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History of the Barrhead Co-operative Society Ltd.
Chapter VI. 1891-1901 . Further Progress

Capital and Labour—The Bonus Question—Reduction in Hours—Trade Union Conditions—Penny Savings Bank—Dressmaking Again— Annual Excursions—Not Counting the Cost—Local Elections—Coal Sold in Bags—More Property—Building Profits—Distress Funds— Loan and Subsidiary Fund—A Valuable Effort—The Traders’ Boycott—The Fish Trade—Society’s Joiner—Appointment of First Manager—Wanted a Check System—Mr John MfCorkindale’s Check —Climax System Adopted — Dovecothall Property — Mr Stark’s Retirement—Death of Treasurer Williamson—New Officials—'Bakery and Offices — Public Gifts — Building Loan Fund — Proposed Branches—Neilston Furnishing—Prominent Workers.

“The skill to do. comes of constant doing.’'


IN the efforts which the Society had been making up to this point to secure success it had not, so far, set itself the task of consciously considering the relationship which should exist between itself and its employees. Its first and strongest thought was for the wellbeing and profit of its members. In the evolution of modem co-operation this was, no doubt, the proper attitude, for the successive directorates were animated by an intense desire to plant and to nourish the seed of co-operation in the midst of a world which was largely hostile. That being so, they were often impatient with the carelessness, or seeming carelessness, of some of their servants towards this sacred ideal. It is not suggested that up to this time the Society had treated its employees harshly in the matter of wages. Some of the wages were undoubtedly small, and there was a tendency to dismiss hands on grounds which do not always appear to have been adequate. At the same time there were many instances of long service—Mr Tyndall and Mr Gilbert in Barrhead and the Mathie family in Neilston are cases in point—and there is no doubt that the wages paid, small though they may appear when tried by a modem standard, compared favourably with those commonly paid for similar work at that time.


With the increase, not only of the shop staffs, but also of the coal, stable, bakery, tailoring, and dressmaking sections, the members had to face the whole wages and conditions question in a definite fashion, and had to ask themselves whether they were giving to their workers the conditions to which they were justly entitled. Accordingly we find, in and around the year 1891, matters of this kind frequently discussed. One of the first signs of this awakening interest occurs in the latter end of 1890, and again in March 1891, when Mr William Braidwood and a few others accuse the Society of inconsistency in having dropped the old rule which provided bonus to workers. They point to the fact that many other societies still pay bonus, that others are now adopting the system, and they urge the Society to revert to the position it had occupied from 1861 to 1875. This effort was all in vain, and it is evident that those who favoured the payment of bonus to workers constituted but a small minority.


If the members are not to be moved on that line, they are, however, singularly open to attack on the side of reducing the hours of labour. In May 1891 it is agreed, on the motion of Mr John Martin, to reduce the hours of the shopkeepers half an hour per day by opening at 8 instead of 7.30 in the morning as had been the custom till this time. Again, in February 1892, Mr Gavin Pinkerton gives notice of motion to reduce the hours of all servants from 53I to 50 per week. At the May meeting this is keenly debated, and on the mover amending his proposal to 51^ hours, it is carried by a considerable majority against the previous question. In like manner, and in the same year, the holiday arrangements are reported on, and, instead of the short and irregular vacations which had hitherto been the rule, it is formally agreed that in future all shopmen and productive workers shall be allowed a week’s summer holiday. This was in keeping with an earlier decision of the Board to institute a weekly half-holiday, a system which was first at this time being generally adopted. For some not very apparent reason the vanmen are left out of this agreement, and it was not till the following year (1892) that they were brought in by a special resolution on the subject.


By this time the employees had also begun to bestir themselves, and as many of them were trade unionists they naturally took steps to see that trade union conditions prevailed in the Society’s employment. In those points where the Society was inadvertently behind it agreed at once to put itself into line on having this pointed out; but in most matters, hours, wages, and overtime rates, it found itself up to and in some cases in front of the prevailing standard. Thus in September 1892 attention was called to a letter appearing in the Co-operative News, in which the secretary of the Tailors’ Union stated that the Co-operative Society was the only employer in the Barrhead district giving the union rates, and a little later a similar statement was made with regard to the bakers. These arrangements between capital and labour were benevolently crooned in the following year (February 1893) when it was decided that day’s wagemen should receive two weeks’ full and four weeks’ half pay when off work through sickness. The pleasant terms thus created between the Society and its servants have happily continued right down to the present day; and although it cannot be contended that there has never been any moments of misunderstanding, it can be said with truth that the periods of friction have been few, and differences between the Society and its workers have always been easily adjusted.


