The History of
Coatbridge Co-operative Society
The first meeting of the Coatbridge Co-operative Pioneers was held in the summer of 1871. On February 3rd 1872 the Coatbridge Co-operative Society started business in a shop in Baird Street.
To fully appreciate the reasons for the success of the Co-op and why it was so necessary, it is useful to remember the conditions prevailing at that time. These were not the good old days that we often talk about but the reverse. There was no electricity, gas or water on tap. Life was hard, Hygiene as we know it was virtually non-existent. Infectious diseases such as Cholera, Typhus, Tuberculosis were rife.
The need for Co-operatives Conceptually, cooperatives are designed to bring about sustained improvement in the quality of life of their members and their communities.
The earliest cooperatives
appeared in Europe in the late 18th
and 19th centuries, during the
Industrial Revolution. As people
moved from farms into the growing
cities, they had to rely on stores
to feed their families because they
could no longer grow their own food.
Working people had very little
control over the quality of their
food or living conditions. Those with money gained more and more
power over those without.
The common people were dependent on merchants for goods and work. Early co-ops were set up as a way to protect the interests of the less powerful members of society - workers, consumers, farmers, and producers.
The workers were frustrated by the abuses of unscrupulous storeowners, many of these were exploiting the helplessness of the poor by selling at high prices, adulterating goods, or trapping the workers with credit agreements. They encouraged workmen to get into their debt by tempting them to purchase items by giving credit. If the purchaser subsequently defaulted on repayment an arrestment of wages was made.
Pawn shops and money lenders also preyed on the working class. The costs of borrowing money often ruined the workers, driving them to reckless actions.
In many cases, workers' wages were paid in "Truck" or company "chits" - credit that could only be used at the company's stores. This practice was outlawed by the passing of the Truck Act' in 1831. Manual labourers were only to be paid in coin of the realm under this act, but the practice continued long after this in some areas. The average consumer had very few choices and little control.
T he emergence of Co-operatives
Various forms of cooperation have existed from the very beginnings of the human race. Cooperatives usually emerge as self-help entities to combat economic and social inadequacies. The Fenwick Weavers Society may well have been the first co-operative. It was founded on14th March 1761 to promote and maintain high standards in the craft, but soon became involved in the bulk purchase of oatmeal for resale to its members. This Aryshire society was dissolved in 1873.
However it was the pioneers of Rochdale, a group of mill workers, who worked out their aims and purposes, and committed them to paper in 1844 in a form which identified nine specific rules. These came to be known as the Rochdale Principles of Cooperation and they have guided the formation, development, and identification of cooperatives throughout the world ever since.
They set up the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society . This was one of the first recorded Co-operatives and started a period of co-operative growth.
The Rochdale Rules
Based on the 'Rochdale rules', open membership, democratic control, distributing profits to members in proportion to their spending, paying small amounts of interest on capital, political and religious neutrality, cash trading, no credit, promotion of education, and quality goods and services including distributing a share of profits according to purchases (this became known as 'the divi')
From the outset the overriding concept underlying the purpose of the Rochdale cooperative was that of self-help. The cooperative existed for the benefit of its members and the improvement of their social and household condition. The cooperative was multipurpose and the founders prepared objects to guide how the cooperative should be developed.
Firstly, a store would be opened then housing would be undertaken, next cooperative production would provide employment to the members, from this a utopian cooperative community would evolve. Finally, a temperance hostel would be founded to improve moral standards.
The laws underlying the working of the cooperative were established under statute. These laws were not in fact new. Their origins could be found in a number of Owenite organisations (named after Robert Owen, an industrialist who supported the ideal of socialism, trade unionism, social reform and cooperation.) (namely The Rational Sick and Burial Society and the model rules for cooperatives adopted by the Owenite 1832 Cooperative Congress).
The initial laws were
lacking and were revised within one
year and periodically thereafter. By
1860 the pioneers formulated a list
of Rochdale Practices. Although
the rules were not original to the
Rochdale Society of Equitable
Pioneers, they because of the
success of the cooperative, have
been recognised as the founding
source of current day cooperative
principles. The success of the
cooperative led to the Rochdalian
Principles being exported
The Rochdale cooperative has been the most influential and their rules became model rules, adopted by many co-operatives.
The Scottish Co-operative
.The Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society (SCWS) was founded in 1868 to serve the Scottish co-operative movement as a wholesaler. Membership was open only to registered co-operative societies and employees of the society.
During the 1880s the SCWS extended the principle of co-operative trading further by setting up the first of its many manufacturing enterprises, producing a wide range of products such as polishes, bleaches, insecticides, and disinfectants and a range of pharmaceuticals. A factory complex was established at Shieldhall, Glasgow, which produced a wide range of foods, as well as furniture, clothing and metalware.
