Saturday, June 7, 2008

Reclaim our Co-op?

[What follows is based on an e-mail to the Board Chair of Weaver Street Market Co-operative, Jacob Myers, expressing my concern that the Board of Directors and its store management may have lost the confidence of their owners and workforce, and announcing my candidacy for the Board Elections in 2008.]

"Dear Jacob,

Eliza Dubose is a wonderful servant of the co-operative spirit that Weaver Street Market ought to represent.

That much is clear from the support she received from Consumer-Owners in the Board Elections of 2007, and from the warm welcome she always receives from the workers at Carrboro, where she has volunteered for many years.

She is the living embodiment of 'linkage' with all owners and workers at "The Weave," which linkage your Board says has been its priority these past 18 months at least. As well it should be, for a Board which purports to follow the John Carver Policy Governance model.

This latter point is clearly evidenced by Eliza's dedicated and long-running interest in the affairs of your Board, and her service on two of its Task Forces.

Which makes it all the more puzzling that you and your Board would turn their backs on her candidacy for the Board [Eliza put her name forward to fill a vacated position on the Board in April 2008].

The role of the Board is not to act as a support group for store management, providing skill sets to enhance its entrepreneurial adventures.

That might be fitting with the Board of a conventional capitalist corporation. But not with a co-operative. And not under John Carver, which makes it abundantly clear that the primary charge of the Board is to represent the ownership, and to maintain regular linkage with it.

We are heading into heavy seas at the moment. We will need the active support of all of our workers and owners safely to navigate to the other side.

You don't buttress that support by slighting one of your best 'linkers' and all those owners and workers who believe in her.

We can be better than this.

I truly hope that you will not have lost the loyalty of Eliza, and the rest of our owners and workers who have shown increasing and useful interest these past few months - helping you and the Board to give substance to the spirit of co-operation, and its real role under John Carver.

For myself, I am now convinced that your Board, as currently constituted, has lost its way.

You do not properly link with owners and workers. You do not properly monitor the activities of store management.

You consult with owners and workers, only to ignore the substance of their findings. You snub those few owners and workers who give of their time to link with you.

We can be better than this.

You have given away too much authority to store management, who have now taken us all on a grand adventure, when some of us counseled caution as long ago as three years.

That adventure is causing confusion among owners, and disenchantment among workers.

Weaver Street is now grossly over-extended, going into what promises to be a severe consumer recession.

We have falling sales, falling profits and rising debt. Expansion is behind schedule and over budget.

We cam be better than this.

No-one blames the Board for the recession. But if more had been done to consult with owners and workers, then perhaps we might have avoided some of what we now face.

If the Board were to do more consulting, even now, then perhaps we might be better positioned to weather the storms ahead.

We can be better than this.

I say again: you need all the help you can get. I hope you have not lost Eliza's.

I believe that the best way I can help the immediate prospects of the Co-operative we all love, and for which we all care so much, along with its longer-term vision, is to help the Board return to Carver; Weaver Market, to true co-operation; and store management, to its proper role as servant - and not master - of our ownership and workforce.

I feel that I can best achieve all of that by focusing now on changing the composition and functioning of the Board.

It is my strong sense that your Board and store management have lost the confidence of our ownership and workforce.

I believe that your Board and store management have placed the investment of our owners in unacceptable jeopardy.

We can be better than this.

Accordingly, I am withdrawing my name for consideration for the Elections Oversight Committee, and instead, I will be offering myself as a Worker-Owner candidate in the 2008 Elections for Board Director of Weaver Street Market Co-operative.

As always, I take these steps only because I love working at "The Weave," and I care about the friends I work with, and the customers that I serve.

I want us all to follow a path upon which we have all agreed, and which leads to healthy success and genuine co-operation, benefiting all of us equally - as should be the case in any true co-operative."


You might be interested to read the article in "The Co-operative Grocer," which shares the challenges being faced by food co-operatives around the country (and including WSM) which are expanding their store base.

I am intrigued by the claim in the article (to which, apparently, WSM contributed) that the surprisingly limited number of US food co-operatives that are multi-store "have [all] successfully enacted a vision that cultivates the full co-op - not just 'the store'.

Hmm. I'd love to say this is true of WSM and its expansion plans at the moment. But am I the only one that feels that owners and workers have been left out of this visioning? Shouldn't I feel a tad more 'cultivated,' and just a little less un-consulted?

What about less presentation, and more conversation? What about less barking, and more asking?

If you genuinely and democratically 'cultivate' as you go along, then owners and workers truly 'own' the big changes, and you are less likely to have to deal with complaints about the inconveniences.

This is Co-operation 101. But is it what is happening in our co-op? Or are we still being treated as if we are 'just the store'?


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