Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Song of Solidarity (Red, White and Blue)

I became tired of tax-cutters and warmongers claiming to themselves alone the mantle of patriot.

All of we ordinary Americans, who sweat and bleed and toil and care, all of us who keep our country running, while others try to run it down and destroy the safety net, we are the true patriots.

So, I was inspired to write a socially-acceptable patriotic song, for ordinary working Americans. Not an angry, mean-hearted, selfish song. But a warm and generous social anthem for all of us.

The recorded version is on MySpaceMusic here.

Now, I'm no Bruce Springsteen. But the song is not about me. It is about those who are most at risk in our country.

Ignore the singer. Listen to the song. Sing it. Share it. But most of all, spread the word, so that all ordinary Americans may know that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in these trying times.

The blog for the song is here.

I set out the lyrics below.

Oh. And why am I posting this song on my Weaver Street Market Co-op blog? Hmm. I think Weavers can work that one out for themselves ... !!

"From the factories to the farmyards

Where we work and till the soil

We keep our country running

With our backbone and our toil

From the mountains of Montana

To the Gulf shore, with its oil

We sweat and grind and break our backs

And risk health beyond call

We're not corporations

Making wealth for the few

We are the whole nation

The Red, White and Blue

We're not about money

We want justice too

It's not just the rich

It's you and me too

We're the Red, White and Blue

It's not a sin to offer

A helping hand to those

Who can not make both ends meet

Through sweat and tears alone

There is no faith nor charity

In claiming liberty

And being mean and selfish

To deny equality

We're not corporations ...

There are those who doubt us

They say it can't be done

What we say, we've said before

And that is, 'Yes We Can!'

We will stand together

With hope and dignity

It's not just the rich

It's you and me too

We're the Red, White and Blue

From the streets of Cairo, Egypt

To the shanties in Darfur

They look to us for democracy

Not arms to make more war

It's not about our dollar bill

But strength and guts and will

The world loves Martin Luther King

And the freedom songs we sing

We're not corporations ...

We're not a split nation

Giving rights to the few

We are One America

The Red, White and Blue

We know without thinking

What we need to do

It's right and it's true

It's you and me too

We're the Red, White and Blue"

2011 Q3 Results: It's Your Co-op, Too ...

I genuinely hoped my days of Weaver advocacy were behind me. My livelihood and reputation were being threatened. But, while I am still with WSM, I will comment when I think comment is called for. And the Q3 results call for comment. I set out below the Note I have posted on OrangePolitics:

"The Third Quarter results for WSM are published. They are not the happiest reading. I will have a little whine. But it will be even-handed. Everyone gets a knock - including me. But mostly I want to make a plea to the WSM community. You. Specifically the 13,000 of you who are WSM consumer-owners. You need to be doing more. It's your co-op, too. Don't leave it to others to save it.

But first, the figures and the whine - and the knock against me. Me? Yeah. Why do I keep trying to keep you folks informed of what is really happening with WSM, while the corporate office continue to paint a picture that is simply not true, and ends up being counter-productive?

Oh. I think I just answered the point. The WSM corporate office would say (have said) I am being disloyal and destructive. How can it be disloyal when we are a community co-op, and one of our values is transparency? And how can it be destructive when all I am doing is sharing the truth, and asking for help for that same community co-op?

You can only truly ask for help when you genuinely admit there is a problem. I'm not interested in saving face. I'm interested in saving our co-op.

Now, the figures and the whine. The sales increase for Q3 was as I forecast -- 8%. Which sounds good, until you set it against the goal for the year (established by the corporate office) of 15%.

Leaving aside why the goal of 15% was established -- for which we have still not received a sensible answer -- what happens if we don't make it? And we won't. It would require that we increase sales each and every week in Q4 by 34%. In the past two weeks, we increased sales by 7% and then 5%. If not making the 15% goal is not important, then why was it established -- with huge deleterious effect on us workers; working harder and harder for less and less?

The more disturbing news is that, after we workers bust butt for nine months to increase sales for reasons we do not know, realizing an increase we are told is $1.6 million for the year to date (yay for us, and our contribution to our community co-op!), we are told this will improve profit by only $15,000. And that a dividend is still not guaranteed.

So, what was it all for? Do the corporate office -- do you -- have any idea of the dampening effect such news has on the spirit of the workforce in your co-op?

Business 101. You do NOT set unattainable goals. Not explain them. Stand idly by why good workers see their efforts fail. And then offer them nothing but platitudes. You kill the drive. You kill sales. You kill the company.

The Mission Statement of WSM promises workers a fulfilling work experience. Your co-op is in breach of that provision of the Mission Statement. This should bother you.

The WSM corporate office, and the Board that rubber stamps it, have many questions to answer. Fortunately, we workers will have an opportunity to ask those questions.

I am told that next week the results of the WSM Employee Survey will be published and shared with all workers. We have been promised the opportunity to digest those results in a meaningful way. We have been promised the opportunity to have meaningful discussions about the results. And we have been promised meaningful opportunity to be involved in the Action Plans we have been promised will be devised to correct the matters raised in the Employee Survey.

If the WSM corporate office keep their promises, then, for the first time since I have been involved with WSM, workers will actually have a real voice in the direction of our co-op.

And I suspect, if we are given the opportunity, it will be a substantial and effective voice. My anecdotal feedback from fellow workers is that the main points they made were: (1) They want more understanding of goals, how they are set, and why (cf. 15% sales increase, and the crippling debt of $8 million); and (2) They want worker-ownership (the cost of which is $500, compared to about $175 for consumer-ownership) to be cheaper, so that they can vote in Board Elections (yes, your workers have to pay to vote).

If the WSM corporate office are serious about allowing changes to reflect the concerns of us workers, then we workers should shortly be able to create a situation where workers will be more involved in the big decision-making in the co-op we half-own.

But don't leave it up to us. It is your co-op, too. There are 13,000 consumer-owners. About 100 of you turn up to Annual Meetings. About 500 of you voted in the last Board Elections. This is not involvement. You can not complain about your co-op when you do not participate. Try spending as much time on your co-op as you do on Facebook, and see what happens.

Is it worth it? Sure. We may not be the perfect co-op. But we are still a co-op. We blazed a trail for organic food in the locality. We offer a platform for local farmers to sell their produce, in a consistent fashion, which helps those farmers plan ahead. Even now, WSM is helping a sister co-op open in Burlington. There is much about WSM of which we can be proud. There is much to support. And where it is not perfect, you should get involved, and change it!

And the most important thing you should be doing at the moment? Shopping more at The Weave. If each consumer-owner spent $10 more in Q4. Not a week. Not a month. Just once. $10 more -- once. We would double the profit to date for this financial year.

