Co-Operative Conference At Denaby Main – The Dividend Question.

April 1889

Sheffield Independent – Monday 08 April 1889

Co-Operative Conference At Denaby Main.

The Dividend Question.

A Conference of delegates from the societies in the South Yorkshire district was held in the Schoolroom, Denaby Main, on Saturday afternoon.

The chair was taken by Mr. Rose, of the local branch, and he was supported by the Executive Committee: – Messrs. W. Llewellyn and W. Knowles (Sheffield), G. Wheelhouse (Barnsley), D. Jennings (Masbro’), T. Whitfield (Kilnhurst), and C. Wightman (Doncaster).

Delegates attended from the following places :— Sheffield, Masbro’, Mexbro’, Barnsley, Doncaster, Carbrook, Brightside, Denaby, Kilnhurst, Ecclesall, Airedale, and Huddersfield.

” High and Low Dividends ” was the title of a paper written hy Mr. J. Davison (Todmorden), and read, in his absence, by Mr. W. Knowles, the district secretary.

The write said the question of high dividends and their effect on the co-operative movement had come prominently forward during the last few years, probably on account of the tendency on the part of many societies to a gradually increasing rate of dividend. Some of them bad reached the very high rate of 3s. 9d. to 4s. in the £.

He believed that the maintenance of high rates of dividend cannot possibly be so great a good in any district or to any society as the method of selling more nearly at cost prices They found that the best chance the private traders had in districts where co-operative societies flourish was to undersell the society by some means, and to enable them to do this they resorted to practices of a very questionable character, such as puffing and advertising articles called by the same name, of inferior quality, and quoting them at lower rates, and then comparing the difference per pound between their selling prices and those of the store; of course always omitting any statement of the inferior quality of the goods so advertised, the one point being to undersell or make believe they were underselling, the stores He believed that if they distributed goods on the basis of small profits and quick returns they would do far more business, not only among their own members, but also to induce a far larger membership than now enjoyed and should by this means establish the societies oh a far broader basis, and have a stronger hold on the great mass of people, and therefore be more effectually secured against any contingency that might arise

Mr. Fairclough (Barnsley) said he was not a believer in large dividends and never had been, neither did he believe in cost-price sales. There was reasonable medium for co-operators to try to reach an ordinary trade profit. A 2s. dividend would, he thought, attract the best class of customers, and he would rather cater for them than for hungry-dividend hunters. Large dividends attracted a class of people who were not at all a desirable class, because they cared nothing about the principles in vogue— all they wanted was to grab a good return of money, and when competition was so keen that the profit was not so great these people kicked up a row in the society and wanted different management.

Mr. Sandford said he had been given to understand that the stores at Barnsley set the prices for the town (Mr. Fairclough: “Never.”) It was surprising to see the low figures at which some goods were sold by private traders, often at less than cost price, and how they got recouped he could not say.

Mr. Wilson (Doncaster) said at Doncaster a reasonable dividend was paid, and the societies could compete with any one except ” cheap-jacks, here to-day and gone to- morrow.” (A laugh.) They found connected with the stores many poor people, who went round the shops to see how much they could get for their small wages and they wanted quantity more than quality. Perhaps it would be wise to reduce prices at the stores in some cases so as to suit all members. He did not advocate large dividends.

Mr. Weston (Doncaster) said there was no town within fifty miles of Doncaster that had keener competition than there was in the St. Leger borough, but, nevertheless, the stores held its own there. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. George Thompson (Huddersfield) also spoke against high dividends, but he did not think that much good would result from the reading of such a paper, as committees and managers would do just as the members wanted them.

Mr. Swarm (Masbro’) advocated dividends at the rate of 2s. and 2s. 6d. as being reasonable amount- for members.

Mr. White (Parkgate) disapproved of men’s wages being reduced to make larger dividends. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. Hall (Masbro’) spoke against the “sweating system,” and said co-operators should try to kill it. They should neither buy nor sell such things, but fight in favour of reasonable wages for the producers. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. Wheelhocse (Barnsley) said private traders could not possibly beat the stores, as some said ; co-operators could not only successfully compete with others, but also realise a legitimate dividend.

The Conference then considered the ship canal scheme, recorded elsewhere, and subsequently adjourned tor tea, which was well provided by the local branch.