The penny savings bank, as we all know, is under the charge of the educational committee. It is one of the most useful and most popular of the activities of that department, and it may be thought that any reference to it should be kept for the educational section of our book. But the scheme at its inception was not fathered by the educational committee, but by a general meeting of the members, and it was only after it had been put into shape that it was handed over to the committee to be managed.

The idea of a juvenile savings bank was a favourite one with Mr Robert Stark. He had frequently mentioned it, and in January 1891 he brought forward and carried a motion that such a bank be established. It was remitted to a special committee to consider, and in October of the same year, on the report of Mr James Walker, a scheme for the working of the juvenile savings bank was adopted. The operations of the bank began at the end of the same year, and now in the present year (1911) there are 2,420 depositors, and the funds amount to 5,236, 12s. 10d.


Turning to the trading side, of the Society’s activities, we find that for a year or two in the beginning of the 1891-1901 period there are no notable advances or new ventures to record, and nothing more remarkable than a steady growth in most departments. Dressmaking, is an exception to this rule. Business had been very unsatisfactory for some time, and in November 1893 the committee submit a special report showing that for the previous two years the net loss on this department was over 60, and they recommended that it should be given up. But the members, if they are sometimes slow to accept the word to advance, have been always consistent in their refusal to retreat, and so they decline the committee’s recommendation and insist that the department shall be continued.


It will be remembered that the long series of annual soirees, which had run almost unbrokenly from the commencement of the Society were brought to a close in 1890, the members refusing in 1891 to give sanction on the ground that it was a financial loss. But if the members objected on the grounds of economy to the soiree, its cessation seems only to have created a desire for some other annual event, and, in 1894, when an annual excursion was first proposed, the idea was at once taken up with enthusiasm. Indeed, in its haste to agree to the proposal, the Society got itself into rather an awkward position. The motion as originally adopted declared that the excursion was to be free, and that each member should receive " a pair of tickets.” Here was generosity with a vengeance ! When the educational committee and the board met to discuss ways and means they decided that the cost was too great, and immediately called a special meeting to reconsider the question. At this meeting the mover of the original motion admitted that he had not " counted the cost,” and if he had thought it was going to run up to close on 300 he would not have made the proposal. The motion was accordingly rescinded, but it was agreed to proceed with the excursion and charge the members one shilling for their ticket, the Society making good the difference in cost. This was the first of a series of successful and much enjoyed summer excursions ; but it falls to be noted that, so far as economy was concerned, the change from soiree to excursion was a case of out of the frying-pan into the fire—the loss on the excursion being always very much greater than had been experienced in the days of the soiree.


Co-operators are by no means agreed as to the wisdom of the co-operative movement taking an active part either in local or in Parliamentary elections. It has more than once happened, however, that the Society has to some extent interfered in local elections. Thus, in 1894, when the first burgh election was taking place, a special meeting was held for the purpose of furthering the interests of co-operative candidates, the secretary, Mr Robert Stark, being one of the number. On this occasion they failed to get any of their candidates returned; but in 1896 a similar and very much more successful effort was made in connection with the first Parish Council election, when quite a large proportion of co-operative candidates were elected. Another successful effort on the same lines was made at the School Board election in 1897. In 1899 it was suggested by Mr John Lafferty that the Society should select a candidate for a vacancy on the Town Council, but no action was taken. Again, in October 1900, Mr Gavin Pinkerton asked power to call a meeting of ratepayers for the formation of Ward committees. This was granted, and as a result Ward committees for the Burgh were formed, these being afterwards changed to the Citizens’ Committee as it exists to-day.