A co-op is like a love affair. It has it ups. It has its downs. It has happy moments. And troubled ones. And it has at least one of the partners always saying, we could be doing better! Most importantly, like a love affair, a co-op needs work. If you don't work at it, it dies. WSM is too good -- even now -- to let it die. It's up to you. It's your co-op, too ..."

[PERSONAL NOTE: I divested my worker-ownership a couple of months ago after I was told that the WSM corporate office were monitoring and targeting me. I am not making this up. This is what I was told. I have a life and a reputation outside of WSM. And I have my health. I will not allow some misguided fools in the WSM corporate office to take those away from me. The only way to get them off my back was to divest, and to announce that I was looking elsewhere for serious advocacy work. Which, I deeply regret to say, I am. But while I am still here, I will not remain silent in the face of idiocy which is ruining our co-op.]

The WSM Employee Survey -- Total Transparency? [Part Two]

Although no longer a worker-owner at The Weave, I am still (for the time being) an employee. As such, I finally received an answer to my letter to WSM's General Manager, which letter had asked some questions to verify the credibility of the employee survey, and the independence of the consultant allegedly conducting it:

"Hi Geoff,

1. The consultant is James McKenzie MHR Inc. As was explained in each survey session, the surveys were sent directly to the consultant. The consultant will send us back complete data by business unit, department, job group, and tenure. No one at WSM will actually see the completed surveys themselves. I’ll ask Deborah to touch base with you next week since she is the one that hired the consultant.

2. Approximately $2,500 plus time spent by employees to take the survey.

3. Yes, the results to all questions will be shared with employees.

4. As explained above, no one at WSM will actually see or possess the completed surveys, so this is not possible. We are committed to honoring our promise of confidentiality which is compromised if people at WSM who may be familiar with an individual’s handwriting can see the surveys themselves. Throughout the process we will be mindful of protecting confidentiality and ensuring that employee’s responses are only shared in a responsible fashion internally within WSM.


Not bad. For a start. My response:

"Thank you for this, Ruffin.

I understand the point about anyone at WSM seeing the completed surveys. I think the idea that was put to me was a good one, in principle. But, like you, I can see no way around the identification of handwriting issue.

I look forward to hearing further from Deborah. The problem I have is that I Google James MacKenzie MHR Inc., and I can find nothing. Providing employees with contact information or headed notepaper, so that we can verify the independence of the survey process for ourselves, would sure help us in discussing the results.

On which subject, I would have thought the simplest thing, to bring this line of questioning to a close, would be for this consultant simply to publish his results on his own headed notepaper. Perhaps Deborah could confirm that this will be happening?

All the best,

And later, the very same day, further from Deborah, WSM's Human Resources Manager. I can't find holes. I wrote and thanked her, of course. Nothing if not courteous, that's me.

Now. Is it just me, or is there a certain irony that I seem to achieve more when not a worker-owner? Hmm. Right. We'll wait to see what is published, and how:

"Hi Geoff - I will make sure that his results include his information. He likes to customize things for the client and use their logos, but I'll ask him to do that. Deborah"

And then my brain cells began to work overtime:

"Hey Deborah,

Overnight, a further thought occurred, looking once again at Ruffin's answers to (1) and (3).

Will there be one report, broken down by business unit, department, job group, and tenure? Or will there be a collection of different reports, specific to each department, whatever?

In other words, does "the results to all questions will be shared with employees" mean that all employees will see the whole results to each of the questions?

My thought is this. I know what folks in my department and store think. What I want to know - and I do not think I am alone - is what the rest of the co-op is thinking too. Indeed, we need to know that if we are to be able sensibly to offer thoughts for the action plans pertaining to the co-op as a whole.

All the best,

Nice and useful response to this too:

"Hi Geoff, Yes, there will be tabulated results for the whole co-op that will be shared with everyone. Deborah"

The Weave, Cesar Chavez, April 4 and You

We are all busy. We all have too many things to do. And most of us really hate confrontation. But when is it wrong to walk away? How many of us confuse turning the cheek with turning our back?

I was a youngster, born and raised in England of American parents, when, not yet a teenager, my uber-liberal mother explained to me about Cesar Chavez, and why we were not buying Californian fruit from Cliff down at the greengrocer's in the High Street (today would be Cesar's Birthday).

"I know it's just a bunch of grapes. But it's the point we're making. We tell Cliff why we're doing it. It doesn't matter if no-one else knows or understands. We know. We understand. There are people who need others to speak for them, because they are too scared to speak for themselves."

I think she thought I was too young to understand. I wasn't. I understood. I've never forgotten. I'm not very tall. I weigh next to nothing. I have no idea how to throw a punch. I get scared every time I have to look someone in the eye and say "no."

But I get more upset when I see what happens to my friends and my neighbors when I, or someone else, doesn't come forward and say "no," when they can't.

April 4 is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. He was due the next day to speak to a rally of Memphis sanitation workers to commend them on their strike action, and to urge them to continue with their fight to build a better American Dream for themselves.

I don't know if MLK was scared. But he paid with his life.

One of his quotes that resonates with me the most is this: "Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way."

MLK continued forward, scared or no. Cesar Chavez continued forward, scared or no. Last evening the Republican Ohio state legislature passed a bill limiting the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers in Ohio. Already, petitions of recall are being circulated. Ohio is continuing forward, scared or no.

On April 4, ordinary workers all across America will be gathering, marching, singing and protesting in support of workers' rights. Scared or no, they are continuing forward. Now, I mention singing so that I can plug my song.

I got tired of tax-cutters and war-mongers claiming to themselves alone the mantle of 'patriot.' It is ordinary American workers, we who keep our companies, our co-op's and our country running. We who fight every day for our company, our co-op and our country to be better. It is we who are the real 'patriots.'

So. I wrote an upbeat song, extolling the patriotic virtues of ordinary American workers. Um. Listen, sing and share. Spread the word. Join the FB Page. Right. Plug over.

Just recently, I announced that I had divested my worker-ownership with Weaver Street Market Co-operative, and would no longer advocate. My job was being threatened in retaliation - and I need to pay my bills!

Even though MLK haunts my dreams, I can't turn back. I am actively looking for alternative employment, preferably in advocacy. However, in the meantime, I can't stand alone, and allow tyrants to place me in financial jeopardy. That said, I can offer a few pointers, and hope that other Weavers will now join together and take a stand.

We workers were told last Fall that we needed to achieve a 15% sales increase this financial year to be able to receive our first dividend in four years. Indeed, I was told by our General Manager that we needed to increase sales by 10% just to break even. That is what the General Manager told me.

We were told a month or so ago that we had made only a 9% sales increase in the first two quarters. But, we were further told, not to worry, the WSM corporate office was pretty sure we'd bounce back in the third quarter.

I have been faithfully keeping a copy of every single weekly co-op wide sales increase posted since then. We will be lucky to post an 8% sales increase for the third quarter. We are heading in the wrong direction.

