A Shoppers’ League of Nations
Fifty-five Million People are members of the world’s Co-operative Societies, and the North American consumer is the least interested
ON THE afternoon of August 26, 1930, in the Konzerthaus at Vienna, a young Canadian arose to speak. Before him sat Britishers and Germans, Americans and Frenchmen, Austrians, Czechs, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Chinese, Dutchmen,
Spaniards, Scandinavians, Japanese,
Swiss, Indians, Argentinians, and Rus-
sians of all the various types from White to Mongol.
All together they numbered 554. From forty different countries they had come as delegates to the Thirteenth International Co-operative Congress. They represented fifty-five millions of people affiliated with co-operative consumers’ and producers’ societies throughout the world, whose purchases total billions of dollars a year. Fifty-five millions of people whose representatives were discussing action against international tariffs and the restrictions of nations against freedom of trade; action against trusts, combines and cartels operated by private capital.
To them, that young Canadian, Andrew Cairns, statistician of the Canadian Wheat Pool, explained the workings and the position of the wheat-growing cooperatives of the Dominion; expressed the desire of Canadian producers to secure closer contact with the purchasing units of the International Co-operative Alliance.
But there was no Canadian delegate to match the reports of those who told of the progress of consumer co-operation in their lands. Consumer co-operation does exist in Canada, but in comparison with other nationals affiliated with this International Alliance, Johnny Canuck is left at the post.
What is this International Co-operative Alliance? What is Canada’s concern in it, if any? Why is it that co-operative buying on the part of the North American consumer is less evident than in any other country of equal development? Such are the questions this article will endeavor to answer.
In MacLean’s issue of March 1, in an article entitled “Britain’s Consumers Keep Shop,” I told the story of the growth of the co-operative movement in England and Scotland from the days of the Rochdale Pioneers to its present status. It was the story of a giant co-operative trading movement—what Lord Rosebery called “a state within a state”—which has six million members, owns 114 mills and factories, coal mines, plantations, shipping, a bank and an insurance company; which does a trade of $1,731,000,000 a year. The empire and international affiliations of the British Co-operative Wholesale Society are the preface to the story of international co-operation Such is the extent of Empire trade conducted by the British C. W. S. that Government recognition is secured
by a place on the Empire Marketing Board. The agricultural and dairy product importations of the English and Scottish societies in 1929 were alone valued at $217,750,000. In that sum was payment to the Canadian wheat pools for ten million bushels of wheat. The Australian pools got $14,500,000. New Zealand got $5,000,000. Newfoundland, South Africa, India and Malay Straits had a share.
In its affiliation with the International Co-operative Alliance, the C. W. S. is part of a globe-encircling chain that is something to be reckoned with in any survey of the world’s trade future. It is a chain embracing Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Esthonia, Egypt, Finland, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Georgia, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Latvia, Mexico, Norway, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, the Philippines, Rumania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Siam, Turkey, Ukraine, United States and Yugo-Slavia.
This chain spends more than $300,000,000.a year in the exchange of goods. For instance, in the first three months of 1930, Russian co-operators bought $1,400,000 worth of goods from the English C. W. S., and in 1929, the latter bought $2,000,000 worth of produce from the Russian co-ops.
To present a detailed description of the co-operative movement in each of the forty countries represented in the Alliance would mean a book. All I can do is to hit the high spots. And it is necessary to explain that, generally and broadly speaking, the co-operative movement has three divisions. First, there are the societies of producers banded together for the co-operative marketing of what they grow. Second, the societies of consumers banded together for the co-operative buying of what they eat, wear and use. Third, the wholesale societies, which do not sell retail but either manufacture or buy wholesale goods and produce with which to stock the stores run by the consumers’ societies.
The Co-operative Globe
IN RUSSIA, with the full backing of the Soviet Government, the co-operative system of trading Is universal. It has two main factions, consumer and agricultural, each with its own separate system of local organizations, unions and central organization. The Consumers’ Co-
operatives are by far the most extensive with regard to membership, trade turnover and financial resources. In 1929, the total membership reported was 33,531,700—11,003,100 in workers' and town societies, and 16,395,300 in rural consumer societies. The yearly turnover of the Consumers’ Co-operative system amounts to over 16,000,000,000 roubles.
