Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My New Year Resolution For The Weave

You know. I'm sitting here prepping for my New Year's Eve gig at 2nd Wind this evening (starts 8.30pm; Broadleaf open, then me as Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson; notice how I slipped that in - sneaky, huh?).

Anyways, I'm getting ready to party. Which is unusual for me. 'Cos I don't get out much. Could explain some of my 'unusual' social skills. And suddenly it hits me. Maybe I've been too harsh on the Weaver Street Market Co-operative corporate office management team? Maybe the problem is that they just don't get out enough?

I mean, they sit in those big, carpeted, plush, well-lit, ambient offices in Hillsborough, surrounded by mile after mile of verdant green, open, rolling countryside. Only the sounds of Mother Nature to keep them company. Behind a complicated combination lock on their front door. Who wouldn't feel a little out of touch?

How can they possibly know what it is to grind away on the shopfloor earning the money they overspend, if they're never given the opportunity to undertake the same work they keep asking us to engage in harder, for less?

How can they possibly know how demeaning and ridiculous it is to be Mystery Shopped by strangers, when no-one is able to come and make surprise visits on them (cf. combination lock)?

We complain about how distant and removed so many of their decisions seem to be. But have we stopped to think how difficult it must be for them to work out the right answers, when all they can do is guess at the consequences, since they never get to see them?

Of course they don't consult workers and owners. Even though, being in a co-op, we all know that they should. They don't, because they're shy. From being tucked away for so long.

So, I want all of us to resolve to do what we can this year to help all of our friends in the WSM corporate office management team to throw off the shackles of somnolent office pastime, and come out and join us in getting their hands a little dirty on the shopfloor.

Encourage them to get out a bit more, meet the folks who actually keep the co-op running, and strike up conversations with real owners, customers and workers.

And if that doesn't work, maybe grab an apple pie, and head on out to Hillsborough, and pay them a wee Mystery Visit or two. Whad'ya say?

Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 30, 2013

POP VOX w/Broadleaf -- Tomorrow!!

Tomorrow. New Year's Eve. 2nd Wind, Carrboro. Caribbean Pirate theme. Hi-energy Beach Pop. With first Broadleaf. And then Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson. Beginning at 8.30pm. Into the early hours. I'm so excited my pieces of eight are all going jingle jangle!! FB Event Page: http://tinyurl.com/l4zu5dp.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

POP VOX w/Broadleaf - Caribbean Pirate New Year's Eve

Now don't forget, the theme at 2nd Wind for New Year's Eve will be 'Caribbean Pirate.'

I'll be digging out the Foam Rubber Beach Pirate Sword. And possibly some pics from yesteryear of the various incarnations of Cap'n POP VOX.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all, and to all an 'oooh aaargh'!!

Facebook Event Page: http://tinyurl.com/l4zu5dp.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Visit From St. Nicholas ... ??

"Twas the night before Christmas
When all through The Weave
Not a creature was stirring
Who didn't have a peeve ... "

Hmm. Curiouser and curiouser. Every single one of the previous nine Christmases I have celebrated as an employee of Weaver Street Market, we workers have been offered a choice of gift. This year, not. We were summarily presented with a WSM Gift Card.

Now, a gift's a gift. Granted. But is something else at work? Is it not so much a jolly fat man in a red suit that will be visiting us next week as a guy with red ink?

Tell you what. I'll make a list of some recent occurrences. And you connect the dots as you see fit:

1) By all accounts, the very expensive refit of the Carrboro store ran over budget, and has not yet been completed. There is a degree of consternation among both customers and employees that the single-minded drive to create an energy-efficient entity has left what was a rather homely co-op with all the atmosphere of an underused morgue. And there is strong suggestion it is having an effect on sales.

2) We are now on our second bagel machine.

3) Panzanella will close tomorrow (December 21). Apparently the WSM Board of Directors made the decision in principle to close Panzanella a year ago. But there was no consultation with owners or workers. And certainly the first we in the Southern Village knew store about it was when we were told (without consultation or any other advance warning) a month ago.

4) Employees will shortly have their pay paid by direct deposit, whether we like that or not. Apparently this will save the co-op money. Again, there was no consultation. And WSM Employee Co-op Policy demands that workers have meaningful input into all major decisions affecting workers and their workplace.

5) Starting about three weeks ago, all the managers in all of the WSM entities began applying the old poke-in-the-back-look-busy school of management with fervor.

I could wax lyrical, as someone who, when he was merrily dancing the capitalist fandango on the other side of the political aisle, was paid six figures a year as a management consultant, about what it looks like when a company gets itself in a cash flow mess (again).

But I won't. As I said, I will let you connect your own dots. But I would suggest to customers, keep a look out for further weird decisions where you are not consulted; and to employees, beware corner-cutting and even more back-prodding ...

[Oh yeah. As always, I am bound by another section of WSM Employee Co-op Policy to point out that these are my views, and not those of Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, St. Nicholas or any of the WSM corporate office management team ... ]

Saturday, December 14, 2013

POP VOX, New Year's Eve, 2nd Wind ...

Absolutely the only place you will want to be New Year's Eve is 2nd Wind, Carrboro. Seeing in the New Year dressed as a Caribbean Pirate (can't say 'Pirates of the Caribbean' for copyright reasons!).

Singing and dancing along to hi-energy interactive (Caribbean) beach pop. Provided first by popular reggae band #Broadleaf (Greg Sronce, SV Deli), and then by Weaver Street Market's very own one-man Boy Band Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson (SV Kitchen).

The fun starts at 8.30pm and continues (me hearties) until the very last drop of rum is drunk. Or Jerry walks the plank. Further details to come. This is one yo-ho-ho you won't wanna miss ... !!

[Remember what #ThePosterGuys had to say of #POPVOX: "The most entertaining live show I have seen in the last five years."]

Monday, December 9, 2013

Does Mandela's Legacy Touch My Locale?

There will be much talk over the coming days about the true legacy of Mandela. What it is, and what it isn't.

