Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reducing the Cost of Worker-Ownership ...

Every last worker in the Weaver Street Market Co-operative contributes to the profit that allows a dividend to be paid to Worker-Owners and Consumer-Owners.

It is only fair that all workers be given the opportunity to be able to afford Worker-Ownership, so that all workers may be able to share in the rewards of the labor of us all.

This is not the case at the moment.

Those of you who know me will know that I have been campaigning for several years now to reduce the cost of Worker-Ownership, so that we can all afford to share in the rewards of our labor, and so that we can all vote in Board Elections.

I am told that the Board will, at last, be considering the cost of Worker-Ownership this Autumn. So, I wrote to them, with one final plea:

"Dear Board,

At the Southern Village Unit Meeting this past week, in answer to a question from me, Ruffin announced that you would be considering the cost of Worker-Ownership in Weaver Street Market Co-operative this Autumn.

I write to you now to ask you to reduce Worker-Ownership to $200, to give all workers in our co-op the opportunity to be able to afford to share in the rewards of their own labor, and the right to be able to vote for their Board Directors.

You will know that one of the six goals for 2012 presented to Unit Meetings by Ruffin was improvement in communication. As things stand at the moment, the only meaningful opportunity workers in WSM have to communicate views such that they find their way into policy-making is through Worker-Ownership.

You allowed for a dividend to Worker-Owners this year for the first time in three years. This is due not least to the magnificent effort of ALL workers in improving sales in 2011 by 9%.

However, even though every last worker in WSM contributed to this sales increase, and to the profit that led to the dividend, not every last worker will be able to share in the rewards. Not every last worker will get a dividend.

Only some 50% of workers in WSM are Worker-Owners. The 2011 WSM Employee Survey elicited the information that some 36% stated that their reason for not being a Worker-Owner was the exorbitant cost.

I understand that, when it was only Worker-Owners who received the patronage dividend, it was necessary for tax reasons to have the Worker-Ownership cost high, so that there was a sufficient patronage capital base - created as it was only out of Worker-Ownership contributions.

Now that both Consumer-Owners and Worker-Owners receive the patronage dividend, and we can count Consumer-Owner as well as Worker-Owner contributions for that patronage capital base, there is no need to keep the cost of Worker-Ownership so high (it is $100 for Consumer-Owners -vs- $500 for Worker-Owners).

Ruffin confirmed to me last Autumn, when I met with him, that there was no reason to keep the cost of Worker-Ownership so high.

In all of the circumstances, I can see no good reason to keep Worker-Ownership at $500, and many good reasons for reducing it to, say, $200. When it would become more affordable for Worker-Owners, while still maintaining a differential with Consumer-Ownership; fair, since Worker-Owners receive a higher amount by way of individual dividend.

I can not believe that there is any worker or Worker-Owner in WSM who would want to deny the person working next to them, doing the same work as them, the opportunity to be able to afford to share in the rewards of their same labor.

I can not believe Worker-Owners would want to deny their fellow workers the opportunity to have the same input to policy-making, and the same opportunity to vote for Board Directors.

More to the point, I can not believe that there is any Worker-Owner who would want to create a sense in our co-operative of a two-tier worker system. Where those who have money and can afford Worker-Ownership are the only ones who get to benefit from the labor of all, and are the only ones who get to vote and to have input to policy-making - simply because they have more money.

It could be seen as the antithesis of the principle of equality to which we, as a co-op, are supposed to subscribe.

And I can not imagine our Consumer-Owners thinking any differently, can you?

I look forward to your decision, finally, to introduce equity to the distribution of financial benefits in our co-op and to the system of electing our Worker-Owner Board Directors.

All the best,
Geoff Gilson"