Truck was a system whereby workers were paid in goods. The system was made illegal in 1831 when the Truck Act was passed. However, despite legislation, truck continued in many areas, particularly in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. By keeping the pay offices and the company store separate, companies considered they were complying with the Act. At many works, it was expected that cash advances were spent in the company store. As the interval between payments was typically a fortnight or month, many men were dependent on the cash advances and thus the store. Men who waited for pay day (often called “paymen”) were not generally affected by this truck system. The system at Drumpellier Ironworks in Coatbridge was described as a typical example of the Truck System [click here to see details].
In collieries and ironworks that did not have stores, it was common to charge the men “poundage” for cash advances – a typical charge was 1shilling in the pound.
In many places lists were kept with the names of “slopers” (i.e. those who took cash advances but did not use them in the company store) and that men were dismissed for not dealing with the store. Another frequent complaint was that the quality of goods in the stores was poor and that the prices charges were generally higher than in the surrounding areas.
In 1870, a Royal Commission was set up to investigate the operating of the Truck system. Many witnesses were interviewed at the various sittings of the commission, including over 200 witnesses at sittings in Hamilton and Glasgow in August and September 1870. The report of the commission published in 1871 provides valuable insight into the workings of the system and the effect it had on the lives of the ordinary workmen. Extracts from the report can be found here.