For me, a middle-aged white Brit, of American parents, a former Thatcher groupie, but now more center-left, the lasting legacy of Mandela will be his achievement in creating the space which allowed South Africa to transition to black majority rule without massive bloodshed.

While a reasonably successful activist with the British Conservative Party in the Eighties, much to my discomfort, the partner in the law firm which I managed took great pleasure each month in adding to the spread of literature on offer in our waiting room the propaganda magazine from the South African Embassy.

I had always opposed apartheid. While finding favor with much that the British Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher was achieving in restoring balance to the public finances left in an unholy mess by the British Labour Party in the Seventies (a situation with which some find analogy with the current Conservative-led UK Coalition Government).

Not surprisingly then, there was regular discussion, both in the office, and in my immediate political circles, about my views on South Africa, not least because they differed with so many of my political confreres.

There was, however, one thing on which we agreed. And this agreement was fueled not only by what we read, but also by direct contact with white expats of South Africa. Namely, that transition to black majority rule would only occur after a bitter civil war. No-one believed it would be possible without.

Yet, from the moment Mandela was released from prison, he lived the reconciliation he preached. This incredible and continuing act of statesmanship allowed others, both black and white, to put aside anger and fear and guilt and hatred. And create new institutions of governance in an atmosphere of peace and calm.

That is Nelson Mandela's greatest legacy. All the talk of what has happened since. The corruption. The lack of progress towards justice. All of this should be laid at the feet of his successors. Not his.

A couple more points about justice since we are here. It's all very well the smug armchair progressives of the West decrying the lack of progress in South Africa. Look to your own countries, and the hundreds of years it took to progress to what you now calmly accept as your democratic and liberal birthrights.

And something I think that Mandela himself would have (and has) emphasized, if he were presenting his own eulogy. He did not release himself from prison. He did not achieve black majority rule on his own. It took the magnanimity also of white Afrikaan leaders, responding to the space Mandela created, to work with him in partnership to bring about a new South Africa.

Indeed, as some of you will know, I am regularly disappointed in my own locale, Chapel Hill/Carrboro NC, one of the acknowledged bastions of progressivism in the US, as to how those who shout liberal platitudes the loudest, are very often those who forget them when the difficult moments arrive, and they have to put themselves, their careers, their reputations at risk actually implementing genuinely progressive ideals.

I think of the co-op where I work, where many of management and the Board of Directors speak and write far more eloquently than I about the benefits of liberal ideology. Yet, they all too happily run a co-op based on capitalist ideals of profit and productivity, rather than democracy and inclusion in decision-making.

I think of the local progressive discussion forum which censors views it does not like. I think of the local community radio which castigated me for inviting a Republican election candidate onto my chat show. And I think of the local liberal folk who operate a water-tight political machine, to ensure that only the chosen receive endorsement, so as to keep local political office pure.

Each and every one of these so-called progressive activists could learn something from each and every one of the Afrikaan leaders who worked with Mandela to help him create his legacy.

For each one of those Afrikaan leaders had the courage to act in a progressive fashion, based simply on blind faith. Regardless of their own instincts and fears. And in so doing, they acted more progressively than many of the so-called progressive leaders in my co-op, my municipality and my community.

There is a long way yet to go in South Africa. But Mandela has shown the way. By using his own decency to create the space for others to find their courage. That example has much to teach the rest of us. Not least my fellow local progressives ...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela, 1918 - 2013

When I was a child, I spake as a child. And I was a child of the Maggie Thatcher Revolution. The same Margaret Thatcher who supported the regime in South Africa which kept Nelson Mandela under lock and key.

When I became a man, I put away childish things. And when I was old enough to understand more about the world, Nelson Mandela, finally released from prison, taught me many things.

The most important was that the most precious human commodity one can cherish, and the most awful one can try to suppress, is dignity. Nelson Mandela never lost his.

He remains one of the primary forces that moved me from my early rightish views to positions that allow more for the humanity of man (and woman). Where I am comfortable believing that people are more important than politics. Empowerment more important than direction. And dignity more important than pride.

I do not remember Nelson today. I never forgot him. And I miss him already.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

POP VOX w/Broadleaf - TODAY !!

Whether Duke or UNC win the football game, come to #2ndWind, Carrboro this evening and celebrate or commiserate with hi-energy interactive Beach Pop!

The fun kicks off at 8.30pm with indy pop reggae from #Broadleaf. Followed by hi-energy interactive Beach Pop from Weaver Street's very own one-man Boy Band #POPVOX. You won't want to miss it!!

FB Event Page: http://tinyurl.com/n4z47cw.

Friday, November 29, 2013

POP VOX w/Broafleaf - TOMORROW [+ PosterGuys]

"Your [POP VOX] show at 2nd Wind was the most entertaining live show I have seen in the last five years." (Matt @ The Poster Guys)

Want to see what got him so excited? #2ndWind. Tomorrow. November 30. #Broadleaf (indy pop reggae) opens at 8.30pm. Followed by hi-energy interactive thermal beach pop with Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson ...

FB Event Page - http://tinyurl.com/n4z47cw.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

POP VOX + Broadleaf = Beach Pop Extravaganza !!

At 2nd Wind in Carrboro this coming Saturday (November 30) fight off the cold with indy pop reggae from #Broadleaf starting at 8.30pm. Followed by hi-energy interactive thermo beach pop from Weaver Street Market's very own one-man Boy Band Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson.

First time at 2nd Wind for Broadleaf. And #POPVOX has new songs, violet hair and will be sporting the Fifth Doctor Who's outfit t-shirt, in honor of the good Doctor's Fiftieth Anniversary.

Or you could just stay at home, shiver and watch yet another re-run of 'The Sound of Music' ...

FB Event Page -- https://www.facebook.com/events/674976832537283/. 