They supply members and the general public with manufactured goods purchased from state industrial organizations, private firms, and imported from abroad. They supply consumers with agricultural produce obtained almost exclusively within the country, and they collect and market agricultural produce supplied by their members or purchased on country markets. These Cooperative societies acquire more than sixty per cent of the total goods manufactured by the state industries. The banking institution of the movement is the AllRussian Co-operative Bank Bsekovask, whose field of operations is the whole territory of the Soviet Union exclusive of the Ukraine Republic. The Moscow Narodny Bank, which has its offices in London, finances the import and export operations of the central Co-operative organization in the U. S. S. R.
In Germany, nearly three million members belong to 1,072 distributing, productive and wholesale societies. The Central Union of German Consumer Societies reported sales of $63,494,815 in 1928, with a surplus of $7,269,000. The German Co-operative Wholesale, corresponding to the English C. W. S.—that is, the manufacturing and distributing organization—produced more than $25,000,000 worth of goods in 1928, in forty establishments turning out foodstuffs and kindred commodities, household requisites, cloth and clothing. Like the British C. W. S., it operates its own bank and insurance societies.
In France, 2,500,000 consumers are members of 3,513 Co-operative societies, the turnover of which amounts to some 3,500,000,000 francs a year (at present exchange, some $9,000,000). The annual production of the central distributing organization amounted to 30,214,742 francs in 1928. The banking institution of the movement is the French Co-operative Bank, with an annual turnover of more than a dozen billions of francs.
In Italy, it is the claim of the Fascists that “the purifying Fascism has destroyed the pseudo-Co-operative Society, whether red, white or yellow,” and has “reconstructed a co-operative movement, healthy and full of life, and no longer subject to the political boot.” Throughout the domain of Mussolini, 3,334 consumers’ Cooperative societies boast a membership of 826,845 and 4,786 stores. Agricultural workers’ societies embrace 46,724 member workers, with a capital of 30,000,000 lire
or one and a half million dollars. Some of the societies have for an object the construction of little family houses for their members, or the advancement of capital for the purpose, and others the construction of dwellings which are owned by the societies and let to their members. Dairies, societies for wine culture, the making of electricity, etc., form some of the other co-operative enterprises to be seen in different parts of Italy, particularly in the North.
Austria has gone in for co-operation in a large way. The General Union of Agricultural Co-operative Societies comprises some 3,281 units. On the consumer side, 250,000 members support a hundred societies in the Union of Austrian Consumer Societies. The Austrian Wholesale Society maintains clothing and underclothing, boot and shoe, linen and cloth, macaroni and vermicelli factories, and is a shareholder in the Vienna Wood and Coal Company. The meat selling company is affiliated with the municipality of Vienna, which collaborates with co-operative societies in the supply of fruit and vegetables and obtains its uniforms for civic workers from the Wholesale.
In Belgium, the Belgian Co-operative Union and the Belgian Co-operative Wholesale Societies have a membership of over 280,000, did a business of 760,000,000 francs in 1928, and had a surplus of 24,459,817 francs. The B. C. W. does its own coffee roasting, corn grinding and commodity packeting. It operates a creamery and hosiery and boot and shoe factories. The labor bank at Brussels operates as a banking institution for the Cooperative Societies, as well as attending to general financial and banking business for the Belgian Trade Union organizations.
Holland reports 182,029 as the membership of its 129 Co-operative Societies, and its Co-operative Wholesale Society does an annual business of considerably more than $7,000,000.
In Sweden, twenty-five per cent of the total population—reckoning that every member is representing a family of four persons—hold membership in the Swedish Co-operative Union. The value of goods produced in the movement’s own enterprises was about $2,525,000 last year.
In Norway, nearly 100,000 members subscribe to the principles of Co-operation through local Societies.
Scandinavians Joint Buying
T~YENMARK is one of the countries in which recent years have witnessed a falling off in co-operative marketing rather than an increase. Even at that, in 1928, the last year for which records are available,
1,784 societies affiliated with the Danish Co-operative Wholesale had a membership of 321,500. Wholesale sales from Co-operative factories totalled more than five million dollars.
In Finland, a Co-operative credit movement is in operation, with 1,416 stores holding the custom of 130,000 members. The distribution Cooperative movement in Finland is represented by two unions and the respective wholesale societies which together have a membership of 410,203 and an annual turnover of nearly twelve million dollars.
Operating as the joint cooperative purchasing concern of the Wholesales of Denmark,
Norway, Sweden and Finland, is the Scandinavian Co-operative Wholesale Society with headquarters in Copenhagen.