From these excursions into what may be regarded as more or less interesting by-paths we return to the main course of our story. Perhaps the only item worth recording in connection with the trading of 1894 is the fact that the selling of coal in bags- was first introduced in that year. Up to this time the habit had been to sell coal almost exclusively in full cartloads, but a steady drop in trade which was then being felt compelled the Society to follow the example of some of its competitors and adopt the hundredweight bag system. The adoption of this method had been first proposed in 1890, but the members were conservative in their views, and refused at that time tb sanction the proposed change. It was only when the custom had already become firmly established in the district that the members agreed to give it a trial. The greater proportion of the Society’s coal trade is now done on this system.


The three years 1891-2-3 were characterised by the steady development of existing agencies, but there was a distinct absence of the spirit of enterprise. With the beginning of 1894 there are signs that this period of marking time is passing, and the decision in April to purchase Main Street property and in June to proceed with the building of Barnes Street No. 2 property form the prelude to a much more active period. The Main Street property, in which Main Street grocery and fleshing branches are now situated, was bought in May for 1,200, and in August the plans for the new Barnes Street tenement were accepted. Following upon this came a special meeting, when power was given to the committee to offer for a small property in Neilston and also for Bourock Cottage adjoining Bourock No. 2 property in Barrhead. Neither of these offers were successful, and the next year or two witnessed much heated debating of rival schemes for building new property or acquiring a tenement next to Bourock No. 1, and thus permit of remodelling of Central premises.

Seated—William Ferguson, A. B. whir (Secretary), John A. STEWART (President). THOMAS Dykes (Treasurer), Robert CAMPUULL, James G. CLARK.


It was about this same period that an interesting controversy developed with regard to the financial position of the Society’s buildings—a controversy which was waged with great spirit for a long time, and the echoes of which have not died out even yet. In the beginning of 1895 an agitation arose for the increase of tenants’ rents, on the ground that these were too low and yielded no return to the Society. A committee was appointed to investigate, and, as a result of their report, the board increased some rents, both in Neilston and Barrhead. The subject was naturally raised at the following quarterly meeting, with the result that a new committee was appointed to make an exhaustive inquiry into the question. That committee, at a later date, submitted a detailed statement showing that the profits from buildings ranged from per cent, in Barnes Street to 3^5- per cent, in Bourock No. 1. The report was vigorously debated at the quarterly meeting to which it was first submitted, and a resolution casting doubt on its accuracy, and censuring the committee for increasing the rents, was carried by a small majority. At the following quarterly meeting the debate was resumed; and this time, by a still smaller majority, the former motion was rescinded and replaced by one thanking the committee for its action! These changes of front are only typical of the see-saw of opinion to which all popular assemblies are susceptible. In the ensuing years the subject again crops up at recurring intervals, and in 1901 a new committee is appointed, with Mr William Ferguson as convener, “to go into the profits from all properties and report.” This committee reports to the effect that the profits from building all over are only 154 per cent. At a later date the same committee recommends a scheme of increases on certain properties, which would have the result of yielding a profit of 3J per cent. ; but differences of opinion arise as to the depreciation charges, and in the end no alteration in existing rents is recorded. The most recent attempt to revive this topic was in November 1908, when Mr William Edgar indicated that he proposed moving for a statement on property, with a view of having some of the rents increased. At that time, however, the chairman stated that the subject was being kept in view, but the committee had delayed action in view of the dull trade experienced in the district. In the beginning of the following year it was intimated that the rents in some cases had been slightly increased, and that this, with certain economies, would have the effect of adding considerably to the profits from this source.


If the Society was kept busy at this period with these details concerning its own management, it is evident, nevertheless, that it has not forgotten the “ weightier matters of the law ” in respect to its duty towards the poor and needy. Thus, in November 1894, it was agreed to put aside the sum of 60 to provide a New-Year breakfast to the poor of Barrhead and Neilston. A little later (in February 1895), it was agreed to give a regular supply of two dozen loaves to the soup kitchen, which had then been established ; and a further sum of 50 was put into the hands of a committee to administer in relief of distress. In a similar way and at different times the Society readily undertook to do its share of the task of relieving suffering humanity by votes of money, ranging from 5 to 20, to such funds as the Indian Famine Fund, Irish Distress Fund, the fund for the families of soldiers in South Africa, etc.


