Scottish Mining Villages

Co-operative Stores – Extract from Truck Report 1871

Enquiry was made in three different parts of Scotland as to the operation of co-operative stores: at the Messrs. Bairds’ ironworks in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire; at Mr. Hood’s colliery works at Lasswade, in Edinburghshire; and in the Slamannan district of Lanarkshire.

Messrs. Bairds are large employers of labour, with about 8,000-10,000 hands. The Dalmellington Company, Messrs. Merry and Cunninghame’s firm, and the Messrs. Bairds between them, own all the ironworks in Ayrshire.

Mr Whitelaw, partner in Messrs. Bairds spoke to the successful working of the co-operative system at their works.

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“Some of their men are paid directly by the firm, but a large number receive their wages through contractors. Every calendar month there is a settlement; and Messrs. Bairds give advances every second day to such of the workmen as are paid in their own office.

Five co-operative societies maintain stores at different parts of Messrs. Bairds works, in buildings rented from Messrs. Bairds, at rents varying from £40 to £60 per annum. Beyond this the company have no interest in any store, except in one or two instances, where money has been lent the workmen to set one afloat. The following is the account of the management of the Gartsherrie store:-

Q Can you tell us about the method in which they are managed ? – The workmen get advances as usuaal – whether from us or from the contractors does not matter; and they may or may not, as they choose, take the money to these shops. When the workmen take their money there, there is an account kept of the amount purchased. That is set down opposite every man’s name who has purchased, and who is working to the company and living in one of the company’s houses. It is always entered into the men’s pass books. At the end of the month the parties are required to produce these books in the co-operative store, in order to have the sums added up, and the amount for the month being thus ascertained is entered into a book, a sort of ledger, monthly. At the end of the year these sums are added together, and the profit upon the whole sales is divided rateably among those people who have made purchases, whether they have shares in the store or not.

Q Who are the persons who manage it? -When it was first set agoing, the company named 15 men who were to manage it. There was a condition imposed that three of the committee should always be named by the company, and it has been their practice to name their chief cashier and two of the principal managers. The other 12 are to be men who have lent money to furnish the capital to carry on the store. They must be men who have lent at least £1 for that purpose.

Q By men do you mean that they must be workers ? – Yes ; they may be oversmen, or men of that stamp but they must be men connected with the works and living in the houses. They want capital to furnish the shop, say £200, £300 or £400, and these men lend money, some of them as much as £20. They don t lend any more than £20, but, as a rule, it is between £5 and £20, and out of that class the managing committee are selected bv the persons who have lent money to the store.

Q Then the managing body is partly named by the firm and partly by the subscribers? – Yes; we name 3 and they name 12.

Q Does the storekeeper appoint his own people? – Yes ; but I think the committee of management take a good deal to say in the appointment of all the storekeepers as well as the principal one.

Q Is there on annual audit of the accounts? – Yes. Our principal cashier is one of the auditors, and the committee of management have to appoint other two.

The stores are thus managed by the workmen, and the profits of each are divided amongst the men who have dealt in it according to their respective purchases. The dividend varies from about four to eight percent, on the goods purchased. The profits on sales to persons who are not workmen, amounting to about £50, £60 or £60 a year at each store, are set aside as a benefit fund, which the committee for managing the shop distribute to those who have been hurt, or who are in distress at the works. Interest at the rate of 8% is paid to those who have advanced money to provide the capital for the store. At Lugar and Muirkirk, where the largest operations are conducted, “about £1,400 would furnish the stock for all the shops, and I think,” Mr. Whitelaw says, “the profit will be about £2,000 or £2,400 a year.”

Before these stores were established, the Messrs. Bairds had stores of their own, worked without compulsion. But these were given up in favour of the co-operative stores because “the whole system was a continual source of complaint and growling on the part of the workmen and the public generally, not at Messrs. Bairds particularly, but over the whole country.”

Mr. Whitelaw was in favour of short payments within a large percentage of the wages earned, with a monthly balancing day. It is well worthy of notice that, in a firm so large as theirs, this could be managed without any difficulty whatsoever :-

Q Then you might balance up once a month or so? – That is what I would suggest, to balance once a month only. But let there be a law, if it is thought necessary, making it imperative that the men shall be entitled every week or every fortnight to get a certain large amount of their wages.

Q But practically the men could get the greater part of what is due to them every week without any mechanical difficulty? – Yes, without any difficulty whatever.

To an auditing by the men the accounts of their own off takes, Mr. Whitelaw thought there was no objection whatever.

Mr. Hood, at Lasswade, employs 300 or 400 hands and pays them fortnightly. The store is co-operative, and is managed exclusively by the men. The profit to the shareholders in 1869 was 15% on the turnover, and about 100% (speaking roughly) upon the outlay, purchases included. It is a popular institution among the men. Mr. Hood would wish to see workmen receive advances once or twice a week to the extent of two-thirds of their earnings.

The evidence given regarding the Slamannan co-operative stores came from Alexander I. Hunter, a collier in the Binniehill works, who spoke in favour of the system, and added that he got 2s. 6d. in the pound in the provision department last quarter, and 3s. in the bakery. He had left £30 in the store last quarter, and got altogether £4 9s. 9 ½ d.

Mr. Dale, managing director of the Consitt Iron Company, states that co-operative stores are spreading very generally throughout the north of England.

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