This Thanksgiving Fiesta will be something of a Weaver Street Market affair, with Geoff Gilson (SV Kitchen) as POP VOX, and Greg Sronce (SV Deli) in Broadleaf. You won't want to miss 'em ... !!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hugh John Simmonds, CBE: April 20, 1948 - November 15, 1988

Twenty-five years ago, Hugh Simmonds, my closest friend, my law partner, my political mentor, a rising star in the British Conservative Party, and Margaret Thatcher's favorite speechwriter, turned up dead in a woodland glade, seven miles from our hometown of Beaconsfield, in England, in mysterious circumstances.

I made a promise to investigate those mysterious circumstances. The mothers of Hugh's children became a tad concerned about where my investigations were leading (ok, they thought I was loopy). I don't blame them. So, in 2002, I handed to the children's grandfather, Hugh's father, who did believe in me, folders to be given to the children on the occasion of his death, Which occurred in 2005. Those folders set out a somewhat different scenario to the official version.

I don't know what those children think of all of this. I still care for them deeply. I believe one of them may even have surreptitiously Friended me on Facebook. What I do know is that I did what I could. Which is not as much as I would have liked. But sometimes, we can not always do all that we would wish. As my very favorite President discovered, when he decided to let the US health insurance industry design his healthcare reform package.

And those few spare words about Hugh's children camouflage an eternity of continuing personal anguish.

As for me. Well, twenty-five years ago, I was a deeply ambitious young man. Office manager of Hugh's law firm (although not in charge of the bank accounts!). About to earn six figures a year as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of a newly-formed company, which was purchasing 100 tenanted pubs from Whitbread. Senior staff member for a politician, who likely would have been a senior Cabinet member. Perhaps not a star, but maybe a rising starlet, in my own right, in the British Conservative Party. Wing-tips, braces and Filofax in my hand.

Today, I am older. Not much wiser. Violet in my hair. A confusion to my father, as I seemingly live my life backwards. Earning low five figures in my local co-op. Where I advocate, to the consternation of my management, and sometimes to the delight of my fellow workers. I don't wear a watch, nor carry a smartphone, nor own a personal organizer. If there is something which does not neatly fit into my immediately-accessible memory, then it is something which is a step back into a life of stress and anxiety, which life I left behind when I chose to become a recovering alcoholic (nineteen years, two months ago).

My current preoccupation is with exploring my creative side. And that finds its most immediate musical expression in my alter ego, Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson. I have a wealth of good friends. Many new. Some from my past, who re-discovered me earlier this year, and who have a far more generous memory of me from twenty-five and some years ago than I have. Thank you.

It has been an interesting twenty-five years. Begun with tragedy. Finding destinations that never figured in my early planning. But still welcome. There is much left to accomplish. I am fifty-seven years young. The powers that be may yet act with the good faith I have sought for Hugh's family these past twenty-five years. In the meantime, I never forget. Not Hugh. Nor his children.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Paid Holidays For Hourly Workers

As promised earlier this week, when I discovered this was 'Respect for Shopworkers Week' in the UK, I have now written to the General Manager of our co-op (Weaver Street Market/Panzanella), asking him to consider putting hourly workers on the same footing as management, i.e. we all get paid for holidays:

"Hey Ruffin,

I've tried before. I'll try again. The hourly-paid workers of WSM and Panzanella are currently moving heaven and earth to create the large profits WSM is experiencing. We are allowed two 'official' holidays each year - Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The problem is this: although managers are paid for those two days 'off,' hourly-paid workers are not. You make much hay with your thanks each year to hourly-paid workers. Why not thank them this year by actually giving us the day 'off.' It's only 'off' if it isn't requiring that we use one of our own vacation days to pay for it. What do you think?

All the best,

We'll see. Next up. Trying to get him to allow those who work on New Year's Eve to leave in time to get to a party. Yes. We stay open on New Year's Eve until 10.00pm (which is 11.00pm, if you're clearing up the Hot Bar, and the Salad Bar, and counting cash, and vacuuming the Bulk Section). And then, time and a half for those of us who work on federal holidays ...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Respect For Shopworkers Week

This week, in the UK, is 'Respect for Shopworkers Week.' Just for one moment, I have completely lost my train of thought, so bowled over am I by the thought that anyone actually cares. I thought we shopworkers were acknowledged fodder for every crazy, foulmouth, redneck, tosser and general all-round neanderthal God ever created.

I think I will celebrate by:

1) Writing to the General Manager of my co-op (again, I have to stop and lean against the wall in hysterical laughter for a few minutes, as I use the term 'co-op' in reference to the capitalist, profit-driven paradise where I work). Where was I? Oh yes ...

I will write to him to ask if it is possible that, this year, we might actually get paid for the only two official holidays we are granted (Thanksgiving and Christmas). I mean. The two lone holidays are fine. And all. But they're pretty useless if we have to use up our own vacation days to pay for them.

After all, respect for shopworkers (and Food House workers and admin workers) should be forthcoming from management as much as customers. We are, after all, the ones directly producing for and selling to the customers. We are the ones making the money, which management then divvies up as it sees fit.

2) Trying my hardest, for one week at least, to encourage my customers to end their requests with 'please.'

Meanwhile, the photo with this rant is of Jessica Simpson, in the movie "Employee of the Month." Because Jessica is hot. And to remind me that respect for shopworkers is due not only from customers, but from other shopworkers, too ... guys and gals ...

Friday, November 8, 2013

POP VOX, Broadleaf, Beach Music, Violet Hair and Me ...

Ok. No photo yet. But my evolution as the #POPVOX continues. I now have tasteful streaks of magenta and violet in my hair.

No, this is not just a ploy to get you to come to the next Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson gig ... which, um, is on Saturday, November 30. Although, there is loads that is new.

Beginning with wonderful indy-pop-reggae band, #Broadleaf. Who kick off the evening of hi-energy beach music at 2nd Wind at 8.30pm. And are composed of Greg Sronce (who works with me in the SV Kitchen), Douglas Stoll, Ian Watkins and Carly Yusiewicz.

