Wednesday 8 December 2010

Labour Copartnership began in the local gas industry

The latest edition of Historic Gas Times carries on its front page an article by south London based gas historian, Brian Sturt, about one of the most important innovations carried out in the Victorian gas industry locally:

He says:

Today, bonus schemes are very much the norm, but over 120 years ago was there a choice? A 'Co-Partnership scheme' was first inaugurated by the South Metropolitan Gas Company in 1889 at a time when industrial relations were quite tense and workers had been on strike. The Governor of the South Met, Sir George Livesey introduced the scheme in an attempt to ensure that the gas supply was maintained without interruption.

This scheme gave workers a bonus on wages a percentage of the Company profits, which was held on deposit as shares and gained interest - as an alternative to joining a trade union. From this beginning, 'Co-Partnership' as it became known, developed steadily over the years and by 1908 twelve gas companies operated a similar scheme for their employees. This expanded and when nationalisation of the industry came in 1949, approximately 40 to 45% of employees in the industry were Co-Partners.

From the basic bonus payments at the start,many gas undertakings, depending on the company encouraged employees to become shareholders, elected worker-directors and provided a wide range of social and welfare facilities. The South Met also included discounted gas and formed a building society called 'Metrogas' which was in existence until 1984. Some undertakings published their Co-Partnership Journals, now a major source of information on the more social aspects of the industry for we historians.

For a period until the First World War, the South Met also sent out Christmas Cards - as shown in the illustrations. These record the number of employees in the scheme at the South Met and in 1904 this was 5,001 with over £230,000 invested - equivalent to about £12,000 per employee at today's values.
Brian Sturt
Historic Gas Times is available by subscription. please leave a message here if you would like details of how to contact the editor. (or via Institution of Gas Engineers)

PS - I also hope Brian will not object to me saying that the South Met. Co-partnership scheme was the subject of my M.Phil. Both he and I have a vast amount of material which could be made available to anyone seriously interested in the subject. However - family historians beware = this does not include personal details of participants. Please get in touch with either of us if you would like to know more


darryl said...

The Metrogas building society was absorbed by Birmingham Midshires.

The sports club is still going - it moved off the peninsula in 1989 in preparation for the scrapped "Port Greenwich" scheme, and is now based off Avery Hill Road, Eltham.

M said...

I well remember the Building Society office in Katherine Street, Croydon - and I thought it had been taken over by Nationwide, so thanks for the information. I have a lot of stuff about how the company began to provide money for house ownership by their staff - initally by not letting them actually have their bonus money!