Series Two: Minute Books and Papers of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, 1868-1994
Part 4: General Committee Minutes, July 1970 - January 1985
Woolwich features significantly in the history of the Co-operative movement, and the records of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS) are an important source for studying grass-roots socialsm in 19th and 20th century Britain.
The RACS was not just about trading - there was always a broader social dimension. They became an employer and job creator, establishing a bakery in 1876 and a milk delivery service from 1887. And from 1878 onwards the RACS allocated 2.5% of the trading profit for the education of members, by means of lectures, evening courses and the establishment of reading rooms and libraries above branch shops. They organised leisure activities, housing and pensions. In fact, they reached into all aspects of working class life, literally from the cradle to the grave.
Part 4 provides unbroken coverage of the General Committee Minutes of the RACS from July 1970 through to January 1985. These are the central archival source for study of the RACS and are essential for any understanding of the diverse activities of this organisation. They describe its membership and trading activities, its educational role, the development of housing schemes, and its political role. The 1970s and 1980s were a crucial period for the RACS. In 1970 the RACS had over 500,000 members and by 1975 sales had risen to £62 million making the RACS the second largest Co-operative society in the UK. But the challenges of decimalisation, rampant inflation and a new sales tax (VAT) put strains on their resources and it became clear that other retail chains were benefitting from the development of national networks and the economies of scale that ensued. As a result, the RACS merged with the Co-operative Wholesale Society based in Manchester in 1985