One of the results of the hard winter of 1894-5 was to turn the thoughts of some of the members to the creation of a permanent means of dealing with deserving poverty, and at the same time assist a number of poor persons to become members of the Society. The subject was discussed in March 1895, and a committee consisting of Messrs Robert Campbell, John Blair, Robert Murray, John Rowan, and Gavin Mackinlay (convener) was appointed to consider a scheme and report. The outcome of their deliberations was the establishment of the loan and subsidiary fund—a fund which has proved immensely useful to individuals and to the Society, and which is, we believe, in some respects unique so far as the co-operative societies of Scotland are concerned. For the purposes of the fund there is an allocation of one farthing per on purchases during each quarter. The fund, however, must never at any time exceed 100, and any allocation which would carry it above that sum would consequently lapse. The loan and the benevolent—or, as it is called, “subsidiary”—sections are operated separately, although under control of one committee. The object of the loan division is to “ assist respectable persons who are desirous of joining the Society but, through monetary difficulties, unable to do so, by advancing them the necessary sum, on their pledging themselves to join the Society; the sum advanced to be paid back at the rate of 25 per cent, per quarter deducted from their dividend.” The chief object of the benevolent section is “to assist members in distress, and thereby enable them to retain their membership.” The committee is restricted, in its giving, to 2 in any one quarter to any member from the benevolent fund, and not more than 1, 10s. to any applicant from the loan fund.


The value of this fund has always been amply demonstrated by the interesting annual report submitted from year to year by* Mr James Walker. These show the average number of benevolent lines granted in a year to be about 350, of the total value of 100 ; whilst the lines in the loan section are about the same in number, but about double the former sum in value. In his most recent report (August 1910) Mr Walker stated that during the fifteen years that the fund had been in existence 1,174 had received loans, and 447 of these were due the Society 208. Of persons who had thus become members, 360 in the previous quarter had made purchases amounting to 2,700. These figures speak for themselves, and they show that, whilst the first intention was a sympathetic and benevolent one, the fund has at the same time proved to be good business and an excellent piece of propaganda.


In the years 1895-6 the country was ringing with the agitation of a number of private traders, who desired to initiate a strong boycott against co-operators and co-operative societies. The result of this effort in Glasgow, where, for a time, co-operators were excluded from the Meat Market, is well known to all. In Barrhead, as in other parts of Scotland, all the influence of the Traders’ Association was brought to bear upon employers of labour, to induce them to dismiss workmen who were known to be co-operators. It is satisfactory to record that against these efforts all the larger employers of labour and most of the smaller ones in the district were proof. Only two local firms proved open to this influence, one of them dismissing three, and the other dismissing two employees. One of the men thus dismissed was given work by the Society; and in the case of the others, it was agreed to pay 15s. per week to all married men, and 10s. per week to all single men thus boycotted until they found other employment. This futile attempt of a few misguided Mrs Partingtons to sweep back the tide of a great movement was soon abandoned, but the stimulus which it gave towards increased loyalty and enterprise amongst the societies was felt for many years afterwards. In all the steps taken to fight the boycott Barrhead, as usual, took a full share, and contributed freely to the funds raised for this purpose.


The solitary addition during 1895 to the trade of the Society was the fish shop, which was opened in No. 2 Bourock property in October of that year. This branch had been suggested two years earlier, but it was only after some agitation and much inquiry that it was agreed to enter upon the conduct of this trade. At first this department did not do very well, and it was some time before it became a satisfactory part of the business.


It was in November of the same year that it was agreed to employ a joiner of their own for the large amount of jobbing work which so many shops and tenements now rendered necessary. On the 2nd December Mr Duncan Blair received the appointment, and nine months later (August 1896) the joiners’ shop was built.