And why? Because we workers need to find all this extra money, sweat to make it, bust ass to get to 15% ($3.75 million), so that we can pay roughly $2 million a year to out-of-state banks, each year for the next five years, in order to pay off the $8 million debt we incurred on our now-failed expansion plans.

Why, I keep asking, why can we not now look at alternative options of clearing this $8 million debt, before the banks move in and clear it for us? When is it going to become clear to the WSM corporate office that they have asked as much of us workers as we workers can give?

Well. Maybe, you say, maybe the Employee Survey that all WSM workers completed a few weeks ago, maybe that will wake up those in the WSM corporate office? Certainly, I was told that the bulk of workers in the WSM Southern Village store had a few choice things to say in that Survey.

Hmm. That's if we workers actually get to see what we said.

About a month ago, I wrote to the General Manager asking for contact details of the allegedly independent consultant who was conducting and would be collating the Survey.

You see, I got suspicious when I noticed that the Survey itself was not printed on an independent consultant's headed notepaper, but on WSM paper. Now, I may not know a lot. But I do know that consultants never miss an opportunity to let the world know who they are and what they do.

I have had no response to my e-mail to the GM. I have now chased him. Transparency and accountability are policies of the co-op to which even the GM must adhere. Non-compliance should be met with the same disciplinary action as non-compliance by an ordinary worker with any other co-op policy.

My concern is that if there is no opportunity for we workers independently to verify that there is an independent consultant, and, for example, the results of the Survey turn out to be published on WSM paper, then how will we know we are seeing the real Survey results?

So. Do I post this? Or do I run away? Sod it! It's not as if my life is being threatened. So, I tell you what. I'll meet you half-way. I'll post it here. I'll put it on my blog. But no more. It's time for others to step up too.

Martin Luther King again: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

Co-operatives, Constructive Dismissal, Bullying and the Law

As a consequence of the 'interesting' behavior to which I was subjected by the WSM corporate office in the Fall of 2010, and then again in the Spring of 2011, when advocating on behalf of WSM's workers, my twin sister engaged in some research on the subject of workplace bullying. It's a bit dry. But some of it may be useful for others in the future. I just quote her lock, stock and barrel:

"Common law protects an employee from retaliation if the employee disobeys an employer on the grounds that the employer ordered him or her to do something illegal or immoral. However, in the majority of cases, the burden of proof remains upon the discharged employee. No U.S. state but Montana has chosen to statutorily modify the employment at-will rule.[9] In 1987, the Montana legislature passed the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA). The Montana Act is unique in that, although it purports to preserve the at-will concept in employment law, it also expressly enumerates the legal bases for a wrongful discharge action.[10] Under the WDEA, a discharge is wrongful only if: "it was in retaliation for the employee's refusal to violate public policy or for reporting a violation of public policy; the discharge was not for good cause and the employee had completed the employer's probationary period of employment; or the employer violated the express provisions of its own written personnel policy."[11] [Wikipedia]

Under the public policy exception, an employer may not fire an employee if it would violate the state's public policy doctrine or a state or federal statute.

This includes retaliating against an employee for performing an action that complies with public policy (such as informing the authorities of an illegal activity, for instance nursing home abuse[12]){or perhaps notifying the press of irregularities within a co-operative? encouraging co-workers to vote in their co-op? Speaking out publicly against unequal treatment of worker-owners vs consumer-owners in the matter of cost of shares,etc?] as well as refusing to perform an action that would violate public policy. In this diagram, the pink states have the 'exception', which protects the employee. (N.C. is pink)

National Labour Relations Act

This is a federal law. It affords certain protections to all employees, whether members of a union or not, who are employed in the private sector - which I assume means everywhere but by the government.

The most important sections of the NLRA are Sections 7, 8, and 9.

Section 7 is the heart of the NLRA. It defines protected activity. Stripped to its essential, it reads:

Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection.

Section 7 applies to a wide range of union and collective activities. In addition to organizing, it protects employees who take part in grievances, on-the-job protests, picketing, and strikes.

Section 8 defines employer unfair labor practices.

Five types of conduct are made illegal:

Employer interference, restraint, or coercion directed against union or collective activity (Section 8(a)(1))

Employer domination of unions (Section 8(a)(2))

Employer discrimination against employees who take part in union or collective activities (Section 8(a)(3))

Employer retaliation for filing unfair-labor-practice charges or cooperating with the NLRB (Section 8(a)(4))

Employer refusal to bargain in good faith with union representatives (Section 8(a)(5))

[Seems to me that at a minimum, we're talking about the first four out of those five.When they refer to 'collective activity they are trying to cover those instances where groups do or try to act on behalf of the collective or for the collective's benefit. Where the co-op is concerned, that includes all workers, or all worker owners, or even all owners. I see noe reason why it would not also cover activity exercised by an individual on behalf of the collective, ie yours. More on how this relates to co-ops below.]

Threats, warnings, and orders to refrain from protected activities are forms of interference and coercion that violate Section 8(a)(1). Disciplinary actions, such as suspensions, discharges, transfers, and demotions, violate Section 8(a)(3). Failures to supply information, unilateral changes, refusals to hold grievance meetings, and direct dealings violate Section 8(a)(5).

Section 8 also prohibits union unfair labor practices, which include, according to legal construction, failure to provide fair representation to all members of the bargaining unit.

Section 9 provides that unions, if certified or recognized, are the exclusive representatives of bargaining unit members. It prohibits the adjustment of employee grievances unless a union representative is given an opportunity to be present, and establishes procedures to vote on union representation.

The NLRA sets out general rights and obligations. Enforcing the Act in particular situations is the job of the NLRB.


This is interesting, and recent - a similar thing is going on in Albequerque - the Board of a co-op is trying to resist the attempts of owners to establish transparency, but here it's gone to court.


It appears that the circumstance of a co-op resisting acting as a co-op, and using the form of the co-op to disguise what is essentially a corporation whilst benefiting from all the tax and other (not least social) breaks afforded a co-op, is not new. The NLRB works with co-ops as well, and the act applies to co-ops.

The Act provides for the assistance of the NLRB is employment situations where the provisions of the Act are being breached. I don't think you have to have been sacked in order to take advantage of this assistance. If you go to the NLRB website you can find out more.

In particular, you can fill out a form outlining what your complaint is. It appears that they will take up your cause, and I think the service is free. I've read some of the case studies. They have been forced to rehire people - though perhaps that's not what you want. But I certainly think that they would be a good place to start. You do not need to be a union member, or indeed want to be, to get in touch with them.

I am especially taken by thoughts of the co-op's breaching of the Carver principles of owner participation and influence in running the co-op. I believe that one of the main reasons co-ops are given tax breaks is because their operations are in theory directed by a broad base of people, not primarily for profit but to serve the needs of the owners. This is so clearly not the case at WSM that I would be seriously tempted to alert the IRS and require an investigation. Of course, there is always the question of harm. But it's on my mind.


