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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20


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As the increasing importance of Co-operation has, for some time past, been engaging the attention of the leading reformers of Europe and America, and as steps are being taken at the present time to establish a Co-operative Store in Dunedin, we intend publishing, as our space permits, a series of tracts and papers hearing on the subject. We give below, as the first of the series, the "Banbury Co-operative Tract, No. 3." The Banbury Co-operative Society, like that of the Rochdale Pioneers, began in a very small way, and bids fair to be as successful as its great prototype. It was commenced by a small number of working men, and within four years from starting, had eight hundred members, chiefly heads of families, and was doing a business equal to £20,000 a year.

"Good Morning, Joyful—I'm glad to see you," said Sam Jones (a working carpenter), as he met Tom Joyful, who was out for a walk the other Sunday morning, on the Oxford Road. "I wanted to see you; for I have thought a good deal about you since last we met."

"Indeed!" said Joyful. "How is that?."

"Why, you remember giving me a couple of tracts on Co-operation, don't you?"

"I do," said Joyful.

"Well, I did as you requested me. I took them home and read them again and again: and although I had passed that place on the Cow Fair scores of times, and seen what was over the door I never knew, nor did I think of its meaning, until I read those tracts," said Jones,

"I dare say not," said Joyful. "Unfortunately, there are, I am sorry to say, vast numbers of working men who go on, and on, and on, in the old routine of life, without looking either to the right or to the left, or noticing what lies in their way, be it ever so valuable; and that's the reason the world makes the slow progress it does: whereas, if they would only make use of the means which lie within their reach for improving their condition, it would not be what it now is, in too many instances, a miserable one indeed. But do you know what it means now?"

"From what I read in the tracts, I was induced to join the Society; and I have often thought it was only what was due to you that I should tell you—and I am glad of this opportunity of doing so—that I found what they contained to be strictly true; and I thank you for putting them in my hands," said Jones.

"I am very glad to hear that," said Joyful; "it is not always I get so recompensed. But as you seem to have been so interested, suppose we take a turn, and have a little further conversation about this thing called Co-operation?"

"I shall be pleased to do so," said Jones.

"Well what have you made out about it?" said Joyful

"Made out?" said Jones: "well, I told you I read Tract No. 1, and that opened my eye a little; then I read No. 2, and I saw further Since then I have read and thought a good deal about it; and I feel the more I know, the more I want to know about it."

"That's a good state of mind to be in," page 2 said Joyful, "and one which, if duly attended to, will secure you a well-informed one; and after all, it is as Dr Watts says—

'The mind's the standard of the man.'

But to our subject. This Co-operation then, means nothing less, Jones, than the complete salvation of Labor. I mean the liberation of Labor from all wealthy patronage, and control. Labor is, and for ages has been, the slave of Capital; and though men talk of the interests of Labor and the interests of Capital being identical, under the present system it's all humbug—'a delusion, a mockery, and a snare.' They are nothing of the kind—they are as opposed to each other as they possibly can be. Labor is the slave of Capital; and though it has made, and still continues to make, desperate efforts to free itself, they always end in failure, and in riveting its fetters still tighter. Look at the thousands, the hundreds of thousands of pounds the working classes have expended in strikes, and the sacrifices they havee made; and to what purpose? Capital has now a firmer grip of its victim than ever. You, like myself, are a working man, dependent on labor; but our labor is of no use to us if there are none with money who will employ us: and with no employer, we have to starve or go to the workhouse, as thousands are doing at the present time; while if we are employed, it must be on the employers' terms, and not ours."

"That shall be right," said Jones.

"All this," said Joyful, "proves to me that it's no use Labor fighting Capital. Capital must be met with capital; and this the working classes can never obtain but by Co-operation. Co-operation will give it them, and that in the simplest, safest, and easiest manner possible. Do you doubt it? See what they have done at Rochdale, and many other places. At Rochdale, 30 years ago, you might have kicked the weavers and working classes from there to Jericho, and could not have kicked a hundred pounds out of them: now they have a capital of £100,000. How did they get it? By Co-operation! This buying and selling of quarter-pounds of tea, penn'orths of soap, or ha'porths of treacle, may appear a very trifling matter; but it is not so trifling, after all. On the contrary, it is a most important one, as it is the mode or method by which the salvation of Labor is to be wrought out."

"That seems curious too," said Jones.

"Yes it does," said Joyful; "but if, as you go through life, you will observe well, you will find that most of the greatest effects are produced by the simplest means: as, for instance, gunpowder, one of the greatest explosive forces known, is produced from nothing more than a mixture of charcoal, sulphur, and saltpetre; or steam, that mighty giant, from a little fire and water. And as in the physical, so also it is in the moral world—

The greatest wonders do from trivial causes spring.