Little Switzerland has 390-
000 people who have membership cards from 516 societies.
1 heir wholesale division manufactures boots and shoes, furniture, and food products. There is even a co-operative village, Freidorf, and a recently organized Co-operative Bank is doing very well.
In the Balkans, Bulgaria has 600,000 members in its Co-operative movement. Czechoslovakia has 429,000 with an annual trading turnover of two and a half millions of dollars.
In the Argentine Republic, the Co-operative spirit is awakening, more so than in any other country of South America. In Buenos Aires there is El Hogar Obrero (The Workers’ Home) Society, established for the threefold purpose of credit, building and consumption. This and El International, at Rio de Estalada, both do business with the English C. W. S. In the field of agriculture, the Association Co-operativos Argentinas follows the
principles of the English body, is registered according to national law and has its rules sanctioned by the Minister of Agriculture.
Chile and Brazil, in a smaller way, maintain a number of active societies similar in operation to those of the Argentine.
Even in China, despite continued national disturbances and civil war, the gospel of Co-operation gradually is establishing itself. The Chinese Co-operative Union operating in Shanghai, with branches in all the important towns of the country, is the centre, but in the Province of Kiangsu there are eight offices established by the provincial government for Co-operative propaganda. Outside Nankin, the peasants have Co-operatives for the sales of silks, while outside Canton others exist for the sale of rice. The cotton producers of Wim-Kiang and the wool, skin and cattle producers of Mongolia trade on a Co-operative basis.
Australia and Africa
AND what of the other parts of the Empire, the L Mother of which gave birth to the co-operative movement?
In Australia, seventy-one Co-operative organizations have arisen since 1914, under the banner of the Cooperative Federation of Western Australia. The Westralian Farmers, Limited, maintain a partnership agreement with the South-West Co-operative Dairy Products, Limited, whereby the latter manages the manufacturing side of both concerns, while the organization of the former is used for distribution. The Co-operative Wheat Pool of Western Australia is definitely associated with the English Co-operative Wholesale Society, through the banking department of which $50,000,000 in credits was advanced to Australian farmers in 1929.
South Australia has its Farmers’ Union and the Endunda Society, with its thirty branches buying at wholesale rates. In New South Wales, 353 societies combine in the making and selling of butter, cheese, bacon, fruit, etc. Similar societies exist in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.
In South Africa, Co-operation is more agricultural than distributive, something over 200 societies being in operation. Fruit and vegetable growers play an active
part in the movement, which also embraces the native population. The Kilimanjaro Native Co-operative Planters’ Association had 11,000 members last year concerned in the growing and marketing of coffee.
North America Moves Slowly
TT IS when one comes to the continent of North America that the consumer recedes in the picture of cooperation. In the United States", organization of the distributive co-operative movement is as yet in the early stages of development. There are some 155 societies
with an individual membership of about 77,000, and with annual sales through their stores amounting to $14,000,000. Proposals to merge five regional wholesale societies into a national institution are at present under consideration, and may result in the formation of a Co-operative Wholesale Society of the United States. The Superior, Wisconsin, wholesale supplies about a hundred societies and does a business of some $2,000,000 a year. According to Dr. Warbasse, of the Co-operative League of the U. S. A., the big problem of the wholesale societies in the United States is the maintenance of a source of supply and access to markets at the lowest price. All wholesales must buy commodities from sources not friendly to the Co-operative movement. Often they are boycotted.
Newfoundland has seen several attempts in Co-operative enterprise—and several failures. Today, the most successful venture is that of the Grand Falls Society, serving the industrial centre created by the North cliffe and Rothermere wood pulp undertakings. In addition, twenty-eight stores connected with the Fishermen’s Protective Union are said to have a membership of over 20,000.
Even in rugged Labrador, Sir Wilfred Grenfell has been instilling faith in Co-operation. At St. Anthony, the Spot Cash Co-operative Stores, serving a sparse population, last year did a cash business of over $30,000.
In considering Canada it is necessary to draw a line of demarcation in any survey of co-operative movements— the producers on the one side, consumers on the other. Even then the line will be crisscrossed, for some of the co-operative consumers’ societies are offshoots of cooperative producers’ associations. The Wheat Pool, of course, is the Dominion’s biggest experiment in cooperative dealing. Then there are the United Farmers, with headquarters in Saskatoon, with 29,500 members; the livestock co-operative marketing associations, amalgamated as the Central Livestock Producers, Limited, with headquarters in Montreal; the Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers; the Manitoba Co-operative Fisheries, Limited, representing Lake Winnipeg fishermen; and the smaller Ontario Honey Producers’ Association.