The most remarkable achievement of 1896 was the carrying of a project which had formed the centre of much debate for many years—namely, the appointment of a manager. As early as 1880 this had been mooted, but received scant consideration at the hands of the members. Again, in February 1891, Mr Anthony Gallocher moved in the matter, but an amendment that it He over for twelve months was carried. In spite of the twelve months’ embargo, Mr R. Murray reopened the subject in July, and declared that such an appointment was long overdue. He was ruled out of order, and from that moment the subject fell into a sleep which lasted until August 1896, when Mr John Martin moved, and Mr John C. Shaw seconded, the appointment of a manager. There was a lengthy and heated discussion, at the end of which the motion was carried by the narrow majority of 52 against 49 for the previous question. On the 27th of the same month John M'Lintock, who had entered the Society’s service in 1878, and who was then head-salesman in the Central, was offered the position, which he accepted.

As will be readily understood, those who opposed the change were for some time keen critics of the new arrangement, and more than once a motion to go back to the older system was threatened, but the opposition gradually gave place to a recognition of the Society’s need for a responsible chief official over all departments.


If 1896 saw the close of the long agitation over the managership, 1897 witnessed the end of another question in regard to which the fight had been quite as protracted. From a very early date dissatisfaction was expressed with the old book system for recording the members’ purchases. As far away as 1879 the introduction of a check system was discussed, and in the beginning of the following year a girl, described as the check clerk, was installed in the Central premises. To render the check as complete as possible it was ordained that the shop should close in the meal hours, but the members grumbled, and this had to be departed from. What precisely were the duties of this check clerk are not stated, but they seem to have given rise to a good deal of trouble, for there are repeated minutes to this effect, and-finally it is put on record that “ any member insulting the check girl will be severely dealt with.” After about eighteen months’ trial this system was given up.


At the close of one of the monthly meetings in 1890, Mr John M'Corkindale, who was then a member of committee, read a paper describing a check system and machine of which he was the inventor. He was cordially thanked for his paper, and it was agreed to give his machine a trial in the butcher’s shop. Six months later it was stated at a general meeting by the chairman of the board that this check had been quite successful. Mr M'Corkindale’s method and machine continued in use in the fleshmeat and fish departments for a number of years, and during that time several improvements in the system were carried into effect on the suggestion of Mr William T. Boyd.


For some reason the board showed no desire to adopt this check for the other shops, and at a board meeting in the beginning of 1897, on the suggestion of Mr James Clark, a committee was appointed to inquire into and report on the Climax system. At a later meeting, Messrs William Smellie and J ohn M‘Whirter reported favourably, and it was agreed to recommend the adoption of the Climax check system to the members. The recommendation was adopted, and the system was forthwith installed. It did not meet with universal favour at first, and six months later a special meeting was called to consider its abolition. Messrs John LaSerty and William Edgar moved that it be abolished, on the grounds that it was unsatisfactory, that it was expensive, and was injuring sales. This special meeting, which was held in the large Public Hall, was one of the best attended in the history of the Society. The debate was a long and animated one, and finally the previous question, moved by Mr R. Mackinlay, was carried by a large majority against the motion. The Climax system has remained in operation ever since, and there have been no further suggestions for its abolition.


Out last notice of building by the Society was back in 1894, when it was decided to proceed with the second Barnes Street tenement. Although we have been engaged in recording the settlement of other affairs in the intervening years, it is not to be thpught that the building idea had slumbered. Indeed, in the interval, there had been many schemes, but they met with slight favour, and the next definite step in this direction was taken in October 1896, when the ground was secured on which Dovecothall property now stands. In this connection a very curious controversy arose. The ground as taken was on a forty-two years lease, and when the committee sought to have this altered to a feu in perpetuity they found that they would be called upon to pay a “ duplicand” or duplication of the feu-duty every nineteenth year. At this customary trick of our land laws the members were very indignant, and some of the more pugnacious declared—and actually carried their point at a quarterly meeting—that they would keep the ground on its lease rather than submit to this condition. The older and more cautious members pointed out that it would be ridiculous to put up costly buildings on the chance of the land laws being altered in forty-two years, and at a special meeting the former decision was rescinded and the conditions of the feu accepted. Plans were approved in 1897, and on 4th June 1898 a great demonstration took place on the completion of the buildings. As a fitting termination to this celebration of the finish of one piece of work, the large company marched to Barnes Street, where they witnessed the beginning of another in the cutting of the first sod for the foundations of the Co-operative Laundry by the late Mr John M'Intosh of St George Society, the first president of the Laundry Association.


