Friday, August 19, 2011

Six Co-operative Goals for WSM in 2012 ...

WSM corporate office management will be announcing six goals for 2012 at worker Unit Meetings next week. I will be pleasantly surprised (not to mention bowled over with joy) if those goals look anything like this:

1) Authentic Triple Bottom Line Profit

* With a potential double-dip to the Great Recession just around the corner, keep financial profitability simple. No grand plans or expansive goals. Open the doors. Sell consumers what they have asked us to sell them. In a way workers have agreed. Make a profit. Go home.

* It is no good announcing that WSM has made a financial profit when that profit has only been achieved by overworking, underpaying, over-stressing and under-equipping workers. That is called exploitation. It's how WalMart is able to announce a profit. It's not something of which any one of us should feel proud.

* Remember that our Triple Bottom Line includes social and environmental profitability, as well as financial profitability.

* We are not achieving environmental profitability when we continue to use non-recyclable plastic bags for transporting food (which we announced was a temporary measure three years ago), or when we convert our delivery trucks away from being bio-diesel.

* The social bottom line is not how much money we return to the community. It is the social impact of our business on our owners, our consumers, our workers and our community. To put it simply, whether or not we piss 'em off with the way we do business. At the moment, we piss 'em off. We are not making a social profit, and have not for several years now.

2) Authentic Debt Reduction Program

* Restructuring and recapitalizing the co-op's long-term debt of some $8 million, to transform it such that it no longer drains funds away from investing in the resources necessary to provide fulfilling shopping and work experiences.

* We will never be able to give workers the tools they need (staff, equipment, proper pay increases, etc.) to provide customers with a fulfilling shopping experience, as long as each year we throw away $2 million out of our $25 million turnover due to our long-term debt.

* Currently, WSM exports some $2 million a year in interest and capital repayments to banks outside of our community because of that crippling long-term debt.

* This is the only reason WSM corporate office management, year after year, produces goals that place an intolerable burden upon our owners, our consumers and our workers, and which have nothing to do with providing for their common needs (which, by international definition, should be the sole ambition of any co-operative).

3) Authentic Communication and Accountability

* Structures, systems and processes should be introduced that allow for genuine communication within Departments, Units and the Co-op as a whole.

* That communication should be two-way. We get to tell management and the corporate office what we think, and they have to listen and take what we say into account. Otherwise, 'improved communication' just means another opportunity for management to poke us in the back, and tell us to keep our hands busy.

* Communication is useless without accountability. And that accountability, in a democratic co-op, based on the principle of equality, should also be two-way and absolute. We are responsible to our managers and to Ruffin. They should also be accountable to us.

* At last year's Unit Meetings, we were told that our efforts to increase sales by 15% would be supported by the WSM corporate office and Food House implementing category management improvements to our prepared foods. That has not happened. How do we workers hold the corporate office and Food House management accountable?

* We were told that, as and when we increased sales, staff levels would be increased. That has not happened in my Department. Whom do I hold accountable, and how?

* If a part of communication and accountability is to regularize job descriptions, then the co-op as a whole should be deciding the job descriptions, not just a self-appointed few; those job descriptions should cover every position, up to and including the General Manager; and all job descriptions should include a requirement to comply with WSM's Mission Statement and the Triple Bottom Line.

4) Authentic Shopping Experience

* Our consumers should determine what we sell. In that way, we could do away with all the expensive, consumerist marketing gimmickry, which serves only to encourage our consumers to buy what they would not otherwise want to buy. That's what conventional capitalist/consumerist grocery stores do, not co-operatives.

* We could then re-assign marketing staff away from the current marketing gimmickry, and have them focus instead on processes to discover the genuine common needs of our consumers, by way of an online forum, revived newsletter, consumer discussion groups, and the like.

* If consumers are choosing what we sell, and workers are deciding how we sell, and consumers are discussing all of this in consumer discussion groups, then there is no need to waste any more money on the reactive, unprofessional and counter-productive Mystery Shopper Program. There is way too much of a culture of secrecy and mystery in this co-op, which is supposed to subscribe to co-operative principles of openness and transparency.

5) Authentic Work Experience

* WSM's Mission Statement requires that workers have a fulfilling work experience.

* It should be made a specific requirement that every manager's job description include reference to this fact, and that every manager be reviewed each year as much on their success in ensuring a fulfilling work experience as in achieving financial goals.

* With our crippling long-term debt taken out of the financial equation, there would be enough funds (which we workers generate by the way) to increase staff, renew equipment, pay proper merit pay increases, and the like, all of which would allow us workers to provide customers with the shopping experience they want, and which we want to give them - in an environment of mutual respect and dignity. That's how you improve all three levels of profitability. Not by poking us in the back.

6) Authentic Decision-Making and Democracy

* Why were the six goals to be presented to us by WSM's corporate office management determined by a self-selected few, and not by the co-op as a whole? A co-op is supposed to work on principles of equality and democracy. Where was the equality and democracy in this decision-making process? Indeed, where is the equality and democracy in any of WSM's decision-making processes?

* Leaving aside principle, it is common business good sense that, if consumers, owners and workers are involved in making the major decisions in our co-op, they will all be more invested in achieving their successful implementation.

* The only opportunity available to workers to participate in wider policy-making in our co-op and to vote in Board Elections is through the purchase of worker-ownership. Ruffin told me last Autumn there was no good reason for keeping the cost of worker-ownership at $500. 36% of the co-op's workers said the reason they would not become worker-owners was due to the cost. Why can we not IMMEDIATELY reduce the cost of worker-ownership to, say, $200? It is plain wrong that only a few get to share in the rewards of the labor of us all.

We are not acting as a co-op if, at the end of a year, we have achieved some goal set by a self-appointed few behind a combination lock, but we don't feel good about ourselves.

What sets co-operatives apart from conventional corporate/consumerist businesses is not just what we do, but how we do it.

The answer to that viewpoint has too often been, 'Well, we're not a social statement.' Actually, provided we are not making a financial loss, that is exactly what we are.

I am told, if I feel that way, perhaps I should work elsewhere. Actually, if those who tell me that do not like working according to co-operative ideals, it is time for them to be working somewhere else.

Sorry. But it is time to take back our co-op.

I remain ever hopeful that the six goals that WSM corporate office management will be announcing next week will work towards these ends, and will consequently look something like the six set out above.

I remain hopeful, but I think we may be in for another fight ...