Co-operation in the manufacture of butter and cheese is well-defined, there being some 500 such factories in operation in all of the nine provinces. Co-operative sales
of sheep have been encouraged by the Dominion Department of Agriculture both in Quebec and the Maritimes.
Co-operative fruit selling agencies in the Maritimes, in the Niagara Belt and in the Okanagan Valley have proved a success, and the principles of co-operation in the fishing industry have apparently satisfied the people of Lunenburg, where the fleet of some fifty schooners is owned by the operating captains, the outfitting firms and the townspeople. Moreover, the vessels are run on a co-operative basis, the crews receiving no fixed wage or guarantee.
Of all the provinces, Quebec has been practically alone in the development of co-operative credit societies. To Alphonse Desjardins, a Levis journalist, goes the credit of founding the Co-operative People’s Bank in 1900, the first Co-operative credit society in North America. It has operated successfully without interruption since its organization, and has never had to charge off a bad loan. Today, over a hundred Co-operative banks are operating in the Province of Quebec, doing an annual business of over $11,-
000,000, with profits estimated at more than $350,000 a year.
Ups and Downs in Canada
CO-OPERATION, in so far as it has been applied to the producing fields enumerated above, has been success in Canada. The history of the movement in its relation to consumer associations is more checkered. It has had its ups and downs.
One must go back seventy years to find the opening of the first co-operative store in the Dominion. That was in 1861, at Stellarton, N.S. In tracing its fortunes, Miss M. Macintosh, in a booklet prepared some years ago for the Department of Labor at Ottawa, tells how, owing largely to the previous experience of the secretary of the
Continued on page 58
Continued from page 18
society, who remained with it in active service as secretary-manager for fiftythree years, the association steadily increased its membership to 202 in 1914, in which year a dividend of five per cent on purchases was paid. In that year the manager retired, and in 1916 the society failed. Some other stores were opened by Co-operative societies in Nova Scotia prior to 1900, but only one of these survived beyond that date, the others going under when, with the organization of the Dominion Coal Company, certain mines closed down.
As the mining industry was indirectly responsible for the failure of these societies, so it has been responsible for the two most successful of co-operative trading societies in Canada today—the British Canadian Co-operative Society, Limited, of Sydney Mines, N.S., and the Industrial Co-operative Society, Limited, of Sydney, the former with a membership of 3,494 and the latter 1,500, largely constituted of miners.
The British-Canadian Co-operative Society, Limited, has been in business for twenty-five years. It is a retail society modelled on the Rochdale plan, and was organized on May 4th, 1906, by about thirty Old Country miners, who, having recently arrived from Britain, knew something of the workings of Co-operation there. The society started with a capital of $343, and its latest report, that covering the year ending August 5th, 1930, revealed a capital of $273,635, accumulated by individual members very largely from their savings in purchase returns.
The society owns all its properties, free from any encumbrance, having four branch stores—at Florence, Cranberry, North Sydney and Glace Bay—carrying on a general grocery, dry goods, meat, bakery and dairy business, supplying the needs of its members and any other customer who cares to deal there. The member pays an entrance fee of one dollar, which entitles him to full privileges, including a vote at the membership meetings. The directorate consists of fifteen members and a president. Each director gets a fee of fifty cents per weekly meeting. The society also maintains an active educational committee, the business of which is to propagate Co-operation by lectures, socials, etc. Moreover, a script system is maintained whereby children purchase ten cent stamps with are affixed to a card. When it bears five dollars’ worth, it is exchanged for a deposit book and the savings bear interest at the rate of five per cent per annum.
Members of the Sydney Mines Society being largely coal miners, many of them haver not had one week’s work full time in the past year. Last summer most of them were only doing three days work per week,
and in some places two days per week. In the winter, industrial conditions were worse, and the society officials will tell you that the purchase dividend, as high as ten per cent, helped to carry the members through.
The Industrial Co-operative Society, Limited, of Sydney, has been in existence for eleven years. Its sales for 1929 of groceries and meat amounted to $69,811, and it paid a six per cent dividend on purchases.