The year 1899 was rendered notable by Mr Robert Stark’s relinquishment of the position which he had held so honourably and so long. He had been so closely-connected with its whole career, since that first small meeting in December i860, that it was not to be wondered at that he should feel a closer and more personal interest in its affairs than most, and that the Society should sometimes be spoken of as “ Mr Stark’s store.” For some time it had been felt that the business had reached a point which put its proper administration beyond the capacity of Mr Stark’s increasing years and old-fashioned methods, and so in August 1899 it was agreed to appoint an assistant and successor, leaving Mr Stark practically in the position of honorary-secretary at his full salary.


But before effect could be given to this arrangement the board was faced with a vacancy in the treasurership through the sudden and regretted death of Mr James Williamson. Mr Williamson, who had been first appointed treasurer in 1883 and afterwards first permanent treasurer in 1887, was a man of quiet and steady purpose and of much integrity of character. Immediately after his death the Society decided to show its appreciation of his services, and erected a stone to his memory in Neilston Cemetery.


Before finding a successor for Mr Stark it was necessary that the vacant treasurership should be filled, and accordingly, on the 6th September 1899, Mr Thomas Dykes, from Darvel Society, was selected out of ninety-nine applicants to fill the position. A month later, Mr William George, secretary of Shettleston Society, was appointed secretary. The two new officials were men of energy and ability, and both had good co-operative training. Under their care and guidance many important and useful changes were introduced in the methods of the office, in the keeping of the Society’s accounts, and the preparation of its quarterly balance-sheets and other reports. To Mr Dykes, as treasurer, was entrusted the factorage of the Society’s houses, and there can be no doubt that this has been managed with prudence, energy, and with a circumspection which had formerly been lacking in this department.


Before the close of the century the Society had determined upon the erection of a new bakery in Barnes Street, and of shops, offices, and dwelling-houses at the comer of Graham Street and Paisley Road. As, however, neither of these undertakings were finished until a later date, their consideration belongs more properly to the next chapter, and to that we will carry them forward.


One or two smaller but still interesting items demand mention before we leave this period. One of these is the gift in 1896 of two public fountains to the burgh and one to Neilston. In that year the Society had completed its thirty-fifth anniversary, and the late Mr Robert Pinkerton suggested as a kind of thank-offering that a fountain or fountains should be handed over to the town. The proposal was accepted, and on 13th March 1897 the two in Barrhead were handed over to the Council by the president, Mr John Andrew, the Neilston one being handed over to the Parish Council on the 8th May by Mr William T. Boyd, vice-president. It has always been a sore point with the members of the Society that the Town Council has not shown the appreciation of these gifts which might have been expected considering how few gifts of a public nature have been made to the town. Neither in the matter of protection nor cleanliness are the fountains kept in the state which the good intentions of the donors should have warranted.


It was in April 1897 that another of the many adjuncts of the Society’s main business was first suggested. At that time Mr James G. Clark moved that the Society take into consideration the advancing of money to members to enable them to build or buy their houses. A scheme was formulated and adopted in November 1897, and since that the committee has dealt with 12 applications. Of these, 10 were granted, representing a total of 3,751. Of that 2,040 has been repaid, and there is still 1,711 outstanding. There is a general feeling among members that this fund has not served the purpose for which it was intended. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that the need for it, or the desire to take advantage of it, does not exist sufficiently amongst the members. Whatever the reason, it is a fact that the building fund has not been a success, and some years ago a committee reported in favour of its discontinuance when its present arrangements are completed. That report was accepted by the members, and no new business has been done since that time.


It only remains to add here that during 1897 it was proposed to establish a grocery branch at Gateside, and in 1900 a similar proposal was made for Gertrude Place, but neither were considered advisable.


It was in April 1898 that Neilston furnishing department was opened.


Of the younger workers who began to make themselves prominent in this decade the most active were Messrs John M'Whirter, John Andrew, William Murray, William T. Boyd, James G. Clark, William Colquhdun, William Edgar, Thomas Scott; William Robinson and James Walker (auditors).

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