This is an article I found about the relationship of labor laws to co-operatives. The first half is interesting, the last half is mostly pretty irrelevant though he has some interesting conclusions and recommendations. It's written in California so the state stuff doesn't apply."

A Message From A WSM Worker, Who Is Not Me!

Maybe it's Wisconsin. Maybe it's the Middle East. But it would seem the season of protest and democratic demand is upon us all!

I received a message from a fellow Weaver Street Market Co-operative worker this past week. That person has agreed to allow me to send that message to the Board and Senior Management of WSM.

I think it serves as apposite complement to the WSM Employee Survey all workers at WSM completed this past week. See what you think:

"Dear Board and Management of WSM,

There was an old British TV Jeopardy-style show called Mastermind. The presenter, Magnus Magnusson, had a catchphrase: “I've started, so I’ll finish.” I think the catchphrase apposite here.

More than once, certain WSM Board Directors and Senior Management have stated quite bluntly to me that the views I share as being ones passed onto me by WSM workers, who will not speak out because they fear for their job, promotion or pay raise, are in fact merely my views alone.

I think that the truth will become clear in the answers to the WSM Employee Survey we all had to complete this past week. In the meantime, I thought it might be useful for you to read just one private message I have received in this past week.

I have the permission of the author, but I have removed certain information that might identify the author - at the author's request.

Folks, it ain’t just me. By definition, if we are a worker-consumer co-op, properly serving the common needs of our workers and consumers, then how come so many are so unhappy?

If our performance, our gameplan, our direction as a co-op is subject to some factor other than the common needs of our workers and consumers, then we are not acting properly as a co-op. And that extraneous ‘factor’ is, by definition, an inappropriate ‘profit motive.’

That ‘profit motive’ can be the unstated ‘common needs’ of the corporate office, or those to whom we owe money. It can be the covert vision of a small group. It can be the financial comfort of a few ‘special’ owners. But whatever it is, it has no place in a co-op. Here is the employee message:

"I was really pleased reading your letter to the Board [of WSM] and the column in 'The Chapel Hill News.' The section with particular resonance for me was:

"Namely that, unlike traditional grocery stores, we are not supposed to rely on impersonal and expensive marketing trickery to attract custom, and reactive management practices to inspire workers (as, in fact, we do now).

Rather, we are supposed to determine on a regular basis the common needs of worker and consumer, with continuous two-way communication, so that we provide what our consumers genuinely want, in a way that truly inspires workers, because they were asked.

In other words, if we involve consumers and workers consensually in our major decision-making, they will be invested in the results, and will buy more, and work harder."

Since starting work here, I've actually been pretty astounded/disenchanted with how little WSM actually functions as a respectable co-operative and alternative shopping environment. Much of the product and overall decision making seems relatively if not totally disconnected from the ideals that I think many in the community place on the store.

It’s been all the more discouraging as many of these feelings about the store have been compounded by national politics and the lamentation of our own national democratic ideals being eroded ever-faster each year. If such a process is failing on this small of a scale--with so much potential for direct and sustained participation--then what hope at all remains for the success/recovery of these ideals in larger systems? I think about this analogy quite a bit and I think it is important for people involved with the co-op to understand the implications of success or failure at upholding such systems in our community.

At least in my experience I haven't heard any of these things being touched on that you are discussing and that I often think about. So I just wanted to let you know it's nice to see someone else not just content to accept things as they are being handed down.

I do think this situation is at least partially a result of people being afraid or worried about speaking out. And the fact that our stores create that environment is telling in and of itself. The most troubling thing for me is how mutually reinforcing this loop is: the active role of the worker and customer voice is lessened or reduced to being disgruntled, marginal, uninformed or just plain wrong. This in effect allows for the environment which suppresses this voice to flourish, suppressing it ever further. WSM is now able to utilize its previously earned image of cooperative, community minded ideals to participate in a lucrative niche market. WSM is thus more often taking advantage of these cooperative ideals rather than acting on and embodying them. I think a lot of customers especially sense this changing role.

And therein lies a financial issue which should get the attention of the major decision makers if nothing else does. With the erosion of our cooperative functions, WSM is less distinguished from places like Whole Foods, etc. People feel that they have no more of a role in the direction and functioning of either one, and therefore likely shop less at WSM than they would otherwise. They see them as two fingers on the same bourgeois niche market fist, rather than two entirely different hands--one which they may be engaged with actively rather than passively as nothing but a consumer of value-added labeling and faux-pastoral sheen. The last line of defense that has kept many disenchanted customers, I feel, is the fact that at least we are actually based in the area. But if we were being completely honest, this is simply not enough and is not what is expected of our small-scale cooperative establishment.

The second issue I feel like contributes to the current environment (today maybe even more so than the lack of cooperative discussion) is a loss of direction and a sense of political apathy on the part of the staff as a whole, as well as many community members. A lot of this has to do with a lack of knowledge about the role of a cooperative and how it is supposed to function. I see this most clearly in the many, many customers who complain constantly about there being no discount or dividend, saying they wouldn't have joined if they knew they wouldn't get one. Putting aside the situations which created this issue, I often try to inform them in a respectful way that their complaint is greatly missing the point--and that even if that is all they are concerned with then the role of a cooperative should enable them to do something about it beyond just venting to a worker.

I feel like this really exemplifies the lack of community knowledge about the role of the customer in the system as a whole. It has been reduced, like in most other business, to a purely monetary relationship. The applicant experience seems to be similar, where maybe they 'like the store' or 'like the kind of foods we sell' but more often than not I would assume that many people who work in the stores could just as easily be working in a traditional grocery store with their current mindset--the fact that we are supposedly a democratically run institution seems not to play a role in the worker experience. Again, more or less it has become a monetary relationship. This time with the added bonus of worker companionship and discounts at the register. I am sure this is not the case for everyone, obviously, and the previous situation where discussion is suppressed enhances the perception of this issue for me, but I really do think this is equally as important of a concern for the long term sustainability of the stores. People need to understand what their roles are in the cooperative, what a cooperative actually means, and what a cooperative does not mean. A true co-op should seek out these values in its applicants/workers, and work to enhance them in its community. If this second issue is in fact non-existent, then I find it hard to believe that many workers would not have constantly been making their voices and opinions about the direction of the store known despite the environment of closed/one-way discussion.

These two issues, of suppression and apathy, are a chicken and the egg loop scenario which again mirrors the state of our national politics and is useful for contextualizing what is going on on a variety of scales and the importance of figuring all of this out."

Members of the Board, Senior Management, it does not matter how we got to where we are. The fact is becoming clear that we are no longer serving the common needs of our workers and consumers. It is long past time that we found a way, together, to start doing so.

