The “Co-operative” Cure

As the “pure and simple” unions have had rather a bad time lately, owing to the large number of members seriously depleting their funds through unemployment, certain of their members have considered the unemployed, problem, and found a “cure” for it. It is not “back to the land,” “reafforestation,” nor yet “reclaiming the fore-shores,” but it is the brand new “co-operative cure” à la Crooks. Seeing larger sums that would be jeopardised were they to strike, they have come to the conclusion that if all these sums of the various unions were pooled, they would have sufficient money to start a co-operative concern and employ the unemployed workers, and so solve the unemployed problem. This sounds very well in theory, but its proposers seem to have forgotten that they are living under the capitalist system, and that no matter how they may attempt it, they cannot evade the conditions that control that system. The capitalist method of production demands that a profit must be made out of the product of labour. As the amount of wealth in all capitalist countries is continually growing, it is obvious that there is an increasing sum waiting to find a reproductive outlet, i.e., a constantly growing amount of wealth in the hands of the capitalist-class, available for profitable investment.

With these facts in mind, let us examine the “co-operative cure.”‘ Let us suppose, for example, that the Operative Bricklayers’ Society decide to start a co-operative building concern. In the first place there would have to be a quick return on the money or the unemployed bricklayers would not benefit much. That is to say, they would have to find a piece of land that was situated where there was actually, or soon would be, a demand for housing accommodation. Here in the open market they would be subjected to a severe competition with the speculative builders at once. But supposing them to have secured the land in the face of competition, and to have proceeded with the erection of their houses. Within the London district such firms as Patman and Fotheringlmm, or Lovett, could buy land and erect houses cheaper and quicker than the union could. Their houses woidd be ready to let sooner, and unless the demand was very large indeed, the union co-operative concern would not stand at all.

The same difficulty would present itself in any other trade along these lines. If the unions had their co-operative concerns running and began to seriously compete with the capitalists, it would only be necessary for the large capitalists to flood the market at cutting rates, and prices would soon be depressed below the level at which the union could work, and the scheme would be killed. The co-operative slate quarries which were started by Lord Penrhyn’s locked-out men have practically reached this point. They may pick up the crumbs of commerce, like the non-trust firms of the United States, but as soon as they get troublesome they have to go.

If the case of the ordinary co-operative society (which is simply a kind of joint-stock company) is taken it will be found that in a large number of cases prices are higher than the usual shop prices. As more and more machinery is introduced, and the army of the unemployed is increased, the wages of those in work fall. The worker has a still smaller purchasing power, and has to buy goods, knowing them to be inferior, because he cannot afford any other, even though the co-op. charges were but a little higher than those of the outside dealer. There has been no great improvement in the workers’ condition through, co-operative concerns in any country where capitalism is well advanced to the trust stage. The only concerns that have paid well are those run on approved capitalist lines,—sweating and violation of the Truck Act included. The workers cannot fight capital with capital, because the larger capital is bound to win, and the workers do not control it. The Socialist Commonwealth is the only cure for the unemploted roblem. Help us then to realise it.


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