to do it. No Co-operative Stores undertake the expense of delivery.

But these aristocratic co-operative associations do not sell at retail, like the Rochdale Pioneers, but at cost. Consequently the savings bank principle is omitted, and they are also underselling the regular dealers in a manner that seems to me and to all

* The author of “ I'om Brown at Rugby," and also a firm friend of the co-operative movement. † Mr. Greening has been identified with the Co-operative Store Societies for many years.

[ocr errors]

true co-operators not justifiable on any principle of " doing unto others as you would they should do unto you.” Besides, everybody was used to the scale of retail prices as they were. Why then disturb it when it is so much better to let it stand, and let whatever margin of profit there may be of the retail over the wholesale price accumulate for the benefit of the buyer and his or her family, and come back to the household in the shape of a tangible saving at the end of the quarter, which it is worth while to lay up—instead of merely buying things a little cheaper all along the twelvemonth? These London stores, however, are as wonderful a success in their way as the Rochdale type of stores in theirs, and for the same reason. Instead of being given over to one man to manage at a fixed salary, as was the case in all the old Union Stores which failed, they are managed by a committee elected by the members, and which does the work of buying and superintendence, and assumes all the burden and responsibility of the undertaking as a voluntary service for the general good. The first grand demand of every kind of successful co-operation is SELF-SACRIFICE. To co-operate successfully we must be actuated by that love for others which can “smite the chord of self” and make it “pass in music out of sight.” Thus it is one of the truest expressions of Christianity which the world has ever seen, and some of the noblest Christian gentlemen of our times, as Mr. Hughes and the Rev. Frederick Maurice, were among the earliest to recognize its power, and cheer on its struggles for existence.

Co-operation on the Continent and in America. Co-operation on the Continent has taken rather different lines of development from that of England, but this Congress will be particularly interested to know of the achievements of that most remarkable person, Frau Morgenstein of Berlin, with whom I had an interview in August, 1875, at her own house. She has organized a Housekeeper's Union, numbering now about four thousand members, who do all their buying on the plan of the London Civil Service Stores; namely, ut cost. I saw her store, and saw in it the deft handmaidens, her clerks, doing up in the afternoon all their morning orders. The neatest, sweetest little grocery it was, and managed like clock-work. There was also a back room where women might place on exhibition anything of their own handiwork they wished to sell. But I gathered that the association was not an organization in the true sense. “ It all depends on me,” she said, “and if I should die it would probably all fall to pieces.” And in fact her husband does the buying for the store at a small commission and her children oversee different departments for her. It is therefore rather too much of a family affair to be called a veritable “ Union of Housekeepers” for the mutual good. She began with two hundred ladies, who each paid in two dollars as capital, and who pay beside a dollar a year for the privilege of buying there; but I inferred that the members do not meet and vote on the affairs of the association to any very great extent, though in England the active interest of members is considered to be the very life of successful co-operative storekeeping.

Turning to co-operation in this country we find that after the Union-Store failures of the preceding generation the co-operative principle, as a general rule, slumbered here for many years.

A few noble exceptions, however, have succeeded in bearing testimony to its value, the most remarkable of which are the Co-operative Building Associations of Philadelphia, which have given that city probably the largest community of working men living in their own houses iu the world. The Philadelphia system is at first sight rather complex, but is found so simple in working that there are now over six hundred building associations in this city, sometimes twenty-five in a single ward, and they represent over a hundred million dollars capital, On the

« ÎnapoiContinuați »