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The effects of economic hardships such as the slumps in trade and coal strikes were intensified by World War I. For example, Gorslas Co-operative Society was still relatively young when it had to bear slumps in trade and reduced wages for workers in the coal mines, strikes in the Anthracite district and World War I. Some co-operative societies pre-empted the introduction of rationing during World War I, and there was a concerted effort to ensure a fair allocation of goods. Whilst rationing was more organised during World War II, conscription resulted in a rapid change of staff in individual societies and other co-operative organisations causing temporary setbacks as new staff learnt their duties. There was also disruption in Wales following damage to the Cardiff Wholesale Society premises which occurred during an air raid in 1941.

The report and balance sheet of Gorslas Co-operative Society explains the financial difficulties being faced and how they have come about. World War I was one of many issues that threatened the success of Co-operative Societies. [SWCC/MND/137/2/32/2]

Whilst many members of staff of co-operative societies were enlisted during World War II, some remained on the home front. J Picken and HE Dunstan were noted for their bravery during an air raid on Cardiff, during which they saved the lives of their colleagues. This story was published in the Co-operative News, the oldest Co-operative newspaper. [SWCC/MND/137/2/21/5] Reproduced courtesy of the Co-operative News.


Economic Depression
The co-operative societies in South Wales, as with others in particularly industrial areas, were severely affected during times of economic hardship. General economic depression and specific events, such as the miners’ strikes of the early twentieth century, could destroy those societies who were already in an unsound financial situation and stretch to breaking point even affluent societies. In contravention of one of the Rochdale Principles many individual societies extended credit to their members during sustained times of hardship, and many of the losses incurred were never fully recouped. However, despite the wolf being at the door during such difficulties, the benefits of co-operation could be seen as members could draw upon savings with their society and receive support non-members could not.

During the 1920s industrial unrest occurred in South Wales, with the mining communities being particularly hard hit by the strikes on 1921 and 1926. Whilst many co-operative society members were assisted by their respective societies during the long crisis, help also came from other sources such as other co-operative societies. This photograph shows Charles Griffiths, Tom Jobes and Evan Thomas with a lorry of gifts sent by members of the London Co-operative Society to their fellow co-operators in Dowlais. [SWCC/MND/137/2/26/10]

Suggested further reading:
• South & West Wales: Souvenir of the Co-operative Congress at Cardiff – 1935 (Manchester, 1935)
• Swansea: A souvenir of the forty-ninth Co-operative Congress, Whitsuntide, 1917 (Manchester, 1917)
• Coalfield Web Materials -
• Ymgrychu! / Campaign! A century of political and social campaigning in Wales -

Provision for the future, as well as provisions for today, was very much part of the co-operative movement and in 1904 the Co-operative Insurance Society launched its collective life assurance plan. This would pay a sum based on the amount of purchases made over a period of years. The death of a family member, particularly the head of the household, could be financially devastating, and the receipt of a payout could assist towards funeral and other unexpected expenses.

This receipt for payment of £44 4s 3d to the heirs of Mrs Catherine Richards by Treorchy Co-operative Society in May 1915 is particularly interesting as one of her sons, Thomas Richards, was then in San Francisco. In his absence another son agrees to hold the extra quarter, to be paid to Thomas upon his return. [SWCC/MND/137/2/69/3]

Suggested further reading:
• Co-operative Financial Services -


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