This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
There is yet another mode in which those who depend upon wages may secure very great advantages to themselves; viz., by co-operative associations, formed for trading or industrial purposes. These are already somewhat extensively introduced into the United States; and, so far as are known, have been attended with a good degree of success. Mr. Fawcett (now M.P.), in his "Manual of Political Economy," has given a very full and interesting account of the operation of certain co-operative societies in Europe, from which we extract the following : —
"The co-operative movement in England was first commenced at Rochdale.* About 1844, a few working-men in that town suspected, and no doubt justly so, that they were paying a high price for tea, sugar, and other such articles, when they, at the same time, believed they were not free from adulteration. They therefore said, ' Why should we not club together sufficient amongst ourselves to purchase a chest of tea and a hogshead of sugar from some wholesale shop in Manchester?' This they did; and each one of their number was supplied with tea and sugar from this common stock, paying ready money for it, and giving the same price for it they had been charged at the shops. When all the tea and sugar had thus been sold, they agreed to divide the money thus realized amongst themselves, in proportion to the capital each had subscribed. They found, to their surprise, that a large profit had been realized. The great advantage of the plan became self-evident; for not only were they provided with a lucrative investment for their savings, but they obtained unadulterated tea and sugar at the same prices they had been previously obliged to pay for the same articles when their quality was deteriorated by all kinds of adulteration. A fresh stock of tea and sugar was, of course, purchased. Other laborers were quickly attracted to join the plan, and subscribe their savings; soon the society was sufficiently extended to justify them in taking a room, which they used as a store, and the success of the plan fully kept pace with its enlargement.
* The residence of John Bright, M.P., and where his family carry on a large manufacturing business; A. W.
"In 1856, this society, now famous as the Rochdale Pioneers, possessed a capital of about £12,800. The business was not long restricted to articles of grocery: bread, meat, and clothing were all sold on the same plan. Their capital so rapidly increased, that they were soon enabled to erect expensive flour-mills; and a supply of pure bread, as well as unadulterated tea, was thus insured. During the last few years, this Pioneers' society has attracted frequent public attention; for it has gradually grown into a vast commercial institution, embracing a great variety of trades. At the present time (1863), its capital is £32,000, the amount of business done is £170,000, and the profits realized twenty per cent. The general management of this society, and the mode in which the profits are distributed, are both excellently arranged. A ready-money system is so scrupulously adhered to, that even a large shareholder cannot make the smallest purchase on credit. The managers of the business are chosen by the general body of shareholders; and, in almost every case, an excellent selection has been made. The accounts are made up quarterly, and placed before the general meeting. London accountants have audited these accounts; and they express a unanimous opinion that no business in the country is better conducted. With regard to distribution of the profits, a sufficient sum is at first allotted to pay a dividend of five per cent on the capital; the remaining profits are divided on the following plan: Every person, when he purchases goods, receives one or more tin tickets, on which is recorded the amount of his purchases. At the end of every quarter, each person brings these tin tickets, which form the record of his aggregate purchases; and the remaining profits are distributed in proportion to the aggregate amount which each individual has expended at the store. Thirteen pence in the pound (equal to about five and a half per cent on the amount purchased) is the average amount which, in this manner, is received as a drawback."
Professor Fawcett then proceeds to give the causes of this remarkable financial success: —
"The ready-money system, invariably adopted by these societies, has probably promoted their prosperity more than any other circumstance. All bad debts are thus avoided; and, where credit is not given, a certain amount of business can be transacted with much less capital than would be required if large sums were locked up in book-debts. Under a ready-money system, the same capital may be turned over perhaps twenty times a year; and, if one per cent only is realized upon such transaction, the capital will sum an aggregate profit of twenty per cent in the course of the year. When goods are sold for ready money, they can be bought for ready money from wholesale dealers. This is always a guaranty that the purchases will be made on the most favorable terms. Again: the shareholders of the society form a nucleus of customers; and therefore, directly business is commenced, a certain amount of trade is insured. If an individual commences business, he must attract customers either by advertising or costly shop-fronts; he is compelled to conduct his business in crowded thoroughfares, where rents are extremely high: but a co-operative society is saved all these expenses. Its shareholders are its customers; it therefore need not advertise; it does not require a showy building; for its position is rather in the centre of the homes of the laboring population. These and other advantages sufficiently account for the large profits which have been realized, not only by the Rochdale co-operative store, but by a great number of similar societies, situated in almost every other part of the country."
The author here enumerates a long list of different places in which these stores are established, as Manchester, Hud-dersfield, Dover, Blackburn, &c. He then proceeds to state some of the advantages of these institutions: —
"The advantages which the working classes derive from a cooperative store are apparent. In the first place, it provides them with a most eligible investment for their savings. This is important, because the absence of good opportunities for investing small savings operates powerfully to increase the improvidence of the poor."
Again, he says: —