Apart from these, Co-operative associations or societies are established in the following places:
British Columbia—Armstrong, Crawford Bay, Natal, Revelstoke, Sointula.
Alberta—Bentley, Crossfield, Edgerton, Edmonton, Hanna, Killam, Wetaskiwin.
Saskatchewan—Aneroid, Assiniboia, Davidson, East End Grain Growers’ Cooperative Association, Edenwold, Girvin, Lac Vert, Lashburn, Lloydminster, Melfort, Preeceville, Saskatoon, Tribune, Young.
Ontario—Carleton District, Sudbury, Harrow Farmers Co-Operative Association, Englehart (Northern Farmers Cooperative Company), Port Rowan, Timmins, Waldhof Farmers Co-operative Club, Woodstock.
Some of these are small, with memberships of less than a hundred. Others have two and three hundred. They sell on a co-operative basis commodities of value in the neighborhood they serve. Some retail groceries, meat, dry goods, gents’ furnishings, hardware, coal, lumber. Others sell fertilizers, wire fencing, seeds, twine, flour, saddlery, outfitting goods, etc.
In common with business generally, the past twelve months have seen a recession in the business of the societies affiliated in the Canadian Co-operative movement. To the last meeting of the National Executive, held in Brantford in June, 1930, eleven retail societies reported a fall in turnover the previous year of over half a million dollars. Yet ten retail societies showed an aggregate increase in sales of $207,440.
The net trade surplus or saving (commonly called profit) realized by the reporting retail societies was $294,642—$48,107 less than for the previous year. Nevertheless, it is claimed that if it were the practice of Co-operative societies to divide their net trade surplus in the same manner as is done by privately owned enterprises, it would have shown a return of 52.92 per cent on the share capital investment compared with 58.14 per cent for 1928. Twenty retail societies cofnpared with twenty-one for the previous year declared purchase dividends.
According to the statistics of Canadian
Continued on page 60
Continued from page 58
Co-operative Societies for 1929, the societies in that year made sales amounting to $6,050,755. They declared dividends of $238,302 and they carried a net surplus of $316,168. Some of the societies follow strictly the Rochdale plan of selling strictly at current prices. Others make a practice of selling at close margins, irrespective of local prices.
Success at Killam
TJTERE and there one comes across a co-operative “success story” that is worth reading. Take the Killam, Alberta, store as an example. As R. D. Colquette related in the Country Guide;
“The Killam Co-op. was in trouble.
“At least that was the story which Dame Rumor was busily circulating. In 1921 it had opened a store in a shed that had served as a storehouse when the cooperative was a mere carlot purchasing branch of a U. F. A. local. Later it had built a store and stocked it with the aid of $3,000 borrowed from the bank. The loan had run on for two years, credit was tight and the bank wanted its money . . .
“The reason the co-op. could not meet the loan was far from disturbing. Its business was so flourishing that all its capital was kept tied up in stock. A meeting was called. William Halsall, the manager, explained the situation. And he had a suggestion to make. The suggestion was that they finance their store by the simple device of making their deposits in it instead of in the bank.
“His suggestion was accepted there and then. It was John Schluttenhofer, an old bachelor farmer who started the ball rolling. When Halsall had finished his exposition, John put his hand in his pocket, took out a roll of bills big enough to choke an ox, threw it on the table and said: T don’t know how much there is in it but you can keep it as long as you want it.’
“From this instance of co-operative self-help dates the society’s banking activities. From it also dates the freedom from financial difficulties. Deposits have run as high as $30,000 at one time.
“For seven years the co-operative operated as a carlot purchasing association. Its only physical asset was a small shed, where tag ends of carlot shipments were stored until needed. But in that seven years it handled $100,000 worth of goods.
“With such a volume of business the organization naturally turned its thoughts to having a real store. Accordingly, in 1921, it set up business in the shack which had been used as a storehouse. The capital was increased to $4,000 of which $3,500 was represented by the building and equipment and $500 by stock on the shelves and on the floor. From then till now the growth has been steady and rapid. Now they have a complete departmental store where you can buy anything from a .22 rifle to a bathtub and from the latest thing in millinery to a battery. Barring heavy machinery, if there is any line of goods in a big mail order house that is not represented in the Killam Co-operative store it is not listed in the catalogue.”