But to our subject again. Society is now divided into two classes—the Producers and the Non-producers of wealth; in other words, the workers and the schemers; and, up to the present, the schemers have had the best of it. Now, there is no wealth that is not produced by labor. Labor is the source of all wealth; but, unfortunately for themselves, while the laborers have been toiling and moiling to produce wealth, they have not carefully protected it, but have allowed the schemers to run off with it as fast as produced. 'Tis true, the schemers do not knock the laborers down and rifle their pockets, as do the highwaymen the lonely traveller; but they have a system by which they do it quite as effectually, and far more safely; and of this system shopkeeping forms an important part. Let me illustrate this:—Peter Simple earns a pound; he takes it to the shopkeeper, to be exchanged for either groceries, provisions, clothes; or furniture. If for groceries, he receives so much butter, cheese, or lard; but he leaves the shop with only eighteen, seventeen, sixteen, or fifteen shilliugs' worth for his pound; the remainder is retained, and the poor bumpkin, thinking he has the value of his pound, goes away contented. Now suppose if, instead of for groceries, he goes in to change his sovereign for silver, and the shopkeeper offers him eighteen, seventeen, sixteen, or fifteen shillings for it—would Simple be so simple as to take it? Not he; he would insist upon having a pound's value for his pound; and yet so much is custom interwoven with our nature, that large numbers of our fellow-workmen still prefer the old method of spending their money, and taking eighteen shillings for their pound, to the new, which gives them value for value, or twenty good shillings' worth for their sovereign. Of course, we must not blame the shopkeeper. Who would not be a shopkeeper while so many kind Simples abound?"

"Rot it!" said Jones, "what a fool I must have been all my life."

"Never mind," said Joyful. "Although the people do not at present see through it, they will see through it; and when they see through it—good-bye to private trading. Shops may be opened, plate glass may fill their fronts, windows may be dressed, goods be offered at less than prime cost—they will not be entered. 'In vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird;' they will be regarded page 3 only as so many traps to catch flats; and, by avoiding them, the working classes will rid themselves of some portion of the great burden they now have to bear, and the shopkeepers will take their fair share in the great labor of life."

"And a jolly good job, too," said Jones.

"That is not all," said Joyful. "With the shopkeepers will go many of the classes above them—bankers, lawyers, landlords, rentiers, and rate collectors. Banks will not then pay 20 per cent, dividend to shareholders; lawyers will no longer be engaged, like bull-dogs, tearing poor humanity to pieces; debts will no longer be incurred; goals will be closed, or turned into hospitals for incurables; the police may be disbanded; and a thousand and one more things, equally desirable, will or may take place, when the people have learnt to go to their own shop for what they need, instead of to other people's. It all hinges on that, Jones—to their own shop, instead of to other people's"

"I see—I see," said Jones.

"But we have only talked about a part of the question yet," said Joyful. "We have had the spending side: now let us have a few words about the producing side. By selling their goods at the store at the same price as the ordinary shopkeeper, the working people of Rochdale and elsewhere (as I said before) have accumulated a large capital, which has given them not only huge stores of clothing, but has enabled them to build large mills to grind their corn, to build factories, to purchase shiploads of cotton and machinery, and to employ themselves in making sheeting for beds, flannel for backs, and to build houses for themselves to live in (a hundred at a time) to educate themselves, and to become, in fact, their own employers, and independent of all private capitalists. What a joy! what a consummation to be able to have—to earn—plenty to eat, to drink, and to wear; a good house to live in, and to be educated and enlightened men and women; without having to thank any one but Heaven and themselves for them all. This is what I mean by the salvation of labor. I earnestly hope the time is not far distant when we shall see the like in Banbury—in short, all the world over."

"I hope so, too," said Jones; "but I fear it will take a long time to bring it about."

"Time!" said Joyful, "no one knows the time: it might be a century; it might be fifty, forty, twenty, ten, or five years; it might be sooner than the most sanguine of us expect; but this we know—it can, and will be, just when the working classes will it. They have only to say it shall, and it will be done. They have nothing to do but determine (as I said before), to buy all they want at their own shops, instead of other peoples', and the work is accomplished. Oh! it does grieve me to see the working people—some even who are members of the store—so simple as to carry their hard-earnings to places where they never see them more, instead of to the place whence they would return to them again and again. Such a course is just about as sensible as would be their continually feeding their rich neighbor's fat pig, while their own was starving in its sty. But we must have patience, Jones; the people have to be taught better, and that necessarily takes time; they are learning—learning with a speed you little think of; and all will be well in the end."

"I'm glad to hear that," said Jones; "anything I can, I shall willingly do, to help in such a work."

"Good," said Joyful, "willing hearts and willing hands, with God's help, will enable us to accomplish all we desire. No man knows what he can do till he tries. Take this bundle of tracts, distribute them among your fellow-workmen, and urge the subject on their attention; never forgetting, that just in proportion as we labor, so will the change be brought about—a change the most glorious that ever gladdened the heart of humanity—a change which will be beneficial to all, because it will be founded on that great principle and formula of justice—"As ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."

"I believe it," said Jones; and shaking Tom by the hand, they parted, and each wont his own way.

Dunedin: Mills, Dick & Co., General Printers, Stafford Street,