Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

and of which feeling Wordsworth and Ruskin are our prophets, through the expressional side of human form which a few of our artists are able to depict, and which in literature finds expression pre-eminently in the writings of 'George Eliot,' convey some of the subtler thought and moral fervour of our own special religious feeling into Art, reviving her power and placing her again among the first of human interests?

Clearly, if we rest content with the art which is but a secondhand feeling, a replica of the expression of dogmas we no longer hold as vital truths; if we are content to sink into the expression of mere realistic effects, giving to our own proficiency that reverence which religious minds give to the creations of a superior power; above all, if we are content to remain indiscriminate and careless in our judgment of the rare but really great art which is being produced in our day, it is hopeless, and we must also rest content with a very secondary position for the art of our times. But, with so much increasing interest and energy in art matters, there ought to be found a possibility of drawing the moral and intellectual vein pre-eminent in our best literature into sympathy with the artist instinct.

But somewhere there is a link missing. We are afraid it must be admitted as a fact that the majority of our prominent artists do not live in the highest thought of our day, and that the highest thought seems often strangely blunt with regard to the poetry of form and colour. That the world would be the better for learning the lessons which beauty can teach through the best art, and that this is a time when such lessons are especially needed in education, must be the belief of all who feel acutely the close relation in feeling existing between what is best in all religions, and what is greatest in all art.

E. I. BARRINGTON.

A SHOPKEEPER'S VIEW
VIEW OF

CO-OPERATIVE STORES.

IN the February number of this Review a paper appeared upon the above subject, from the pen of Mr. J. H. Lawson, written with an evident intention of placing the issue fairly before the public; but, from lack of accurate information, he has fallen into many errors, which in the following pages I will endeavour to correct.

Mr. Lawson begins by assuming that traders object to co-operation in toto, which is by no means the case. What they do object to is that co-operative societies are permitted to trade under conditions which place the retail dealer at an unfair disadvantage; and that paid and pensioned officers of the State are permitted not only to co-operate, but to trade, under like advantages, to his considerable. detriment.

I will endeavour to present the subject as fairly as possible from the opposite point of view to that of Mr. Lawson; and, in so doing, it may be well, in the first instance, to look at the conditions under which a retail dealer commences business. After a long apprenticeship, and years of subsequent probation to gain the requisite experience, he, to enter into business with any chance of success, must be possessed of sufficient capital; the whole of which he risks, as there is no limit to his liability. He must take premises in a business thoroughfare, or street, for which he pays rent greatly in excess of what they would let for as private dwellings; his rates and taxes are assessed in proportion to his rental; and he not unfrequently pays income-tax upon considerably more than his actual income, owing to his not unnatural objection to appeal against an excessive assessment.

Members of co-operative societies, even those who trade under the Limited Liability Act, risk nothing; nor are they under the necessity of taking expensive premises. Why, then, having these advantages already, should they be permitted to escape the payment of their fair share towards the cost of government? They trade or co-operate under the protection of the laws of the realm, and enjoy the benefit of those laws to the full extent that the retail trader does. Why then should they not be taxed in the same proportion? Why should he pay in excess to compensate for the loss sustained by the State owing to their system of doing business?

From inquiries recently made, I find that the retail trader is assessed for income-tax, practically, upon his annual return, i.e. if he appeals he is questioned not only in respect to the profit he has made, but he is required to show what his annual returns are; and the

assessors appear to found their judgment rather upon those than upon his declared profits. All are not, of course, assessed in the same proportion; some, trading in goods of every-day sale, making a large return at a small profit; others, dealing in articles of luxury, or goods of a perishable nature, making a smaller return at a larger profit; and thus the assessments vary from about five to fifteen per cent. of the annual returns. I do not, of course, pledge myself to these figures-the exact average could be easily ascertained; but taking this as an approximately true statement, I think I have shown that retail traders, in the aggregate, pay income-tax upon about ten per cent. of their annual returns; and, as I before said, all co-operative societies, being protected by the laws of the country in the same degree as the retail trader, they should bear the burden of taxation in the same proportion; and as their trades are of an extremely mixed character, embracing almost every department of industry, it would be fair to assess them upon an average of trades, which, if I am correct in my estimate, would be upon ten per cent. of their annual returns. It is, to quote the late Shere Ali, as clear as sunlight,' that, if all trading were done upon the co-operative principle, incometax under Schedule D would become practically extinct. If cooperation had been continued upon the original Rochdale system, and had been assessed for income-tax, no difficulty would have been encountered upon this point.

The foregoing remarks apply to co-operative societies generally, but the retail trader contends that he has a further just cause of complaint that Crown servants, be they civil, naval and military, or clerical, should be permitted to trade at all. He contends that they, being in receipt of salaries or pensions derived from taxes which he largely helps to pay, or from funds which might otherwise be used for the relief of the poor, for education, or other purposes, should not be permitted to enter into competition with him; a competition in which he, owing to those salaries or pensions, must-apart from other advantages enjoyed by them, but denied to him-of necessity be heavily handicapped.

