Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/Further Development of the Co-operative Movement

Further Development of the Co-operative Movement

The principle of co-operation was bound to extend to the exploitation of other agricultural products. In 1887 co-operative slaughter-houses and bacon factories were established in the face of no little opposition on the part of private bacon factories and from various other quarters. This opposition was gradually overcome, however, and in 1909 about half the number of all pig herds in Denmark (comprising two thirds of all the pigs) were in co-operative bacon factories. These are run chiefly with an eye to export. The money for establishing them is generally raised by loans, a first mortgage, a second mortgage to be repaid in instalments, and a working loan. It testifies to the growing understanding of the value of this business that the first mortgage is now often granted by the town in which the bacon factory is located, even in towns where at first such a factory was strongly opposed by the local government. Profits are divided between the members of the corporation in proportion to the value of the pork delivered by them, and as a result of strict classification the pork received has greatly unproved in quality. Here too we find associations; the slaughterhouses have their mutual accident insurance, and are represented in the Joint Co-operative Bacon Factories of Denmark, which has worked with energy to further exportation. It greatly influenced the 'Acts concerning Domestic Animals' passed in 1902 and 1912. The latter supports the breeding of domestic animals by government grants for cattle exhibits; by subsidies to horse and cattle-breeding societies; by the support of control societies; and by subsidies to stations for pig breeding. All this is performed in co-operation with the associations. Thus the management of the hog-breeding centres is placed in the hands of the co-operative bacon factories.

An interesting supplement to this exploitation of farm products is the co-operative exporting of eggs. Starting on a very small scale, this business has become a really important source of revenue for the country. It was inaugurated in 1895 by the Danish Co-operative Egg Export Society, which now has many branches. Each branch has a distinctive number, and each member of the branch also has a number. These numbers must be marked on the eggs before they are delivered to the egg-collector of that branch, and a strict supervision of the members is thus easily maintained. This society also encountered difficulties at the start, but it soon succeeded in securing recognition for its eggs in the London market, where they brought good prices. From the numerous branches all over the country the eggs are sent to packing centres, where they are examined and packed for export. The poultry raisers have not co-operated with anything like the alacrity of the bacon manufacturers; still, in 1909, about 20 per cent, of the poultry farms and about a fourth part of the poultry were enrolled in the numerous branches. One half of the net proceeds is distributed to the branches in proportion to the value of the eggs delivered; and the other half is set aside for a reserve or operating fund in which the several branches have shares. Each branch is an independent body which provides its own necessary capital by raising loans on the unlimited liability of its members, as was the case in the co-operative dairies. It was remarkable for the Danish Co-operative Egg Export Society that it at once took up the export; it was a development from the top. In the butter export the case was reversed; the various produce societies were formed, the local co-operative societies, and only then followed associations for the export of butter.

The butter export to England prospered well, energetic wholesale dealers having greatly simplified and speeded the sales. But the co-operative dairies were not satisfied with the returns; and in 1888 they organized The Farmers of Denmark Butter Export Association. This organization was never recognized by the majority of the co-operative societies, however, and in 1908 it was forced out of business on account of some imposture. In the nineties, however, a number of new export unions sprang up, and by 1914 they had taken over one fifth of the whole butter export trade of Denmark. Many of the co-operative bacon factories also combined in an independent association. Finally, the Danish Bacon Agency, founded in 1902, now embraces a great number of the co-operative bacon factories.

Cattle-breeding societies were first founded in 1884 with the simple aim of procuring a bull of excellent breed and at the same time cows of the members are kept under control. In 1887 an act was passed granting subsidies to these societies (amended and extended in 1902, and again, as mentioned before, in 1912). Similar action was taken to improve the breeds of horses and, to a less extent, the breeds of hogs. A more important movement for improving the breed of domestic animals was started in the nineties by the control societies, which undertook to tabulate the quantity of milk yielded by the individual cows and examine the effect upon them of the quantities and constituents of various kinds of foods. These societies again have associated in greater associations.

All this co-operative work, conducted along the line of the friendly societies which have a parallel in the numerous live stock insurance societies and similar institutions, involves an education of the rural population which is of high value. The officers of the various associations, who are leaders in the struggle for existence, are trained to a sense of responsibility, encouraged to ascertain the progress made by other nations in parallel situations, and inspired to devise new methods for their work in a manner quite foreign to the tradition-bound and almost stagnant condition of agriculture of former days.

The list of co-operative enterprises in Denmark does not end with those so far enumerated. During the last generation a number of co-operative supply societies were formed on the ordinary principle of cash payments for purchases and division of the profits among the subscribers. Contrary to its development in England, the movement has found favour chiefly in the rural districts, where an extraordinarily large number of co-operative stores are now flourishing, and where a considerable part of the population has fallen in with the movement. It has spread but slowly in the provincial towns, and not until very recently did it seem likely to reach the capital. The small rural co-operative societies have much the same character, many of them supplying their members with grain, fodder, manure and grass seed, besides the ordinary household commodities. Here, too, a need arose for united effort, and there was founded The Co-operative Wholesale Society of Denmark, which has gathered most of the local stores. It has acted not only as a commercial medium, but also through production (thus of tobacco, margarine and boots). To this is added a number of purchasing societies the object of which is to procure goods for the farmers, such as seed and manure; as the farmers, when purchasing these goods, were often defrauded.

The principle of co-operation is also taking root in many other fields. There are co-operative societies for the erection of dwelling-houses, for instance, and a co-operative bank was established in Aarhus, the charter-members of which are co-operative societies. Finally, the great connecting link between all Danish co-operative enterprises is the Co-operative Committee, founded in 1899 and composed of representatives of all of them. It has considered many questions of common interest, such as: the prevention of competition between the various societies; the auditing of accounts; the methods of book-keeping; the marking of Danish butter, etc. It took the initiative in establishing the co-operative bank, and it has represented the Danish co-operative movement at the great international congresses which have been held from time to time for the discussion of principles of co-operation.

The conditions which have thus developed are quite in accord with those which have developed in other departments of the economic and social life of Denmark. They are the result of free choice and independent action on the part of each individual, combined with a well organized effort of the community to effect a solution of common problems.