“When we first opened up business in town here, prices were high,” says Mr. Halsall, the manager. “We thought it out this way: The merchants are entitled to a reasonable profit for their services. We will find out what is a reasonable profit and set a margin. On most commodities that margin was set at fifteen per cent and we have stuck to it all these years. It has been like a price control factor in setting prices in the district. Sometimes other stores have come down below it but that did not worry us. The margin set was ample, for the surplus produced has built up this business.
“The first charge against surplus profits is six per cent on capital. Out of the balance thirty per cent goes to reserve and seventy per cent to patronage dividends. Non-members get one-half the
patronage dividend, not as cash but as credit on stock. This continues until $50 worth of stock has been paid for. To members the dividend is given as credit in the store. At first the divy was three per cent, but it was later increased. The average has been about five per cent. We have lots of members who are not farmers. They are the largest body of workers in the district, of course, but we are willing to have anybody trade at the store. That is the true Rochdale principle and Rochdale principles are good enough for u;, in Canada. When we came to town we had seventy-eight members. Now we have 300. Patronage dividends credited on stock to non-members have made the difference.”
Then there is the question of wholesale. Affiliated, through the Canadian Cooperative Union, with the British movement, Canadian societies two years ago were buying some $22,000 worth of merchandise a year from the English C. W. S., not a vast amount. Today, efforts are being made to increase that contact and establish Canadian co-operative wholesale depots, but progress has not been rapid. Four warehouses are in operation, one each in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario. The Alberta warehouse is the only one with stock, the others serving as brokerages.
The Alberta Co-operative Wholesale Association commenced operations in January, 1929, under the management A. P. Moan. The first six months were spent in preliminary work. In July, 1929, arrangements were made with a bank for a loan of $15,000, and with this sum warehouse was rented and small stocks put in. Many lines could not be bought from the manufacturers owing to the society’s inability to take the quantity fixed by the agreement with the jobbers. They, therefore, had an understanding with a private wholesale house that orders for goods not carried b^ the Co-operative Wholesale should be passed on to it, two per cent commission thereon being allowed to the society. So far, the Wholesale has been concentrating on groceries, but is now trying to push group sales dry goods and hardware. It has a contract with the Brantford Cordage Company to supply twine direct to the stores and U. F. A. locals. It has also contracted with a lumber company to take 2,000,000 feet of lumber. This was contracted for on a cost plus basis, and the lumber laid down and sold to the Co-operative lumberyards and stores at prices anything from $5 to $15 per 1,000 feet lower than what the line yards are selling at.
Establishment of what is known as the Alberta Oil Pool has resulted in the selling of lubricating oils at a reduction of fifty per cent compared with a year ago. Twelve months ago, oil was being sold for cash and the farmer had to do his own draying from the oil station. Now each district has its delivery wagon with six months credit and barrels given free, and the Alberta Co-operative stores are acting as distributive agents for the Pool.
Canada’s Co-operative Union
WITH headquarters in Brantford, Ontario, the Co-operative Union of Canada has been in operation since 1909. This Union is an educational and advisory federation, and is not a trading unit. Its functions are similar to those of the Co-
Continued on page 62
Continued from page 60
operative Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Its president is W. C. Good,
B. A., of Paris, Ontario, and its general secretary-treasurer is George Keen, of Brantford, also the editor of The Canadian Co-operator. It is the Canadian national member of the International Co-operative Alliance. Membership in or contact with the Union is maintained by the English
C. W. S., which has Canadian offices in Montreal; by the Scottish C. W. S., whose Canadian headquarters are in Winnipeg, and by some thirty of the individual retail societies operating throughout the Dominion.
The lot of George Keen, general secretary of the Canadian Union, has not been an easy one. For twenty years hehas run his organization in the face of obstacles and apathy. When, in 1928, H. J. May, general secretary of the International Cooperative Alliance, concluded a trip through Canada in company with Sir Thomas Allen, of the British Empire Marketing Board, and two or three directors of the English and Scottish Cooperative Wholesale Society, he wrote a report. That report was submitted to the Vienna Conference last year.
