Monday, February 18, 2013

Goal 3 -- Safeguards Charter and WeaverStarter ??

After the apparent stalemate of the WSM Owners' Discussion on Goal 3 (more WSM stores) of the putative 2020 Vision of Weaver Street Market Co-operative's Board and corporate office management team, I had a couple of ideas to help break the stalemate.

The stalemate came about because the WSM Board and corporate office management team seemed to be suggesting that they had all the authority they needed from a rather obscure provision of WSM's Mission Statement to proceed with building more stores, whereas the owners present felt the provision much too vague, and wanted much more discussion, to allow downsides to be considered.

I attach my letter to the WSM Board, with what I think are the self-explanatory suggestions:

"I would be grateful if these further thoughts could be forwarded to the Board, please.

Thank you for hosting last evening's discussion on Goal 3. I re-iterate that on a subject of such moment I think we need much more discussion before the Board can take the view that it has the support of owners to interpret a rather weak phrase of the Mission Statement as giving it authority to forge ahead with invigorating downtowns and planning more stores.

At the same time, I would invite the Board to consider drafting a Charter of Safeguards, to render some ease to the worries that were being expressed last evening. Maybe something like this:

* That no plans for invigorating downtowns or building more stores will be advanced until specific and express approval for such has been obtained from a General Meeting of Owners.

* That no such plans will be advanced until the existing long-term debt has been repaid in full.

* That no such plans will be advanced until all other alternatives have been considered and reported to owners.

* That no such plans will be advanced until employees have given their approval that such plans will not impose undue burden upon them, such approval to be forthcoming from a Full Meeting of the Employees of WSM.

* That any such plans will only be advanced when full funding has been pledged from sources that are neither borrowed nor drawn upon operating funds or profits.

Some of us were discussing a thought after the meeting, which might help to alleviate concerns about funding duress upon the normal operations of WSM, financial sustainability and worker burden. Why not copy Kickstarter?

Each and every item of capital invigoration or store-building should have a fund-raising drive. Where full plans are presented on a companion web-site. Plans which have the express approval of workers and owners. And then the web-site operates like Kickstarter.

There is a total amount for the funding needed. With a deadline. No-one need commit money. Only a pledge. The plan only to advance if full pledging is achieved by the cut-off date.

All the best,
Geoff Gilson

[As always, other ideas of mine which I believe could make WSM a stronger business and a better co-op can be found on this blog.]

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Weave, New Stores and Invigorating UNC

Gosh. How do I do justice to the WSM owner discussion last evening (Wednesday, February 13) about Goal 3 (building more WSM stores) without going on for hours, and without the Board wanting their Valentine back? Of course, seeing as this is Chapel Hill, the answer ought to be – write a song.

There will be notes forthcoming on the official Weaver Street Market web-site. But I’m not entirely sure what will survive the collective censorship from above. So, I’ll give my potted impression. Potted. Not potty.

The primary theme from a group of about 10 owners (which is practically a mob scene from ‘Spartacus,’ in terms of co-op ownership engagement), many of whom were concerned worker-owners from the Food House, was that we need much more discussion about a Goal which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, certainly more than one hour on an evening when Duke slaughtered … handily … when UNC came second.

This is why I proposed (at the Goal 2 discussion) that we create a Standing 2020 Vision Board Committee of Owners, which would be given the remit of continuing the conversation about future plans for WSM over the next 10 years, and overseeing compliance.

The secondary theme, and this one was heavily plugged by the contingent from the Food House. Hmm. Need to define ‘heavily plugged.’ They, to a man and a woman, were firm but courteous in their heavy plugging. I preferred Khrushchev, and banging the table with my shoe.

Anyway, their message was, whatever is decided, it should only be implemented when all of the operations serving the existing three stores and Panzanella are running much more smoothly. And if and when all the homework has been done, to ensure that invigorating downtowns wherever, and building more stores does not impose undue financial hardship and work burden upon the existing structure, ownership and workforce.