Yours faithfully,
Geoff Gilson"

Debate Challenge in 'The Chapel Hill News'

The Chapel Hill News published my challenges to the Board Chair of WSM.

My original Guest Column (March 2, 2011) is here.

The response of the Board Chair (March 9, 2011, and which promulgated my challenges) is here.

Geoff's Final Weavernomics Lesson - When To Know It's Time To Go ...

This is probably one of the most painful public statements I've ever had to write. I am not by nature a quitter. But my continuing to advocate for my friends and fellow workers from within Weaver Street Market Co-operative is most likely doing them and me more harm than good.

I have, therefore, today told my Department Manager that I am now actively looking to be employed elsewhere (although I will not actually be leaving until I have that employment lined up), and I will tomorrow divest my worker-ownership with WSM.

I was told bluntly last Fall, in one of a series of three private meetings with the Human Resources Manager, that my continued 'combative' advocacy would no longer be tolerated without consequence. I did not believe her. I was wrong.

I had what can only be described as an ugly meeting with management last Friday. I was told, without any sense of shame, that I was now being targeted by the WSM corporate office.

This afternoon, I had my third performance review in 6 months. I can't work out why. It had nothing to do with my job performance. In the review last December, I was told I was doing a great job. That was repeated this afternoon. The whole review took just five minutes. What was the point, other than to harass me?

I could bore you with more details. But the bottom line is - calling on as much generosity as I can muster - the WSM corporate office and senior management have become tired of me, and I with them.

I have advocated all I can. All is recorded on this blog for future use by anyone who cares to read it. But those who can effect change in our co-op are no longer prepared to listen to me. I have become superfluous (call me 'super' for short).

More than that, I may be a hindrance to change. If good ideas are falling on deaf ears solely because they are coming from me, then that does no good for workers who deserve those changes.

This is especially true with the all important discussions and action plans which we are told will follow publication of the WSM Employee Survey in about two month's time. The last thing I want is for my involvement in those discussions and action plans to cause their effectiveness to be diluted.

Don't get too fussed about The Great Debate That Wasn't between The WSM Board Chair and me. It was never going to happen. The Board Chair has not responded to the challenge, and is most unlikely ever to do so. So much for co-operative transparency. Of course, if he does, I will still be more than willing to engage with him.

None of this is to say that I regret one thing that I have done to try to make WSM a stronger business and a better co-op. My only regret is that I could not have done more.

Well. That and the fact that I will always feel that I ran away. The truth - once again - is that my effectiveness is over; I am being targeted; I would rather go with some good grace, than be fired ignominiously; and frankly (without wishing to sound like a wimp), after five years of this constant 'combat,' the stress is beginning to take its toll.

So. I am looking for new employment. Please keep your ears open, and let me know if you hear of something. I am looking for one of two things: (a) Advocacy, strategy or development consultancy, preferably with a non-profit (have a gander at My Info, to get an idea of my Resume); or (b) continued retail work.

I'm not gone yet. I'll let you all know before I do go. Don't get angry or upset. Regard this as an opportunity. You never know. Management may well be so happy to see me go, they'll end up agreeing to all sorts of worthwhile changes!

Take care. And be gentle with your lives.

The WSM Employee Survey - Total Transparency?

We workers of Weaver Street Market Co-operative half-own our co-op. Our General Manager says so. We pay the bills with the sweat of our brow. And those bills include the WSM Employee Survey. So, the Survey is ours too.

A number of WSM workers seem to be having trouble getting some basic questions answered about OUR Survey. Like the cost. Like how much of the results we will actually get to see. And how close up. So, I wrote today to WSM's General Manager, Ruffin Slater:

"Dear Ruffin,

I would be grateful if I could have answers to the following questions. It seems that some in WSM have decided it is appropriate to stop answering my e-mails. I would remind them that such an approach is in breach of co-op policy on transparency, openness and accountability. In which regard, the Board still owes me a couple or more replies:

1) May I please know who exactly is conducting the 2011 WSM Employee Survey? May I have contact details for them, so that I and others may, in fact, confirm that they are independent of WSM, and that they are conducting the Survey independent of any inappropriate input from anyone connected with WSM?

In the absence of contact details, may I please receive a copy of a letter on their headed notepaper, confirming that they are conducting the Survey, and that they are doing so independent of any inappropriate input from anyone connected with WSM?

2) May I please know the entire cost of the Survey?

3) Would you please confirm that the results that will be shared with all employees will include unedited and complete answers to all of the numbered, multiple choice questions?

4) A suggestion has been made to me, and I think it should find favor with most employees. That is that, before any substantive discussion of the results takes place, a bound copy is placed in each major unit of WSM of the complete Survey. So that employees may be able to peruse the complete narratives submitted by employees.

By complete, I mean each and every completed Survey. So, about 220 employees x 4 pages. By each major unit, I would suggest Carrboro/Panzanella, Food House/Administration, Hillsborough and Southern Village. The copies to remain in the units in perpetuity. And to be available for easy access by employees, without the need to ask a manager.

The cost should be less than the cost of one worker-ownership. There should be no query raised about anonymity. If the Survey is 'anonymous' for your purposes, it should be just as 'anonymous' for ours. We are all equal in this co-op.

I think the reason for this suggestion is self-evident, and I would be grateful for your positive response. And to all of these questions.

All the best,

Nothing To Fear But The Truth ...

There is much I could say about the Letter from the Board Chair of WSM to The Chapel Hill News in response to my Guest Column in the same newspaper. But, I have decided it would be better to allow the Board Chair to back up his inaccurate statements in front of an audience. So, I have issued two challenges:

"Dear Curt [WSM Board Chair],

I am writing to you in your capacity as Board Chair of Weaver Street Market Co-operative. I thought a bit about this. I still want the answer to my question about what authority you had, as Board Chair, to write (as the collective voice of the Board, without a Board Meeting) to The Chapel Hill News.

I do not believe that what you said in your Guest Column is consistent with what we employees were told in the Market Messenger, nor with the whole financial picture, nor do I believe that you answered any of the points that I raised in my Guest Column.

Moreover, I believe the actual facts rebut almost all that you say. However, the CHN is not a debating chamber for Weaver Street Market. So, I have written to them to offer you the two challenges I set out below. If you believe what you say, then present yourself to the community and the media, and allow your version and mine to be put to the test:

"Dear Editor,

What the Board Chair of Weaver Street Market Co-operative says in his Guest Column is not consistent with what we workers at WSM were told in our employee newsletter, and upon which I reported in my Guest Column. Nor does it answer any of the points that I raised in my Guest Column.

For example, the Board Chair makes no mention of WSM's crippling debt burden of $8 million, nor of the dividend warning that was issued to us workers. I know nothing of any 'recognition' by "Gourmet Retail" magazine. That would likely be because I am aware of no shopfloor worker who was allowed to speak to "Gourmet Retail" magazine.