Mr. May was deeply impressed by the progress of the Co-operative movement in Canada in so far as producers are concerned, but the progress of the movement in so far as the consuming public is concerned disappointed him. In fact, he describes the condition of the Co-operative Union as “Pitiable,” and his remedy, quoting from his report,is as follows: “What is needed is more societies in the Union, and a vigorous, broad-visioned policy could, in my opinion, bring them in if funds were available for the elementary propaganda necessary. Half measures will be of little use in Canada under existing circumstances. Any effort toward the establishment of consumers’ Co-operation, retail or wholesale, is faced with the tremendous competition of a large mail order business, whose turnover last year amounted to £60,000,000 sterling. It is largely from the customers of this highly organized business that the membership of the future Co-operative societies must be recruited. A bold policy, active work, sectional organization, could secure the valuable help of the Wheat Pools, which, however, must officially, in their own interests, stand outside of any active propaganda for consumers’ societies.”
Furthermore, in his report Mr. May makes this recommendation: “That at this crucial stage, the International Cooperative Alliance might do really useful work in making a substantial grant to the Canadian Union on certain conditions to be laid down, in order to give it a start on a new campaign and policy.”
As a result of the visit of the delegation to Canada in 1928, it was agreed that there was an urgent necessity for establishing closer relations between the organizations of consumers and those of agricultural producers. Negotiations thereafter took place with the Canadian Wheat Pools, with the object of securing that closer co-operation. It was hoped that a conference between the two bodies could have been arranged to take place in Europe in 1930, but, in view of the difficult experience through which the Wheat Pools were passing at that time, it was agreed to postpone the conference until a later date.
In 1930, three directors of the English Co-operative Wholesale Society, R. Fleming, J. Bradshaw and Mr. Hobley, visited Canada, going to the West for the purpose of discussing among other things the I possibility of developing the Canadian I cattle trade. In a speech over the radio : from the Pool offices in Winnipeg, Flem| ing said: “The Canadian Wheat Pool is the largest organization of producers that the world has ever seen. Similarly, the
Co-operative Wholesale Society is the largest organization of consumers. The two are not alien and antagonistic in their character, but mutual and complemental. We want to get together, not in sentiment only, but in business operation, working for a joint mutual object—namely, equity to the producer and fairness to the consumer.
“The present unprecedented position of the wheat trade is proving a fasting time for the Pool. All human institutions are subject to such ordeals. Our advice to the 142,000 members is to stand true to your own organization. What have you to gain otherwise?”
Summed up, then, the situation is this. The British Co-operatives, as the largest unit in the International Alliance, are distinctly interested in Canada. They have been, and can be, big buyers of Canadian wheat and cattle. They are considering the establishment of a porkpacking plant here. And they would rather deal with co-operative organizations than with private enterprise. For their part, the Canadian wheat pools desire a closer alliance with co-operative buyers. As Mr. Cairns, representing the Central Pool, said in Vienna:
“To the many millions of co-operative consumers represented here today I bring a message from three-quarters of a million individuals that they have pooled their efforts successfully to establish a genuinely Co-operative Marketing Association which has effected many economies and eliminated much waste at home, but whose success ultimately depends upon securing and maintaining the good will and confidence of the consumers who purchase the products of their labors. Fully realizing, as they do, the interdependence of the consumers and the producers, our members will welcome any steps which are taken which will bring our organization into closer contact with the units of the Alliance.”
Likewise is the British Co-operative Wholesale interested in Canadian consumer organizations as potential customers. But the Canadian consumer, with the exceptions noted in this article, does not respond quickly.
Miss Macintosh, of the Department of Labor, in her survey of 1926, gives as one reason the fact of the more individualistic character of the population in the Dominion and the higher standard of living made possible by higher wages, which appears to have rendered consumers in Canada less inclined to Co-operative effort than in the older countries of Europe.
Distance is regarded by other students as being an obstacle to the development of Co-operation, so far as the consumer is concerned. For example, at the 1930 congress of the Co-operative Union, held in Toronto, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had no delegates in attendance. Four of the Alberta societies joined in sending one joint delegate.
Speaking at that same congress on the backwardness of the consumers’ co-operative inclination in Canada, A. M. Barnetson said there were two causes for the backwardness, the first being the confirmed individualism of a large immigrant population, and the second, the early development of the chain store. Yet, as he pointed out, though the chain store is ubiquitous today in Canada, it developed at a much earlier stage in Great Britain; and that, during the time when competition from this direction had to be faced in that country, the British Co-operative movement had made its greatest advance.
So far as I am concerned, I have no opinion to express. My purpose has been to outline the progress of the Co-operative Movement throughout the world, a purpose born primarily of the interest stimulated by firsthand observation of the of the C. W. S. in