For my part, and initially, I restricted (ok, moment’s pause while we all have a jolly good belly-laugh at the thought of Geoff ‘restricting’ himself in any conversation involving the Board of Weaver Street Market Co-operative – aaaaaand resume … ). I restricted myself to suggesting that any useful owner approval of plans to invigorate and expand could only be considered to have been given once four questions had been satisfactorily answered:

1) Why do we need to invigorate downtowns and build more stores, and why do we assume it is our purpose? What is the justification?

2) What alternatives have been considered?

3) How much will this all cost, and how will it be funded?

4) Is there anything more deserving on which we could be spending this funding?

There was a rather scattered thread throughout the evening about whether or not the WSM Mission Statement allowed, demanded, suggested, ignored, whatever, this grand scheme to expand the Weaver Street Empire (oops, allowing my Luddite petticoat to show).

I thought the best moment was when a senior worker-owner from the Food House ventured that we might be placing too much authority on a Statement which didn’t (er, actually) say that it was any part of our Mission to sell food.

Neatly bringing us back to the point that all of this is a question of interpretation. That we need the full backing of a fully-informed ownership before taking this next huge step. And that, if the Board are intent on clinging to a literal interpretation of one phrase (‘WSM’s mission is a vibrant, sustainable commercial center’), then the literal interpretation is for ‘a’ center, not several. We have ‘a’ center. Mission accomplished. We don’t need any more. At which point, I felt I was in the middle of a debate about the Second Amendment. And I wanted Teddy.

There was a well-known and highly-respected worker-owner from Hillsborough, who was unable to attend due to ill-health, but who sent a message which was read out, and which encapsulated all of the above much more clearly and with more erudition than I can.

Finally leading one Board member to exclaim that they had no idea there was so much resistance to the idea of expanding. You will be delighted to know that I ‘restricted’ myself (with the aid of a steel strap and thoughts of chocolate ice cream) from exclaiming back that someone really needed to get out of the Board basement. Wasn’t I a good boy?

The rest of the evening pretty much came down to an expression of feel-good wish-wash from Board members (spreading the message of local food; economy of scale; meeting competitive threats; what’s going to happen next on ‘Downton Abbey’) and some quite inappropriate zingers from me. I learned a long time ago that, when there is not enough time for coherent analysis and discussion, go the zinger route. So:

• It is our duty to make local food available to the universe. Er. Farmer’s Markets do this without needing to be a part of WSM.

• We need to survive. Um. No. We need to serve the needs of our owners. We shouldn’t be scared to say, right, need being served by someone else, let’s move on to something else. Cf. organic strip clubs.

• We need economy of scale. Er. UNFI provides us with purchasing power. Without demanding that we become a branch of them. We co-operate with other entities to achieve this. Without absorbing them, to create empire.

• History has shown that small stand-alones are less successful than big, beefy, butch chain stores. Um. I’m sorry. Isn’t this the argument that Wal-Mart use? And isn’t this the antithesis of who we are supposed to be? In any event, when they started showing me slides about missing WSM’s, I began to channel Colin Powell.

• All funding for new expansion will come from the communities where new stores are being planned – just like the last expansion. Er. How come, then, we are still $6 million in debt from the last expansion?

Well. That was my take on the evening. So. Props to Ruffin and crew for even holding the discussion. Even more props if they listened to what was said, and now ‘invigorate’ the conversation, and ‘expand’ it to more than one evening. And loads of props to the owners who engaged. We need more like you. All the time!

Just remember, if we do nothing, then nothing is what we deserve.

[As always, and as the new Employee Policy demands, I state that these are my views, and they are in no way any kind of comprehensive account of last night’s proceedings. Think Jon Stewart, not Anderson Cooper. Just don’t think Piers Morgan. And you can find loads more Jon Stewart on my co-op blog. Ta-ta for now.]

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Shy Permissiveness of Understatement

The most Orwellian moment of last evening's owner discussion with the Board of Weaver Street Market Co-operative about plans to engage in more development was the statement by WSM's General Manager that the mishandling by WSM of its development of the now-CVS property in Carrboro (including the sale by the GM to CVS of the property, without consultation with the surrounding community) may have caused some 'ill will.'


