Thursday, April 12, 2012

Taking Back Our Co-op [I]

I had some thoughts the other day about whether our very favorite local food co-op, Weaver Street Market, was actually owned by the community, and whether this might not be the reason for there being so little democratic conversation within the co-op.

One or two of you asked what we could do to take back our co-op. I had some further thoughts. I shared them as comments on Facebook. But I thought I would also post them here also, as separate Notes.

Aside from the dry detail, the answer is this: take notice, ask questions, go to meetings, get involved. Now, for the first of my dry comments:

"Well, I'm in the middle of something else. But I'll whet your appetite by saying that incorporation of co-operatives in North Carolina is covered by NC General Statute 54.

GS 54-157 has an interesting provision, which the Board of Directors of WSM might want to read:

"§ 54‑157. Breach of marketing contract of cooperative association; spreading false reports about the finances or management thereof; misdemeanor.

Any person or persons, or any corporation whose officers or employees knowingly induces or attempts to induce any member or stockholder of an association organized hereunder to breach his marketing contract with the association, or who maliciously and knowingly spreads false reports about the finances or management thereof shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor and subject only to a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100.00), and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), for such offense and shall be liable to the association aggrieved in a civil suit in the penal sum of five hundred dollars ($500.00) for each such offense: Provided, that this section shall not apply to a bona fide creditor of any member or stockholder of such association, or the agents or attorney of any such bona fide creditor, endeavoring to make collection of the indebtedness, or to any communication, written or oral, between a business company or concern and persons with whom it has an existing contractual relationship which communication relates to the performance of that contractual relationship and duties and responsibilities arising therefrom. (1921, c. 87, s. 25; C.S., s. 5259(dd); 1963, c. 1168, s. 14; 1993, c. 539, s. 430; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c).)"

Bottom line? Being a co-operative these days isn't some happy-clappy vision, dreamt up on the Weaver Street Lawn. There are rules. There are protections.

Until now, I have been trying (these past seven years) to engage the 'powerbrokers' in WSM to return WSM to the democratic, community co-op it is supposed to be. With the help of a lot of other folks, I might add. It isn't just me.

I have one last attempt underway. Which I am necessarily not sharing at the moment. But there are sanctions if that last attempt at conversation fails. Sanctions which will not hurt the welfare of ordinary consumers, owners and workers. But which will catch the attention of those who are making decisions at the moment, without reference to those consumers, owners and workers.

More to follow. But, in the meantime, the most important things you can do are: (1) Go on buying - we who want things to change will achieve nothing if we hurt what it is we want to change; (2) Go to Board Meetings and at least observe; (3) Stand for the Board, and don't let yourself be bamboozled."