After which, the hi-energy will continue with my shamelessly interactive set of beach pop. Including three new songs. About which I am terribly excited. A stadium rocker; one of those boppy numbers you simply can't get out of your head; and a whole new dance-a-long extravaganza.

And. Finally. My hair. You won't want to miss any of it ...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Political Correctness, Scarecrows and Customer Service ...

Ah. Halloween. An excellent opportunity to mull upon political correctness. First, costumes and scarecrows. Then, customer service.

Dressing as a Boston marathon bombing victim isn't politically incorrect. It is obnoxious, tasteless, uncaring and insensitive. The woman concerned deserves all the opprobrium she received. We don't need to invent a new expression to deal with blatant incivility and lack of tact.

Then again. At the Southern Village Weaver Street Market, we were apparently forced to take down our scarecrow. Because a customer complained that it was 'politically incorrect.' Namely, the Bobblehead Zombie had too much tomato ketchup on the brain (cauliflower) it was holding in its hand.

Look, people. It's a called a bloody scarecrow. Not a tickle-crow. Not a princess-crow. Not make-me-laugh-like-frigging-Elmo-crow. Not a please-don't-make-Tiffany-cry-crow. No. A bloody scarecrow. Get over it.

And those in charge? There are times we don't give in to every customer's tiniest complaint about political incorrectness. In fact, it is also politically correct to stand by your employees (many of whom have children), who voted democratically (well done!) for this particular scarecrow, and then invested time and creativity giving expression to the collegial concept.

Again. It is called 'customer service.' Not 'roll-me-over-and-kick-me-wherever-it-is-vulnerable service.' On the subject of political correctness. In a co-op. Where all are equal. Customers and workers alike. Can I stop ranting now, please ... ??

[Oh. Do I need to add that these are my personal views? Really ... ??]

Monday, November 4, 2013

Make Work Pay Contracts In The UK

Oh dear. An article in this past Sunday's [London] Independent on Sunday quite neatly encapsulates (for me) the difference between progressivism and socialism. How I support the former; not the latter. And, on a slightly side issue, why it is that I get ever so gently annoyed that socialists in my locale pretend to be progressives, when, in fact, they are avid socialists.

I lived through the disastrous experiments in neo-socialism in which British Labour Party Governments engaged in the Sixties and then in the Seventies. We had combined tax rates for some individuals of 102%, and employers (good and bad) could barely move for all the impositions placed upon them.

From several decades of experience, my current view is as set out in a previous and rather long Note on my Facebook Page. Basically, the economy is a natural force. Let it flow. The minute you try to interfere, you screw it up. What we should do, as caring progressives, is leave the economy alone; maximize the opportunity for all to benefit; and provide dignified support directly to those unable to make ends meet.

But no. Ed Miliband (current Leader of the British Labour Party) dives straight back into the Seventies. Plans to dump all sorts of interference on businesses up and down Great Britain. His artifice, the Make Work Pay contract, will be massively rejected by businesses as unworkable. Just as similar measures were in the Seventies. And the low-paid will be even worse off.

What's worse is that Ed is dishonest about how the scheme will be funded. Instead of coming straight out and saying folks will be paying more tax. He uses the old and continually discredited chimera about increased tax revenues.

I would be much more impressed if his Labour Party would come up with proposals making it easier to establish co-operatives and/or encouraging public companies/large private companies to elect employee and community Board Directors (as I suggested in another recent Facebook post). In that way, it would be up to the companies themselves to determine, within the context of more progressive structures, what they could reasonably afford in terms of better living wages.

But no. Bless him. Ed is a socialist. Not a progressive. He still lives in a fantasy land, where some amorphous and omnipotent entity, known as the state, knows better than people what is good for the rest of us. Sigh. We learn nothing ...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New Economic Models in the US and UK

So. A group of students at the University of Manchester in the UK want to reform their economics curriculum to address new post-crash realities. And 'The [London] Guardian/Observer' is jumping on the bandwagon. Good for them. Almost.

A quick look at the economic scene in both the UK and the US tells us that absolutely nothing has changed since before the crash. We have recovery. But for shareholders representing capital only. Not for labor. Not for communities. Not for the environment. And it's all based on new unsustainable bubbles in the housing and stock markets.

We have learned nothing. And we were all so ready to. Took part in Occupy. Wondered about how to create local economies that are independent of Wall Street and the City of London. Where the creation of 'wealth' and its enjoyment are controlled by the people who are immediately affected by it.

But. It's the same old story. Today's crisis became yesterday's news because there's a new show about dragons on the telly.

So, I welcome the desire to address a new economic model. And then I read the small print. Capitalism has failed! Markets are rubbish! Hand it all over to the state!

No. You bastards. Don't hand over my life to anyone else. Hand it back to me. You f**king clowns.

Why, oh why, can't at least one genius, in charge of someone's policy unit somewhere, come up with the simple notion that we don't have to reinvent the economic universe; we just need to tweak it, in favor of people, their communities and the environment?

I have no problem with shareholder capitalism, per se, be it institution-based, co-operative based, even state-based (although I still think 'the state' makes a lousy businessman or woman).

But why not make this small change? Insist that shareholder companies be accountable not only to capital (private, individual, institution or state), but also to employees, communities and the environment, by legislating that all public companies (plus private companies over a certain size?) allow employees/communities to elect a set number of Board Directors?

Of course, that would require that employees and communities given such an opportunity actually took advantage of it. As they are so religiously failing to do with my own co-op, Weaver Street Market
. But horse and water. Horse and water ...

In the meantime. Why does everyone have to make it so complicated? Or, am I just being too simple ... ??

Friday, October 25, 2013

Panzanella - Told You So ...

Well. One of the regular contributors on OrangePolitics, the self-styled 'progressive' multi-author blog/forum of Orange County, NC, is complaining long and hard about the announcement this week that Panzanella, Weaver Street Market Co-op's local food restaurant, will be closing at the end of the year.