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

2020 Vision Goal #3 - Get Better, Not Bigger ...

This coming Wednesday (February 13), beginning with some Pizza and Pop at 6.15pm, the Board of Weaver Street Market Co-operative will host an owners’ discussion on its putative Vision 2020 Goal 3 (see pic above).

I have already made some general points on the comment thread provided on Facebook [Comment #15]. I now set out some more specific issues, as an aide-memoire for the sort of things I’d like to be addressing this Wednesday:

1) Nowhere in general definitions, principles and values attributed to co-ops does it talk about the goal of invigorating downtowns nor building a chain of co-op outlets. What the ICA does state is that a co-op exists to serve the common needs of its owners. Where is there any evidence that the owners of WSM have requested invigorating downtowns or building new stores to meet their common needs? There is a possibility that ICA Principle 7 could cover Goal 3. But not as a definitive item. Only by way of broad interpretation. As such, it is arguable. And I do and will argue.

2) Nowhere in WSM’s Mission Statement does it demand that WSM invigorate downtowns nor build a chain of outlets, other than in the vaguest, most general terms. As such, and once again, if it is a question of interpretation, we are all entitled to contribute to the interpretation, not just the Board, nor its corporate office.

3) I will be asking bluntly why it is the purpose or desire of WSM to spend time and money invigorating downtowns and building new stores. Frankly, the only reason I can see is to generate more sales, perhaps to pay down the capital debt (still some $6 million) and/or to render the Food House (the primary cause of the capital debt) financially viable.

Here is where we enter the realm of philosophic difference. I do not believe it is the purpose of any co-op to mimic conventional retail corporations, and strive to generate sales just for the sake of making money. We exist solely to serve the common needs of our owners.

If somehow, in some way, we made mistakes in the past, which have left us burdened with debt, or have caused the creation of a financially unviable aspect of our co-op, then we address those problems in a sustainably systemic fashion; not by resorting to traditionally unsustainable practices of conventional capitalism.

All this constant push, push, push for sales does is create an overburdened and unhappy work force, which I maintain we have. And it takes energy away from our focus on truly co-operative goals.

Now, let me emphasize that, when I say the Food House may not be financially viable, that is no reflection on the workers in the Food House, who are great people, performing miracles every day. It is a comment upon the financial equation in which they find themselves, and over which they are allowed no control.

4) Rather than spending time, money and worker energy raising money to build more stores, I would prefer that we (A) pay off the debt left over from the ‘invigoration’ and store/Food House-building of 2008 (as I say, still some $6 million, on which we workers have to find some $500,000 in bank interest each and every year – all of which is exported outside of our communities); (B) do what is necessary to make what we already have work better; and (C) make life easier for our workers, so that they are encouraged to contribute more with carrot, not stick (we still do not have a living wage).

5) The goal of building more stores necessarily conflicts with the ICA and our Mission Statement requirements that we be community-based. How can we possibly have the same community interests as Raleigh or Durham or Fuquay-Varina (all suggested possibilities for new stores)?

6) If there is a genuine belief that we can better serve the regional farm-to-fork system which we avidly support as a co-op, then I say we can better do so as a loose association of stand-alone and truly community-oriented co-ops than as an empire.

Now, since we are on the subject of making our existing stores more vibrant and fun, and since I am as shamelessly proficient at self-promotion as WSM, let me say that I think any downtown would be invigorated by a performance of me as POP VOX. And you can prove the same by attending my next Beach Party/Gig ...

[I am a Worker-Owner with Weaver Street Market Co-operative (Hot Bar/Southern Village), and these are my personal views. As always, you can find other thoughts on how I believe WSM can be a stronger business and a better co-op elsewhere on this co-op blog.]

Friday, February 8, 2013

POP VOX [Geoff Gilson] Mid-Winter Beach Party/Gig

It's cold. We need a Beach Party/Gig. Why not at The Cave. On Thursday, February 28, 2013. With my special brand of ageless, interactive Beach Pop?

We had enormous fun last time - thanks to the fifty or so of you who turned up and had a ball!