Where possible, the Society tried to control its own supply of raw materials which involved the acquisition of grain mills and timber suppliers in Canada, and a tea plantation in Ceylon. The Society extended into service industries, including hotels, transport and banking - the funeral undertaking department was particularly successful. The Society also moved into retailing and either opened local branches or took over small local societies.
Financing A Co-operative
To achieve the objects, monies were required. To obtain cash, members could subscribe for shares, which could be paid for by small weekly amounts. These shares formed the capital of the cooperative. This capital was used to purchase goods at low cost and to sell them to its members at retail price.
Any surplus made was to be distributed to the members according to their use of the store
Education was of vital importance to the founders of the society. By 1850 the society had a library and unlike most modern cooperatives promoted all forms of education.
In the latter half of the 19th century the area around the Monklands was still expanding. The towns were awash with iron works and mines, weavers and cotton mills, all of which acted like magnets, drawing workers from the outlying towns, villages and farms, from the Highlands, from Ireland and other countries.
Coatbridge, between 1831 and 1871 had a population explosion from 2,000 to 22, 000 - It has been described as a place of dreadful overcrowding, filth, disease, drunkeness, violence and prostitution
It was also said:
is no worse place out of hell than
that neighbourhood. At night the
groups of blast furnaces on all
sides might be imagined to be
blazing volcanoes at most of which
smelting is continued on Sundays and
weekdays, day and night - without
Russell Colt Street
c1966 being demolished
Most workers lived in hurriedly built, with inferior materials producing poor quality rows or tenement houses . They often had no drainage, often only a single room sometimes two, with dirt floors or flagstones. Water often had to be carried some distance in buckets, a yoke across the shoulders being used. Those lucky enough had a water tap in the street or even in the close. . Laundry was done in a common washhouse, bathing was done with a tin tub in front of the fire. Toilet facilities were generally shared.
Rosehall Rows looking
North towards Whifflet
along Back Row.
The rows consisted of one and two
room houses. A single end or a room and kitchen. The room and kitchen was a
room about 3 or 4 metres square with
a bed closet (a built in bed
with curtains or a blanket to
provide "privacy" - sometimes with a
door) and a kitchen about the same size.
The room contained two beds. No
scullery, no bath, no water-closet
within house. The closets outside
were not used by women.
The single end was just one room which served as a kitchen, living room and bedroom for the whole family. It was not unusual to have more than 10 people living in one of these rooms. There was a tale about 2 families sharing the one room and kitchen - the families arranged to work a night shift or day shift to avoid crowding.
Cooking was usually carried out on an open fire with the pots suspended above it. This fire was also the only heating in the house. Lighting was by candle or oil lamp.
A reproduction of beds laid out in a "single end"Photograph by Tom Frew
What could we buy in 1820s?
Among the goods that are likely to have been available to workers around 1820 were oatmeal, barley, butter, rice, dried peas, flour, salt, sugar, potatoes, turnips, cabbages, carrots, whisky, beer, beef, mutton, tea, coffee, barley bread, wheatbread, eggs, cheese, apples and pears.
Other household goods included cloth - wools, plaids, cotton and linen - wooden spoons, crockery, plates, jugs, etc., cast iron girdles, cooking pots, wooden washing tubs, brooms, brushes, buckets, coal, tallow candles, whitewash and soap. A typical shopping list might have included oatmeal, flour, beef, cheese, bread, potatoes, candles, tea and sugar.
Oatmeal was a staple food either made into oatcakes, which would be cooked on a cast iron girdle over an open fire or used to make porridge.
Wages were from 10s (50p) to 3 per week. Labourers earned around 1pw and the skilled worker 1.20 -2pw. The bank clerk and white collar workers earned around 3pw.
Miners in 1851 had a weekly wage average of 2s.6d, (12.5p) rising to 5s (25p), in 1854. By 1858 it had fallen again to3s.6d. In 1871 the wage rose to 10s (50p) a day - These were boom times.
A loaf of bread was 3p. Meat was 2-4p per pound. Butter was 3p per pound.
T ransport (or lack of it).
In the 1870s the common man walked almost everywhere. The horse was the main form of transport. The rich could take their horse or a cab but the less well off rode in hansom horse drawn omnibuses which only operated on main streets from Airdrie to Coatbridge Station. Only the very rich possessed one of the new fangled steam cars.
The growth of industry and the resultant growth in wage earners encouraged the business of shopkeeping and skilled trades. It also sparked a growth in Trade Unions and Co-operatives.