Now. Don't get me wrong. I agree with almost everything that the gentlemen in question (who prefers to remain semi-anonymous, as 'Patrick M.') says. It's just that I've had dealings with 'Patrick M.' before. On the same blog.

He whines at length about how he is just so let down because he can not fathom why a supposedly progressive institution, in such a strongly progressive region, could possibly have the sort of Soviet-style decision-making process (um, my words), where a small self-appointed clique act as if they know best who and what we want.


This would be the same 'Patrick M.' who took me to task when I complained that just such a Soviet-style of 'democracy' exists in practically every primary democratic institution in Carrboro, NC. From the community radio station, to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. And including WSM.

Anyways. Leaving all that on one side. He asked some questions. And challenged the Board of WSM. I took the time to answer his questions. And to wish him good luck in getting any response to his challenge.

Bottom line? Community-owned only works when it also means community-controlled. Progressive democracy means the people decide, not just a select few. And? The white collars only complain when they find they are not one of the select few ...

[Oh. The usual. My views. Not those of the Central Committee ... ]

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Most Embarrassing WSM Quote Ever ... ??

Taken (cross my heart) from this week's Independent commentary on candidates for the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners:

"To the town's credit, outsiders see a quaint, beautiful downtown, but there are other sides of Hillsborough where, yes, there are poor people who are not shopping at Weaver Street Market."

Ouch! This is how the region's premier progressive newspaper views the Weaver Street Market Co-operative?

Co-op's originated in Great Britain as an antidote to corporate general stores, where ordinary working folk were gouged by the prices.

Have we (I work at the Southern Village Weave), have we become the very company stores we are supposed to be replacing?

I remember asking at my original WSM Orientation (er, I didn't wait long to start causing trouble ... ) why price did not figure as an item in the WSM Mission Statement.

I was told (loudly) by the then WSM Operations Manager that he had never heard anyone complaining about the prices.

Of course he hadn't. The customers at that time (and probably now, as well) were too busy worrying about whether they'd missed the 30,000 mile maintenance check on the Land Rover.

Look. It's all very well engaging in social experiments to try to provide local, organic, natural, hemp-based, hippy-grown, fair trade, whatever.

But not if we are in contravention of our most important mission: inclusive - accessible to the community.

And clearly, The Independent thinks we aren't making ourselves accessible enough to our disadvantaged friends and neighbors. Shame on us.

[As always, I am bound by the new WSM Employee Policy to let you know that these views are not necessarily those of the WSM corporate office management team. Although, quite how you would mistake them for such is beyond me. Now. When I'm not writing this blog, I perform hi-energy, interactive Beach Pop, as Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson. My next gig is on Saturday, November 30, @ 2nd Wind, beginning at 10.00pm. Preceded @ 8.30pm by the wonderful reggae band, Broadleaf, which includes work-mate, Greg Sronce. Wow. This is one heck of a footnote ... ]

Friday, October 11, 2013

Easier Worker-Ownership ...

So. I read in this week's Weaver Street Market Co-operative employee Market Messenger that the sole candidate in the annual Worker-Owner Board Director election [Curt Brinkmeyer] was ... elected.

As I have stated elsewhere, this is no sign of a healthy democracy, or an indication of all workers being whoop-di-whoop with Curt's tenure.

Rather it is clear evidence of the fact that the WSM corporate office management team are succeeding in suppressing democracy among workers within a co-op which they boast is half-owned by its workers.

But. Let's leave all that on one side. It ain't why I'm penning this little ditty today. The Market Messenger goes on to claim that Curt was instrumental in making it easier for workers to become worker-owners.

Ouch. That's sort of like saying that Jesse Helms was 'instrumental' in getting the US Senate to approve a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. (even though Jesse tried to filibuster against it), just because he happened to be in the Senate at the time.

The truth about the path to easier worker-ownership is more along the lines to be found in this blog post.

In short. I campaigned vigorously for easier worker-ownership for five years. Put it forward as a proposal while serving on the WSM Elections Task Force. Ran for the Board (for my third of four attempts) in 2009 on the single issue platform of giving the vote to ALL workers, not just worker-owners (we shouldn't have to pay to vote).

At which point the WSM corporate office management team ran Curt against me, on a wishy-washy pledge to do something about worker-ownership. Which pledge was only then eventually acted upon because I badgered the Board (and Curt) for a further three years on the subject.

Now. I'm not concerned about not being offered credit. I'm not even worried that Curt makes claims for himself. Every election candidate presents themselves in the best possible light.

But I do mind that WSM, as an institution, engages in a recreation of history. So. I post to get the story right ...

Monday, September 30, 2013

POP VOX, 2nd Wind, Carrboro and Inclusion ...

Er. Now that the festivities are complete. I guess it does no harm to raise this little issue - "Some Hear Harsh Notes At Carrboro Music Fest."

I'm sure there is no truth to the rumors that Jerry, the owner of #2ndWind, spoke with me, when he first received his letter of 'disinvitation' from the organizers of the #CarrboroMusicFestival.

That I said 'bollocks.' You're a music venue. You open your doors. And put on music. It's the Carrboro Music Festival. Not the Carrboro-only-if-we-like-you Music Festival.

I'm certain that, if I were to say something like 'you know, it's no good going to Raleigh to protest exclusion by Republicans; only to come back to Carrboro and practice it here.'

I'm certain that, if I were to say something like that, there would be folks who would dismiss such a statement as muck-stirring.

Rather than seeing it as part of my continuing mini-mission to help to create space for people to express themselves - wherever that might be.

So. I guess I won't say it ...

POP VOX - Carrboro Music Fest - Thank You !!

Thank you to the some 80 people who turned out last evening to partake of some group consensual Beach Pop, courtesy of Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson, at 2nd Wind, during the #CarrboroMusicFestival - http://tinyurl.com/mzsf9l7.

Couple of new songs, which went down quite well, including me brand new power ballad. Look, a regular asked for one. He got it! I'm interactive. Remember?!

