Saturday, March 5, 2011

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."