Now, the CHN is not a debating chamber for Weaver Street. So, I offer these two challenges to the Board Chair of WSM:

1) I believe what I say. If you believe what you say, then stand by it in a public arena. Pick a meeting place or, say, a public affairs program on WCOM (Carrboro's community radio station), where the community and the media may ask questions. Present your version of the financial state of WSM. I will present mine. Then, let the community and the media choose which version to support.

2) If you believe that workers at WSM are generally happy with their lot, then publish the full results of the Employee Survey we were all asked to complete this last week.

No-one has anything to fear but the truth.

Yours faithfully,
Geoff Gilson
Weaver Street Market Worker-Owner"

Geoff's Commentary on the 2011 WSM Employee Survey

Lest I disappoint those of you who expect me to 'share' about Weaver Street Market Co-operative every time I tie my shoelaces, here's the letter I just sent to the WSM Board of Directors, the WSM corporate office and my immediate Managers:

"These are some observations, and this e-mail does not require answering.

I am bound to say I was pleasantly surprised at the extent to which the Employee Survey allowed for quite honest input on the state of The Weave, both as a business and as a co-operative.

I guess one consequence is that we may all learn whether the points I have been making these past few years are, indeed, a reflection of what others have been saying to me (as has always been my contention), or have been and remain my viewpoint alone (as some of you have, quite bluntly, stated to me).

Of course, the real test of the usefulness of the Survey will be the extent to which you allow the results to be fully discussed at the Department, Store and Co-op level, and whether or not employees will be involved meaningfully in the design of the resulting action plans.

In the meantime, two points: one minor(-ish), one more important:

1) I understood the need for a multiple choice element to the Survey. It allows the results to be quantitative, as well as qualitative.

Yet, I think that making employees wait until the end of the multiple choice element before adding commentary to the answers may have had the consequence of diluting the commentary.

Frankly, even I lost track of all of my thoughts after the entire Survey. I think any commentary would have been more precise and more comprehensive if the commentary had been allowed after each question.

2) The Survey was not anonymous.

When you required that we gave information as to Store, Department and Section, you pretty much reduced the possibilities to about two or three people in each case.

Frankly, I can see no advantage having been gained by such information with this Survey. Certainly, you will have learned nothing that you did not already know from the 360 degree Annual Employee Review.

You may dismiss this point as irrelevant. You would be wrong. No less than three fellow workers from Southern Village have already said to me that, as a consequence of their view that the Survey was not anonymous, they did not complete the Survey as fully as they would have liked.

This will clearly have implications for the accuracy and bias of the results.

For myself, I made the same points I have been making consistently these past few years, not least since Expansion:

A) As a worker-consumer co-op, and by definition, we are supposed to provide for the common needs of our workers and consumers, both in what we do and how we do it.

This is not airy-fairy idealism. It is the root of the thinking behind the economic success of all co-op's.

Namely that, unlike traditional grocery stores, we are not supposed to rely on impersonal and expensive marketing trickery to attract custom, and reactive management practices to inspire workers (as, in fact, we do now).

Rather, we are supposed to determine on a regular basis the common needs of worker and consumer, with continuous two-way communication, so that we provide what our consumers genuinely want, in a way that truly inspires workers, because they were asked.

In other words, if we involve consumers and workers consensually in our major decision-making, they will be invested in the results, and will buy more, and work harder.

B) We do not engage in that regular two-way communication. We do not hold enough Department or Store Meetings. We hold no Full Co-op Employee Meetings at all. And if and when we hold any of these Meetings, they are devoted almost exclusively to presentation by the WSM corporate office, and not to meaningful question-and-answer and discussion sessions with employees on policy and direction. On the why and how, as well as the what.

I have already made the suggestion that we might well encourage greater interest from all employees in the minutiae of WSM if we were to allow the employee Market Messenger to be a genuine employee-run newsletter, with access granted to the corporate office, but not sole access, as we have now.

To be honest, I take the view that the very existence of this Employee Survey is in itself an implicit admission of failure to communicate both ways, which should be the very essence of co-operation.

Employee Surveys are the sort of management tool found in conventional corporations, not in co-operatives. They should not become a substitute for genuine co-operation, communication and democracy.

C) I think the Survey will find that a large number of shopfloor workers feel that the work environment at WSM (pay, benefits, dividends, staffing levels, equipment, etc.) is not what it could or should be.

I continue to maintain the view that this is because we are currently forced to devote too much of our resources to paying off the debt on an Expansion, which can now only be determined to have been a failure, rather than on much-needed investment in that work environment.

I hope that discussion following this Survey and the consequential action plans will allow employees to have genuine input as to the state of WSM's finances, the availability of 'excess' funds (above and beyond normal operational costs), and the use to which those funds should now be put. Even if such discussion and planning moves into areas of quite radical alternative to the corporate office's current gameplan.

To say that any area of discussion is off-limits, or to provide insufficient information to permit such discussion, would be effectively to castrate the discussion before it begins. Wouldn't you say?

After all, you have said that you want us to become more 'financially literate' this year. So, you should want us to have the necessary information. Isn't that right?

On which note, when may I be expecting a copy of the WSM Audited Annual Accounts for 2010 (together with all supporting documentation from the Auditor), which copy I have requested as a worker-owner more than once since last September?

D) The last remaining pathway for employees to have meaningful input to policy-making is through worker-ownership.

Not enough workers become worker-owners. I am prepared to bet that the primary reason for this will be shown by the Survey to be the exorbitant cost of $500. I have already suggested the cost be reduced to, say, $200.

If there were more worker-owners, we would not find workers being represented on the Board by a Manager and a Finance staff member from the WSM corporate office.

As I always say, I mean no disrespect to the individuals concerned, but it is a nonsense to suggest that shopfloor workers can be represented by other than shopfloor workers.

I believe that, if the above three points were fully addressed, all the other questions in the Survey about pay, benefits, work environment, staffing and the like would follow naturally, because the co-op as a whole, collegially, would be making the decisions from which those matters flow. In other words, the people affected by those matters would be the ones deciding those matters. Which is what the co-operative business model is all about.

I look forward to the Survey results, and to meaningful discussion and input to the action plans.

All the best,
Geoff Gilson"


You can see my completed WSM Employee Survey on Facebook.

Co-operatives Are People Power In Action ... Unless

All across the world, we see protests by ordinary people demanding they once more be permitted to control their own destiny.

Even if others do not, I see the connection between those fighting for union rights in Wisconsin, and those Wisconsin taxpayers who say those same rights infringe their own liberty, by potentially increasing their taxes.

I see the connection between those who asked Obama to change the US, and those who, two years later, looked to John Boehner to do the same for them.

I see the connection between the devolution of power proposed by the British Prime Minister with his 'Big Society,' and the budget today announced by the 'new' Governor of California, Jerry Brown, which budget also details a decentralization of powers.