Lots of old friends. A whole bunch of new ones. And huge fun playing alongside greats acts like#ElleJohnson#Henbrain#Baffle#LeiaGaskinSadiku,#AvantGardeAmericanSongbook#JonChristie,#JasonGabriel and #SkinnyBagOfSugar. Thank you all!!

Monday, September 23, 2013

POP VOX @ Carrboro Music Festival [Sun, Sept 29]

You thought that was it for the season? Not a chance!! My schizophrenic musical embodiment, Pop Vox / Geoff Gilson, will be performing our trademark, hi-energy, interactive Beach Pop, between 8.00pm and 10.00pm, in the #2ndWind line-up for the #CarrboroMusicFestival, next Sunday, September 29.

FB EVENT PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/events/623447207694911/?context=create#

Sunday @ 2nd Wind promises to be something of a #Weavestock redux, with three of the musical acts in the 2nd Wind line-up including employees fromWeaver Street Market.

#POPVOX, of course! Then, Greg SronceDylan Shrader and Adam DeCaulp of #AvantGardeAmercianSongbook, at 4.00pm. And Henbrain, following POP VOX, at 10.00pm.

Now, Facebook have changed everything. Yet again! So, if you want reminding, just 'Join' or 'Maybe.' That's the only way to get updates!

Or, you can 'Like' the POP VOX FB Page -- http://tinyurl.com/c437os9.

If you want a preview of the fun and games, have a gander at the POP VOX Reverbnation Site -- http://www.reverbnation.com/geoffgilson.

See ya there! Get the voices singing and the feet dancing ... !!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

'Biggest, Best WSM Annual Meeting Ever' - Sigh ...

The WSM employee Market Messenger reports today on the WSM Annual Meeting held this past Monday, using the above headline.

Well. I may be the lone voice (and, apparently, I'm not; but more of that in a moment). But I will continue. Weaver Street Market will not be a part of the New Economic Democracy extolled by the guest speaker at our Annual Meeting because we are a community-owned enterprise. Or because we just held the biggest, best Annual Meeting ever.

No. We will only become an essential contributor in the fight against a corporation-controlled economy as and when we become an authentic, community-CONTROLLED, co-operative enterprise. Which is different. And which we are not at the moment.

First, let me get the caveats out of the way. Ooh goody. 205 people attended. Great. What a shame they weren't given the opportunity to vote on anything. Votes. You remember those. Those are the sorts of things which occur among the general ownership in other community-controlled, co-operative enterprises. There are votes in WSM. But on essential strategic issues, they occur only in the office of the WSM General Manager.

There was loads of great, Food House-prepared, healthy food. My sincere thanks to the hard-working crew from the Food House. You guys and gals rock! But. Good food. Natural food. Even local food. Does not make us part of the bulwark against corporate office-controlled enterprises crashing our economy. It just makes us well-fed. Only democracy among owners makes us free of a few decision-makers devastating our livelihood.

I'm delighted Gar Alperovitz was present to preach the gospel of the New Economic Democracy. But whoever wrote the item for our Market Messenger has obviously not read Gar's book. Slap bang in the middle he declares, in unequivocal terms: it is not enough to be community-owned; you must be community-CONTROLLED. I have written at length how WSM is not.

Now apparently, this message is finally getting through. The WSM corporate office management team seem to think that the highlight of the Annual Meeting was their getting a speaker of Gar's caliber to cover the cracks of their own innate lack of democracy.

Nope. The highlight was the last questioner, who got the loudest applause of the evening for asking a question along exactly the lines I've been preaching. Namely, isn't it important for us to have community control? Along with the anonymous person who posted the Post-It on the Question Board asking if we could have more meaningful owner involvement. In our supposedly democratic co-operative.

Folks. There are too many of us who still think that being a co-op is about having local, natural food; dancing on the lawn; and a co-op fund that supports environmental issues.

No. Check our Mission Statement. Check the Definition and Principles of Co-operation, as determined by the International Co-operative Alliance. We are a co-op only if we make a stand for democratic control by our owners. Without the latter. We're another corporate-controlled enterprise. Just one with tattoo's and recycling bins.

But. Hey. A question and a Post-It is progress. Onwards ... !!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rob DuBose, RIP

Rob DuBose, longtime WSM Consumer-Owner, and husband of 2007 Board Candidate, Eliza DuBose, died on September 10 from head injuries, following a road accident the previous Friday.

Rob was a sweet, sweet-natured man, I was privileged to call a friend – and who just happened to be a really great cook!

We didn’t spend a whole lot of time together. I wouldn’t presume to say I was one of his closest friends. But we went to the beach. Chatted late at night, after parties. And played music together occasionally.

Rob could sometimes be a bit of a closed book. But he was always there. Never hogging the attention. But ready. With a quick quip. A merry comment. Or some culinary delight he’d whipped together out of nothing in the fridge. He was always enjoyable company. Comfortable.

I would find myself looking around. Aware that I did not know him as well as I would have liked. But feeling, quite easily, that it was nice having him there.

Sweet, enjoyable, nice, comfortable. It may not sound like a Shakespearean eulogy. But you know. Have a look at the headlines. Look around you. I look at my own life. And actually. It’s a heck of a compliment as far as life memories go. Along with his being a really great cook!

I’m going to miss you, Rob. My love is with Eliza, his wife, and Molly, his daughter. I sense they may have lost not only a husband and a father, but also a good friend.

RIP, Rob

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Life and Purpose

What a terribly difficult day for my friends in the DuBose family. My mantra at the moment is not, life is too short; it is that it is tragically too fragile. My heart is with Eliza and Molly.

For the rest of us, I believe that we best honor Rob by dedicating ourselves to purpose. If there is something we want to do. Do it. Don't find excuses. Do it. Now. No-one knows what tomorrow may bring.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Zen of Piglet

I woke up this morning. The most important things on my mind were that my air-conditioning did not work. And that I was worried about my weight. Again. Vain little tramp, that I am.

As important as these were. I went through my newly-discovered mantras. About life and the universe and visualization. About what is important. What is not. What I want to be saying to the universe. And what not.

