1920s >> 1923 >> no-229-september-1923

Editorial: Ideals and Reality

In the July number we criticised the Co-operative Movement, pointing out that this. movement would not assist the workers to break the chains of slavery.

We have recently received striking confirmation of our contention that the Co-operative Movement must either carry on business in accordance with capitalist methods or stagnate.

From the Co-operative News (18/8/23) we learn that the Committee of the Rochdale Provident Society have decided to discharge thirty-seven adult employees and replace them with fifteen juveniles. They were taking this action on grounds of economy.

In their comment upon this action the Co-operative News quotes from the Daily Mail the views of Mr. H. Gladwell, the president of the Rochdale society, as follows:—

  “To keep our Society in its present sound financial position we have to attract trade. This will only come if our goods are cheap and dividends are big; for the co-operator to-day does not care a rap about co-operative ideals. He or she is simply concerned about cheap commodities. To sell cheaply we have to adjust our wage costs. For the past two years we have been paying men big wages to do boys’ work, and we cannot continue on those lines.”

Here is an open admission of failure from a Co-operative official, and it is not minimised by the fact that the Co-operative News adds a note stating, “The Society has been, but is not now, a member of the Co-operative Union.”

A member of the Co-operative Union— in fact, the President of the 1912 Congress—made the following statement in his inaugural address to the Congress:—

  “We find a growing disposition on the part of the rank and file to take advantage of methods of trading which, but a few years ago, were regarded as distinctly anti-co-operative. The sale of bonus tea and overweight margarine, when first introduced by the competitive trade, was heartily condemned, alike on our platforms and in our stores, but both are now common enough features of co-operative trading, especially in the North of England, and the practice is carried on by many who condemn it on principle, for the sake of the commercial success it brings. The coupon system of trading, with its so-called ‘present’ at the end, is coming along, and one wonders how long it may be before, instead of adhering to our own ideals, we shall be not only copying the doubtful methods of others, but introducing new ones ourselves, and sacrificing every principle on the altar of commercial success.” (Page 29, 44th Annual Congress Report.)

Unfortunately for the idealistic Co-operator, it is a world of realities and not ideals that has to be dealt with. Capitalism has possession of this world at present, and hallmarks productions with the capitalist stamp as products of slave labour. Though such products may be produced by a Co-operative Society and sold in a Co-operative shop, still they are none the less articles produced by people who own no property but their power to labour, and who have used up this power to labour in the production of Co-operative products. In return for this expenditure of energy they have received no more than in any other capitalist concern—the average cost of production of such labour power. In other words, whether the work is done for a Co-operative Society or a joint stock company, the worker is still a wage slave, whatever be the fanciful title applied to his wage.

As we are organised to abolish wage- slavery, we are opposed to the Co-operative Movement.

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[Since the above was written we find that a writer in the Co-operative News has fallen out with some of the views put forward in our July article. We will have pleasure in drying our critics tears, correcting his inaccuracies, pointing out his shufflings, and demolishing his case in a future issue. We are a very obliging party.]