I see the connection between protests in support of democracy in the Middle East, and demands by me and my fellow workers in Weaver Street Market Co-operative for more democracy and more input to the financial decisions that affect our everyday lives.

They are all connected. Even if others do not see the connection.

One of the surest ways of ensuring true people power is through co-operatives. People of like mind coming together to provide to themselves and by their own efforts the products and the services they want. From groceries to banking services; from political action to public services, such as education, housing and even welfare.

The essence of the true cooperative is that it works because all are equal; all have a say in the decision-making; all have an equal opportunity to share the benefits on an equal basis; there are no extraneous or hidden agendas; and there are no profit-seekers, to introduce these hidden agendas.

I interpret 'profit' in the widest sense. It is a surplus factor, extraneous and unnecessary to the central purpose of the co-operative, introduced improperly to 'enrich' certain of the co-op members, at the expense of the general membership, and to the detriment of the central purpose of the co-operative.

Thus, 'profit' can be financial. An attempt to distort the natural and sustainable financial performance of the co-operative, to produce a surplus, which is then made available to a few, generally outside the co-operative.

Or, 'profit' can be political. A different sort of attempt to distort the normal activity of the co-op, to produce a result which massages the political ego of one or a few.

I mention this in respect of my own co-op, Weaver Street Market Co-operative, where, insidiously, individual as opposed to group profit has been introduced, by the backdoor, to enrich a few at the expense of the whole.

Maybe the expansion project, begun in 2007/2008, and resulting in our new Food House and Hillsborough store, had justification for the central purpose of the whole co-op, before the Great Recession yanked the carpet out from under all of us.

Yet now, the benefits are far outweighed by the cost to the rest of the co-op of the burden of having to find millions of dollars in capital and interest repayments each year on the total long-term debt of $8 million.

Attempting to repay that debt, rather than restructuring the debt or the co-op to erase the debt completely, results in an out-of-touch corporate office making impossible and exploitative demands of its co-op workers and owners. Demands which have nothing to do with the normal financial performance of our co-op, its central purpose or the well-being of our workers and owners.

What is more, that same corporate office is totally unwilling to engage in any kind of democratic conversation, perhaps to discuss the sustainability of the existing financial approach, or to consider alternatives. For why? For one very simple reason. There are those who are simply unwilling to admit they may be wrong. That lack of openness and honesty, frankly, imposes another form of 'profit' on our co-op, which distorts our co-op's ability to perform naturally and to provide for the needs of its workers and owners.

Finally, there is now a sufficiency of information that some within our co-op receive benefit and special favor not granted to all of the workers and owners. I do not say this is illegal. But it is not in keeping with the ethos of a co-op that allows all to input and all to receive output on the basis of equal opportunity.

I welcome any activity that has people of like mind coming together, finding ways to provide for themselves, and thereby controlling their own destiny. Co-operatives can play a huge part in any and all of those endeavors. But the concept of shared and diffused power can be a curse, as much as a blessing.

It leaves the co-op open to abuse by a few who seek to make 'profit' at the expense of the central purpose of the co-op and the welfare of its workers and owners. It is up to each worker and owner constantly to be vigilant against these secret 'profiteers.'

Letter to Board of WSM, re: Change in Financial Direction

Weaver Street Market Co-operative has a crippling long-term debt of $8 million, incurred undemocratically by the Board and corporate office without consultation. It is costing the co-op millions each year in capital and interest repayments.

It is the workers who have to meet those repayments by working harder for less. We get longer opening hours. Less shift hours. Insufficient staff support. Paltry pay raises. And no dividend. Time for a change. Time for a letter to the Board:

"Dear Board,

We workers received our 'Market Messenger' this past week, in which it was outlined that WSM made only a 9% sales increase in the first two Quarters (not the 15% required - $3.75 million), resulting in only a 1% profit figure (as opposed to the 3% needed).

I'm not going to re-run all the discussion of last year, save to say this. I met with Ruffin for an hour in the Fall. There were some very limited figures shown to me. But the upshot was that we needed to make more than a 10% sales increase just to break even, and that we needed to make a 15% sales increase to pay a dividend.

As I say, the figures were limited. But what was clear, even if not openly stated, was that a large amount of the extra $3.75 million would be needed to pay capital and interest on our continuing long-term debt of $8 million.

The 'Market Messenger' gave what in capitalist parlance is called a dividend warning. Namely, that we might not get one. In any traditional corporation, after four years of not paying a dividend, corporations start making changes. At the very least to the financial gameplan.

I think it well past time that the Board began a conversation within both this co-op and its supporting community about a financial direction that actually works, and that finds a better way to erase the debt of $8 million, rather than continuing to make undignified, outrageous and unachievable demands of its workers.

I would be grateful if the Board would immediately consider the following changes, and then respond to all workers with its conclusions:

1) Changes to the Financial Direction of WSM

At the 2008 Annual Meeting of WSM, the attending owners voted to support my call for a Board Committee of Owners immediately to review the finances of WSM to determine the sustainability of the long-term debt and the efficacy of the financial direction of WSM. The Board decided to ignore that democratic call. I now ask that the Board immediately form such a Committee, its work to be completed in time for presentation to the 2011 Annual Meeting - without editing by the Board.

2) Changes to the Conversation about the Financial Direction of WSM

There is no meaningful conversation within WSM about its financial direction. I would invite the Board to begin its own conversation within our co-op and its supporting communities. Now. Or make it one of the terms of the above Board Committee that it engage in the widest consultation, both within WSM, and in the communities supporting WSM.

As a worker, we have no Department Meetings, although we were promised these last fall. We no longer have Annual Co-op Employee Meetings, which all co-op employees attend, and where employees can meet and compare notes. The last one was held in 2007. I ask that we re-institute such a meeting, to be held in September of this year. And that most of the time be set aside for Questions, Answers and Discussion, not Presentation.

3) Changes to the Representation of Workers on the Board of WSM

Every time I raise the subject of worker input to conversation, I am told we are represented by two Workers on the Board.

No we are not. We workers are represented by a Manager and a staffer from the Finance Department of the WSM corporate office.

You find me five genuine WSM shopfloor workers who describe that as true democratic representation of the workforce of WSM, and I will pay for Ruffin to have a meal at the best restaurant in Carrboro.

It is time to change the cost of worker-ownership so that it is affordable. You can do it at your next Board Meeting. $200 would be fair. I have already suggested that you raise the consumer-ownership fee to the same $200. You could then put out a call to owners to make up the difference. You could probably raise about $300,000.

It is time to allow worker-owner candidates to have meaningful access to their electorate. The break-room election table gizmo does not work. Workers want their breaks. Or they're working. Or they're at home. Get real.

Again (for, what, the third year in a row?), I would ask that worker-owner candidates for the Board be allowed to take questions form their electorate at the newly-reinstituted Annual Co-op Employee Meeting in September.