Came out the other side, just glorying in the beauty of life. Full of gratitude for what I have. And full of expectation for what is coming my way.

I get on Facebook. Read about a friend who is missing his granny. A year after her death. I wonder if the problem with societal ADD is not that suddenly we've all become inhuman monsters. I think that there's just too much stimulus. All at the same time.

I mean. It does take a year to accommodate grief. Why should we pretend that it takes less? Why do we pretend that we can cope with all of the bad news with which we are presented on all of the ubiquitous media that surrounds us? Not to mention personal trauma?

I find myself flitting between the sublime, the serious, the ephemeral, the urgent. Just trying to stay abreast. Stay afloat. Demands of work. Worrying about individual members of my family. Wondering if I am taking the right steps with my music career. Hoping Georgia beat South Carolina.

What is important? What is real? What matters? Aren't they all the same feelings? Triggering the same synapses? What to feel? What to tell the universe?

And then, late in the day, I hear that a good friend has been in a horrible crash. Is struggling for life. Struggling for health. My heart is with him. My thoughts with his wife, daughter and family.

My whole day is set in perspective. We are all such fragile creatures. Complex mechanisms, dependent on the flimsiest of conceived structures. Miracles of daily survival. Icons of transience, we take for granted, as being the impervious crucibles necessary for our souls to struggle with the meaning of life.

What was important. Is now irrelevant. What is now crucial. Is something over which I have no control.

My thoughts rest with the people who need them the most. Right now. I hope you know who you are. Meanwhile, I'm just tapping on the shoulder of life, to be sure of you ...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2013 WSM Annual Report: Fact -vs- Faction

Look. If I didn’t think there was much to love about Weaver Street Market Co-operative, I wouldn’t still be working here after eight years. All I ask is that we be honest about who we are, what we’re not, and whether or not this is contributing to the New Economic Democracy about which the guest speaker (Gar Alperovitz) at our forthcoming Annual Meeting (September 9) writes so eloquently.

So. Let’s take a wander through the WSM Annual Report for 2013 and engage in another of those recently hip processes: the fact check. Not just to see what’s wrong. But to see if what is wrong, and indeed, what is right, actually makes a difference.

And I set that phrase ‘making a difference’ in the context of if and how we are helping to avoid the mistakes that were made across this nation and around the world leading up to, through and pursuant to the Great Recession.

In sum, what were those mistakes? Well, for 30 years, we allowed small groups of people to control our corporations, large and small, and including banks, such that they made unwise decisions, based solely on earning money on the back of risky economic gambles, able to do so due to the lack of accountability to the public.

The primary consequence was that personal, corporate and governmental debt went through the ceiling. The financial system collapsed. And then all the same corporations scurried around trying to put matters right, primarily by squeezing consumers and workers, so that the only target that mattered (financial profitability) was once more secured.

Well. You might say. Thank goodness WSM wasn’t part of that awful paradigm. Um. Wrong.

For as long as I’ve been here (joined in 2005), WSM has not been controlled by its owners. It has been controlled by a small group of self-appointed folks in the corporate office management team.

Say it ain’t so. Sorry. We have a Board of Directors comprised of seven people. The General Manager. Two elected Consumer-Owner Directors. Two supposedly elected Worker-Owner Directors (the election has been uncontested for three years now; the Candidates selected are essentially management stooges; and before that, all contested elections – in which I stood four times – were won by the management bloc vote); and two appointed Directors (appointed three to two by the GM and his two Worker-Owner disciples). That equates to control by the General Manager.

Ok. But does that matter? I mean, we still make all the right decisions, right? Er. No. In 2007/2008, since WSM essentially had no accountability to its community, the small controlling group within the corporate office engaged in a massive expansion exercise, which put the co-op $10 million into debt. We were in such dire financial straits, we had to be bailed out by the national co-operative movement. Why? Because we had become the co-op too big to fail. Sound familiar?

Well, thank goodness that is all over. It isn’t. That exercise leaves us still some $6 million in debt. Costing us over $1 million each year in interest and depreciation. Blimey. What does that mean? It means $1 million each year which is not in your Consumer-Owner dividend. And $1 million each year your overworked workers have to sweat extra to find. Oh. And set that figure off against our local economic impact. Because not a penny of that interest goes to local banks.

Fine. But past history is past history, surely? No, it ain’t. Not when the same small group of self-appointed individuals is planning a new expensive program of store building [2020 Goal 3; Page 6 of 2013 Annual Report].

The 2013 Annual Report does not accurately reflect what the owner discussions had to say about new store building. I know. I was there. What we agreed was that we wanted no new store building until we had paid off the existing debt, and until we were certain that the Food House could cope with the extra food production.

But that’s what happens when decision-making and communication within our co-op are not controlled by the community. Fact reporting becomes Fox News faction.

Oh. And another thing which happens is that you are misled about what your co-op is doing to address “the pressing societal imperative” of “the livelihood of the people who produce our food.” Namely, your workers.

Contrary to the impression given in the Annual Report, your workers are not overwhelmingly happy. That much became abundantly clear from the now-suppressed WSM Employee Survey of 2011. Try and get a copy. I dare you.

That survey contained 72 closely-typed pages of complaint about the work conditions at WSM - I was able to read the results, only under the watchful eye of our Human Resources Director, and I was not allowed to have a copy.

Bottom line? In the continuing response to the Great Recession, the focus at WSM is almost entirely on productivity. We are each year worked harder for less. And we are different to the conventional capitalist grocery store, how again?

There is next to no opportunity for worker input to strategic decision-making, not least, what happens to the profits we earn for the co-op. And when we are asked, our opinions are ignored. In a co-op which the corporate office management team proudly declares is half-owned by its workers.

Our wage increases dramatically trail the annual increase in the sales we generate. And WSM still does not offer what North Carolina recognizes as a living wage.

Now the immediate answer to all of this would seem to be: support Candidates in WSM Director elections who talk about once more introducing true democratic control into our co-op.