Irrespective of the prestige obtained by adopting departmental names-Civil-Service, Naval and Military, and so on-civil servants are frequently in possession of official information which will enable them to forestall a market; naval and military officers may make use of their official positions (I am informed that this is a constant practice of one officer, he being a director of a store) to entice candidates for commissions to their shops; and who shall say that, with possibilities such as these, Government contracts may not be taken by these societies, and a way opened for peculation and jobbery which will not a little startle many of the supporters of this movement?

Mr. Lawson asserts that, owing to co-operation, a general reduction in prices has taken place. I do not think so. That a general

reduction has taken place is undoubtedly true, but it has been due to other causes the increased value of the sovereign, and the decrease of our export trade.

Mr. Lawson thinks that decrease in cost of distribution at home would lessen the cost of goods for exportation, and enable us to compete successfully in foreign markets. This might be if producers were largely affected by it. But are they? To what extent do the working classes benefit by the co-operative movement? Most of their societies have failed, and the members of leviathan Government Stores would not admit such small fry to their eclectic companionship.

Mr. Lawson further falls into error when he says that certain co-operative societies are able to buy at a greater advantage than retail dealers. This, excepting in a few instances (unless they make use of official information to forestall a market), is not the case. The trader has a trained judgment, and buys only such goods as he knows to be of good value; whereas co-operative societies must depend upon the judgment of employés, who, even if they possess the ability, are by no means equally interested in obtaining the choicest samples at the lowest prices (it is an axiom in trade that any fool can sell, but it requires a man of business to buy), and thus it happens that they are frequently supplied with very inferior goods; so much is this the case that co-operative buyers are yclept City scavengers,' and it is not an uncommon thing for goods, unsaleable to the trader, or which have been returned by him as faulty, to be put aside in anticipation of the co-operative buyer's arrival. Anything, they say, will do for the stores. This, I believe, in a great measure accounts for the readiness with which wholesale houses supply them.

6

<

6

Mr. Lawson falls into a greater error when he asserts that cooperative societies, especially the Army and Navy, pay higher wages to their workpeople than traders do, and quotes Hood's 'Song of the Shirt'in support of his statement. If Hood had been better informed, he, being an honest man, would either not have written that song, or would have called it by another name. The people of whom he wrote had no more right to be called shirt-makers' than coalheavers, if they took to the needle, would have to be called tailors. Set one of the latter to make a coat, and what would he earn per week? A few shillings, and spoil the garment. Hood's ' shirt-makers' were quite as inefficient. I have been in the shirt trade since 1843, a year before Hood's Song of the Shirt' was written, if I rightly remember, and during the whole of that time good shirt-makers have been able to earn, working less than twelve hours per day, from fifteen to twenty shillings per week. I once had a very quick hand who earned from twenty-five to thirty shillings. It is incorrect to say that co-operative societies pay higher wages than we do. Ask any retail shirt manufacturer, either in the West-end or City, to show his work log,' and what I assert will be found to be perfectly true. VOL. V.-No. 26. 3 B

"

you

It is, and always has been, more difficult for employers to get good workers than for competent hands to obtain employment at good wages.

The system of giving discounts to servants has been rightly objected to. But who has been chiefly in fault? Not the trader. He resisted the imposition long before co-operation was thought of, but was powerless to put it down, and will continue to be so as long as masters and mistresses engage their servants upon the understanding that they are to have the paying of certain bills, and allow them to select their tradespeople. If the heads of establishments will take the trouble to select their own tradespeople, pay their own bills, demand five per cent. discount for cash, and form their own judgment in regard to the quality of goods supplied, they may have to pay their servants higher wages, but the objectionable system of feeing will be at once abolished.

Mr. Lawson assumes that the trader is powerless to resist the so-called co-operative movement because it is allied to the free-trade principle, before which Juggernaut he must cast himself down and quietly submit to be ground to pieces. But that is not his view of the case; nor is he the helpless being that Mr. Lawson supposes him to be individually he may be powerless, but collectively his power is great. Co-operation is credited with doing many wonderful things. What if it teaches traders the necessity of putting aside trade jealousies, and of combining for the protection of their order? What if they are compelled, driven, to throw their weight into the scale of democracy? I, as a Conservative, would resist this tendency to the utmost, but I cannot close my ears to the constant expressions of discontent which arise from every branch of trade, and point in that direction. Hitherto traders have, consciously or unconsciously, acted as a buffer betwixt aristocracy and democracy, between the Church and disestablishment. Will they longer do so? The socialistic principle of co-operation may in the end overcome them; but they will not fall alone. Without a powerful middle class, Church, aristocracy, and other privileged classes, would probably soon find their positions seriously endangered.

The leaders of the co-operative movement appear to contemplate with the utmost placidity the entire obliteration of the class which they are pleased to call distributors.' The term is a very inadequate one, as many of the so-called distributors are manufacturers also, and most inventions, styles, &c., are either made or suggested by them. But have they fairly considered what (supposing it to be successful) would be the ultimate effect of their system? It would be nothing less than a social revolution. Shop property, as shop property, would become valueless; towns, instead of being lively places of residence, perpetual exhibitions, as they now are, would be dull indeed-bricks and mortar, everlasting bricks and mortar, without even a rag to relieve the monotony. And what would become of the thousands of workers who are now employed in the manufacture of

« AnteriorContinua »