We are a co-op. We are a democracy. We are a community organization. And we are still failing financially. Because of the debt that was undemocratically incurred to fund what can now only be described as a failed expansion plan.

It is time to design a financial future that works. That does not make impossible demands of our workers. And that involves both the whole co-op and the communities supporting our co-op in the conversation that designs that financial future.

In this latter regard, since all meaningful channels of communication and conversation for workers and consumers have now been shut down within our co-op, I will be taking this conversation to community organs of communication and discussion.

I appreciate this may be in breach of Employee Co-op Policy. I have taken legal advice. The section in question is a breach of my First Amendment rights.

All the best,
Geoff Gilson"

Letter to Editors: Weaver Workers' Woes Continue ...

Just in case you guys thought I was going soft on you, I've written to the local press here in Orange County, NC, to let them know of the travails we workers continue to suffer in our democratic co-op.

If the WSM corporate office shuts down the 'normal' channels of communication within our co-op, I'll find ones of my own. First Amendment. Keep your eyes peeled on The Chapel Hill News and The Carrboro Citizen:

"Dear Editor,

Readers may remember my comments last fall about the sacrifices being made by the workers at Weaver Street Market Co-operative to keep our community co-op open.

We had gone for two years without earned pay raises. We received paltry increases at the end of last year.

Workers and consumers have been without a dividend for three years. And we have just been informed by the corporate office that we most likely will not see a dividend in 2011 either. Indeed, WSM could make a loss for the year.

In each of the last three years, we workers have had to work harder for less. Our shift hours were cut. Opening hours of the stores were extended. And so it continues.

Without any meaningful discussion, as is required by co-op policy, it was demanded of us workers that we increase sales by 15% in 2011.

We have managed in the first two Quarters, against the prevailing economic malaise, to increase sales by 9%. But that, we are told, is not enough.

We need to increase sales by at least 10%, just to break even. Less than 10%, and WSM makes a loss on the year. Less than 15%, no dividend.

Why? Because of the millions of dollars WSM needs to pay each year on its crippling long-term debt of $8 million. Debt incurred by our corporate office and Board of Directors, again without consultation, in order to finance what can only now be described as the failed expansion plan of 2007/2008.

It is time now to begin an immediate, open and community-wide conversation about the sustainability of Weaver Street’s finances and the future direction of our community co-op – before the banks impose that future on us.

It is not enough to leave it to the Board of WSM and its corporate office. A co-op is a democracy. It is a community organization. When all conversation within the co-op has been stifled – which it has – then it is fitting to demand that the conversation take place in the community.

Supporters of our co-op can write to the Board at Put notes in the store suggestion boxes. Write to this paper. Start a discussion on their favorite local forum. And request a conversation about the future direction of our co-op. Now.

Yours faithfully,
Geoff Gilson
Weaver Street Worker-Owner"


The Chapel Hill News published my letter to them.

OrangePolitics published my post too.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The 2011 Weaver Street Market Employee Survey

We workers of Weaver Street Market Co-operative have a great opportunity to make this new Survey work for us and our co-op, and to use it as a springboard for a much-needed democratic conversation about and action plan for the future of our co-op.

Today's WSM employee Market Messenger announces that next week all workers of WSM will be asked to fill out a Survey from the WSM corporate office ostensibly seeking our input about our work, our departments and the whole co-op.

Those of you who know me will know that I am concerned that our co-op, which should be a democracy based on equality of all, has become a two-tier, traditional-style corporation. Where we workers occupy the ground floor, and are simply told what to do by the top floor corporate office, usually without consultation.

I welcome this Survey as something of an attempt at consultation. But it has me a little worried. Why? Well, if the Survey was a genuine attempt at involving workers in designing the future of the co-op which we half-own, then why were we not involved in designing the Survey?

The notice in the MM states that the results of the Survey will be shared with all employees. Who decides what is to be shared?

The notice states that 'action plans' will also be shared with all employees. Um. Who is constructing these action plans?

Doesn't a meaningful consultation exercise in a democratic co-op, the purpose of which consultation should be consensually to design our future, doesn't that require that we determine (consensually) what data we want; gather it (together); discuss it openly; consider alternatives; and then allow the co-op (as a whole) to discuss democratically which alternatives to choose?

Bottom line: is this Survey about satisfying the common needs of the co-op, its workers and owners, or is it about satisfying the needs of the WSM corporate office?

What can you and I do?

First, fill out the Survey as completely as you can. Include full answers about all the things that concern you - even if the questions are not asked, and even if you have to write your answers on the back of the Survey, 'cos you've run out of space.

Secondly, ask to take a copy of your completed Survey. And keep it.

Thirdly, ask you Department Manager when exactly he or she is going to hold the Department Meeting at which the results will be discussed, and the Department will be allowed consensually to determine its action plan.

Ask you Store Manager when a similar Store Meeting will be held.

Write to the General Manager, and ask him when a full Co-op Meeting (of all the co-op's employees) will be held to discuss those parts of the Survey that relate to 'the whole co-op' -

Oh, and while you're writing to him, why not ask him to ensure that the 'outside consultant' who will be compiling OUR Survey includes ALL that we have said, not just those parts that suit the WSM corporate office.

I am sending my e-mails today.

This Survey is OUR Survey. It is not just about letting the WSM corporate office know what we workers are thinking. It is about letting us workers know what we workers are thinking.

We workers are paying for this Survey. We are the ones who earn the money in our co-op - a co-op which our General Manager announces to the world we workers half-own. We have a right to determine how the Survey is conducted and how then it is used.

The goal of our co-op is to provide for the common needs of our owners and us workers. We are perfectly capable of deciding for ourselves what are those common needs, and how they should be provided.

Give us the data. Let us discuss it. And allow us to design our own action plans. Just exactly who decided that only a small group of us gets to do the designing of our collective future?

We workers should have been involved in designing this Survey. We weren't. But we can demand that we be involved in how it is published, how it is discussed and the use to which it is put. We can demand that we are democratic participants in designing the resulting action plans.

If democracy is worth dying for half a world away, it ought to be worth asking for in our own co-op.


My e-mail:

"Dear (Managers),

I link to my views on the announced 2011 WSM Employee Survey:

In consequence, I would be grateful if I could know the following:

1) Will the results that are shared with employees include all that employees have contributed? Or only an edited version? Who will edit? Who sets the guidelines for editing? And, as is usual with most consultation exercises (which, after all, we employees are paying for), will the raw data be available to those who request it?

2) What plans are there for discussing both the 'results' and the data? Will there be Department Meetings? Will there be Store Meetings? Most important, will there be a full Co-op Meeting, to discuss those parts of the Survey which are about 'the whole co-op'?

3) Are those whom the 'action plans' affect, namely we employees, going to be involved in designing the action plans? If so, how?

All the best,