Expansion of the Co-operative Movement

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Expansion of the Co-operative Movement

With the Co-operative Wholesale Society to rely' on, the movement continued to expand.

It had gained legal recognition and protection under the Friendly Societies Acts of 1846 and 1862; and by 2000 it numbered 1,778,000 members.

What did it mean to these? Primarily, to the majority, it meant a means of thrift, and a singularly painless and easy means at that.

Then, particularly in early days, it meant reliable goods; standards of honesty in private shop keeping were not high in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

But it did not mean to them what it had meant to the pioneers.

The vision of a regenerated world had faded.

A minority kept alive the old Owenite tradition of self-education and political idealism, formed the Co-operative Party on a Socialist platform and when Labour became a power in the land gave it political support, but from being a revolutionary force Co-operation had become a stabilizing influence, part of the great mechanism of Victorian thrift.

The "New Model" Trade Unionism.

Though Chartism held the centre of the stage all through the "Hungry Forties ", while the Trade Union movement seemed almost forgotten, this apparently blank period was really the seed-time of a new growth.

From the very time when the Grand National collapsed, certain societies, having learned the obvious lesson as to the need of organization, set themselves to build up funds and machinery.

These societies were mostly in the new engineering trades; the Journeymen Steam Engine and Machine Makers' and Millwrights' Friendly Societies, originating in Lancashire, being the largest; a group of London societies, led by William Newton, brought off a successful strike in 1886 and again in 1844.

In 1851 the London and Lancashire groups joined forces to form the Amalgamated Society of Engineers - the "New Model" of Trade Unionism for the next half-century.

The New Model differed widely from its predecessors of the revolutionary period.

It had no interest in the social revolution; it merely wanted a better standard of living. It did not revolt against industrialism as such; it tried to turn it to the workers' account.

It had a highly centralized organization and its executive kept a tight hand on its constituent bodies; there were to be no more optimistic and ill-considered strikes to bankrupt the A.S.E.

as the Grand National had been bankrupted.

Subscriptions and benefits were high, and as the "New Models" were also sound and active Friendly Societies, their financial resources were large and their members had a substantial interest in remaining loyal.

There was no secret society atmosphere such as that whose paraphernalia had been the undoing of the Tolpuddle Labourers.

With the A.S.E., Trade Unionism acquires the business-like, matter-of-fact face which it wears to-day and also the unobtrusive efficiency with which it conducts its business.


More information on - Diversification And Decentralization.

Co-operation: Early Failures

The second working-class development of this period was very different in its growth, atmosphere and ultimate success. Co-operation in the wider sense was not, of course, new either in theory or in practice; Robert Owen had sponsored any number of producers' co-operative societies, which were without exception failures. And there had been consumers' co-operatives before, too; but for one reason or another they had all lacked staying power. There had been different reasons for these failures. The Productive Societies, in which workers tried to run a business of their own without an employer, had their... see: Co-operation: Early Failures


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