Oh goody. Which ones would those be this year? Well. In the case of the Worker-Owner election, no-one. Because the election is uncontested. And the one Candidate on offer works in the corporate office Finance Department. Hardly someone who is going to act as counterbalance to the corporate office.

As for the two Candidates in the Consumer-Owner election. Er. Again. Neither. One thinks we’re a good co-op because we sell natural food. And the other likes WSM because she gets to dance on the Carrboro Lawn. In fact, I read through the plaudits at the front of the Annual Report, celebrating our 25 years of existence, and all the chitchat is along much the same lines.

People. I’m delighted we sell local food. Although, fact check. We have no clue what other grocery stores are doing. We are making up those figures. And. We don’t sell as much local food as we claim. Not when we include in our figures every last item of food produced in our Food House. It ain’t ‘local’ because I stick my sticky fingers into it. On that basis, the “pre-packaged gummy sweet sliced stuff” which Owner 156 decries is also ‘local.’

And do not for one moment think I am taking a swipe at those of my fellow workers who work long, hard and diligently in our Food House. I am not. They perform magnificently, in the same difficult conditions plaguing all of our workers. Namely, sub-standard conditions the consequence of the vainglorious primacy given to empire-building by the small group of self-appointed decision-makers in our corporate office management team. Vainglory made possible because democratic accountability does not properly exist in our co-op.

If we think protection against control of our lives by non-accountable corporations making daft financial decisions is assured by our co-op selling local food (and I don’t; and neither do Ralph Nader or Gar Alperovitz), then at least let’s be honest about just how much support we give to genuinely local food.

I have nothing but the deepest admiration for the job performed by my fellow workers in our Food House. But we do them and our co-op no favors by claiming that the product of their excellent endeavors is ‘local,’ if it isn’t.

Ok. So. What’s all this about Ralph and Gar? Well. Actually read their books. Don’t just open the flyleaf long enough to get an autograph at the Annual Meeting.

They both say that, if we are to provide a new economic system that is a true bulwark against bad decision-making of the type which led to the Great Recession, then it is not enough that our enterprises are community-owned. They must also be community-controlled.

We can have a gazillion owners. Win all sorts of prizes for being the best grocery store on the best Main Street in the universe. Be a vibrant meeting place. Environmentally conscious. Donate to local schools up the wazoo. Ensure that every last one of the gummy bears we sell is local.

But, none of this makes a hoot of difference to our contribution to the New Economic Democracy, if we ain’t democratically-controlled. And if, as a consequence, we are not accountable to our community, and we are setting ourselves up, once more, to be making potentially unwise, unsupported and likely risky financial decisions, and ones that do not support all of the pressing societal imperatives which guard against economic implosion.

It is democratic control, and only democratic control, which is the guardian against corporate mischief in the brave new world of Economic Democracy which Ralph and Gar champion. It is democratic control, and only democratic control, which makes us a co-op.

That is why democratic control by owners is the cornerstone of the official definition of a co-operative enunciated by the International Co-operative Alliance.

All of the pretty, sparkly matters for which we congratulate ourselves in our Annual Report are precisely that. Pretty and sparkly. Being fun and vibrant and local and natural may be wonderful achievements in their own right. But they do not make us democratic or accountable. They do not make us a co-op. They do not make us a truly democratic community enterprise. And they do not afford us membership of the new economic system to which Ralph and Gar refer in such urgent terms, however many times we invite the latter to address our Annual Meeting.

And here’s a chilling commentary. I have checked and double-checked the Annual Report. From cover to cover. Nowhere. Not once. Not anywhere. Do we mention the words ‘democracy’ or ‘accountability.’

In the Annual Report.

Of a co-op.

Our co-op.

Gar talks about them. So does Ralph. But not WSM.

Ok. So. We have an uncontested Worker-Owner election this year, and no Candidates in the Consumer-Owner election talking about the importance to a co-op of Economic Democracy. What then do we do?

At the risk of sounding impertinent. The first thing is, we have to give a damn. I grant you, this is difficult. If you happen to think that we’re a co-op simply because you like the bread, the music, the lady on the cash register, and the only partially correct claims we make in our Annual Report about worker conditions, local impact and so on, then I’m not going to win you over. Go back to your first date.

If, however, you agree with me that protection against corporate imprudence is important, and that it needs to be exercised even at the level of our co-op, then let the stirring begin.

Turn up to meetings. To the Annual Meeting. To meetings of the Board. And start to ask questions about the way strategic decisions in our co-op are made. How it is the four goals for 2020 are being set and monitored. Why it is that not one of these goals refers to Economic Democracy? And why it is that the Board never entrusts important strategic decision-making to a vote of the ownership, e.g. can we afford new stores at the moment?

Stand as a Board Candidate. Who says there is anyone else out there better qualified than you? If you agree with what I’m saying, you’ve read the Annual Report and you actually read the book Gar just signed for you, and you’re now fired up and ready to re-introduce living democracy into our co-op, then, with respect to our sitting Board members, you just became better qualified than most of them.

I love what our co-op has achieved over 25 years. But I am disappointed that, over the same period of time, those who generate the vision at the top have become so fearful of including others in the vision-building, they now essentially exclude the community from democratically controlling that vision.

It is not enough to invite contribution. That is not democratic control. It did not protect against the bad decisions made in 2007 and 2008. It does not allow our co-op to avoid the same corporate mindset that almost destroyed the American economy and our co-op in 2008 and 2009. And it does not ensure sensible consensual decision-making going forward.

All of which said, we could merely bury our heads in the proverbial sand. In which event, I’ll continue to be here, merrily reminding you how I think we could be better. And in the meantime, I’ll be one of those playing music on the Carrboro Lawn. I’ll be helping to make that ‘local’ food. And I’ll be trying to arrange day dates with your sister!

[As always, I am admonished by our new Employee Policy to declare that what I am saying here in no way represents anything other than my own personal views.]