Wanna know what POP VOX is all about? Have a quick browse of the event details from last July. Oh, and POP VOX is me, Geoff Gilson. Why not listen to a few tunes on my web-site:

I will start my set at 11.00pm. And sigh. That means 11.00pm sharp! A lot of you mentioned that you were unable to attend the last gig, 'cos (like me) you work late. So. This time, we have a late date!!

Best way to stay warm in the winter is to sing along and dance - furiously. All of which is encouraged (cf. cattle-prod). Not least by the join-in-friendly choruses. And the learn-it-as-you-go dance instruction!

Now, I know there is a UNC -v- Clemson Men's Basketball Game on at 7.00pm. In Clemson. But it will be over well before 11.00pm. You'll be in town anyway. More than enough time to pop over, blow off some steam, and boogie with us on the Beach!

Loads of parking available, in the two free municipal parking lots, immediately opposite on the other side of Franklin Street.

Oh. And please feel free to invite as many friends as you like. As I say, the music and the fun are ageless (and free!). Ask anyone who was there last time ... !!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Immigration and Liberty - Let 'Em All In ...

We have become such a nation of ungenerous, forgetful pussies that even our progressive leaders jump up and down like spring lambs when my very favorite President proposes an immigration plan that is a genuflection to our worst xenophobic instincts.

I have spent the day, on and off, listening to liberal radio spouting on and on about, yes, of course, we must nail every foreigner who so much as touches a border fence tomorrow, but for today, we confirm our compassionate credentials by permitting ‘illegals’ to live in our melting pot, just as soon as they’ve spent a few years getting shot at by other foreigners we’d just as soon also did not dirty our shores any time soon.

Or am I oversimplifying?

I am one of those dirty foreigners. I just happen to be white, sound like James Bond, and have a couple of ancestors who hitched a lift on ‘The Mayflower.’ Before my Dad moved back to the homeland. And made me do the whole immigration thing again in 1992.

Why are we who occupy the political space ever so gently to the left of center so proud that we want to close our borders at all? So proud that we support efforts to criminalize those who have answered the call we inscribed on the base of our Statue of Liberty for the world to send to the US its poor and huddled masses?

What is it about poor and huddled that has folks thinking this includes the money, the time and the wherewithal to make the grade, apply for a green card or go through processes - let alone meet qualifications those poor and huddled have no chance of ever achieving? Certainly not before reaching the United States.

What is it about poor and huddled that does not instantly penetrate the skull with the screaming message that it’s pretty much all these good people can do to drag their quivering bodies from the political repression of Myanmar, or the economic depression of Central America, before collapsing in an ‘illegal’ heap, in some shady apartment complex, desperate for any work available, but ready to contribute and glad to be here?

What is it about the American Dream that the rest of us so take for granted, that we cannot imagine the inability of those poor and huddled even to contemplate reaching its heights, without actually being in America?

And what is it about us that has suddenly made us forget that we have always been a destination for all immigrants; a haven for all those who crave the opportunity, not to scrounge off us, but to build their own Dream alongside ours?

Why have we become so scared? Why have we abandoned our best nature? Our heritage? Our purpose? Why have we thrown our lot in with the naysayers, the doomsayers, those who are ‘right’ in their politics alone, but not in their understanding of the noble concept that was and remains the United States.

When exactly did we wake up and determine that we'd run out of American Dream?

Until the day they tear down the Statue of Liberty, I for one stand by its invitation. A simple invitation to come - penniless, but hopeful - to our shores, where all will be welcome. No need to say 'thank you,' because you were welcome even before you left your homeland.

When money is tight, when jobs are few, when the future has about it the dull edge of fear, there are those who would feed on that fear by making our own innate generosity of spirit the demon we must vanquish. Who would annul the invitation, to replace it with talk of birthright citizenry. Not me.

I for one renew and stand by the invitation. What about you? Will you join me? Will our President join us?

I have a different immigration plan. We make the invitation what it was always supposed to be. Open, non-negotiable and irreversible.

Tear down the fences. Disband the Border Security force. Rip up the Green Cards. Let Arizona (and Alamance County, NC) secede.

We have enough room, enough food, enough economy and enough heart for all those still willing to make the journey. Oh. And who do not have a serious criminal record.

For those here. Immediate amnesty. And an apology it took so long …