Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Right To Vote: How Weave Workers Can Win The Vote, And Win Back Their Co-op

There are now 177 workers within the Weaver Street Market Co-operative (out of a total workforce of about 220) who are worker-owners and therefore eligible to vote to elect the 2 worker representatives on the WSM Board of Directors (total number of Directors = 7).

This was the most important announcement (in my humble opinion) at last evening's annual Southern Village Weave store meeting.

Ooh goody. Er. So what?

It means that workers can now lead the effort to win back our beloved co-op from the creeping corporatism which has overtaken said co-op the last few years.

Um. How?

I stood for the Board four years in a row. The math was always against me. The Board insisted that worker-ownership should cost $500 a worker (versus $75 for a consumer-owner), and that the $500 should be paid over the course of just one year.

That meant that only about half the workforce, some 100 workers, could afford to be worker-owners. And, since a worker can only vote if a worker-owner, it meant that only half the workforce could vote for their representatives on the WSM Board of Directors (um, anywhere else, that would be called a poll tax).

I determined while campaigning that about half that number (50) would never vote. All sorts of cultural reasons. Leaving between 50 and 60 willing voters.

Management vote in the same elections as workers. Each year senior management found a stooge (sorry to be blunt), and piled in to vote for that person with their 35-vote management bloc.

Leaving about 25 votes for me. Of which I was never able to muster more than 20. Net result = regular tally each and every one of the four years I stood of: Management - 35/40; Geoff - 17/20.

Now, with 177 workers as worker-owners, and the management bloc the same size, even if you say there are now 77 worker-owners who have cultural reasons for not voting, that leaves a willing base of REAL shopfloor workers of some 65 voters.

Boom! All workers have to do to end up with two representatives who truly represent their interests, and not those of the corporate office management team, is to (a) field candidates who are real shopfloor workers, and (b) vote for 'em.

Now, I could use this note simply to bray and scream in shrill voice how this is in large part due to me.

How, since 2007, when I first stood for the Board, and wrote an 88-page strategy document, I have campaigned assiduously to make it easier for workers to become worker-owners.

How I fought for the same when a member of the WSM Elections Task Force in 2008.

How I stood on a platform in 2009 with one single issue: give all workers in the co-op the vote, regardless of whether or not they are worker-owners.

How that year, in panic, the corporate office management team ran one of their own in opposition to me, chap from the corporate office finance department. With a counter compromise - to make it easier for workers to become worker-owners, by extending the period of payment from one year to five.

How, I pursued the Board mercilessly to implement at least that modest compromise (after, sigh, the management bloc won again).

How, at last, two Board members finally spoke with me, and admitted they had been convinced by my argument that, without such a compromise, they were keeping in place a form of worker apartheid, where WSM had two classes of workers: those who could afford to pay to vote; and those who could not.

And how, some 18 months ago, the Board finally agreed to extend the period of payment to five years. And how that led to the increase in worker-ownership, over that ensuing 18 months, from 99 to 177.

I could, with shrill voice, declaim all of this, and demand attention. But I don't. Because it doesn't matter. It's not important.

All that is important is that the opportunity now exits for real shopfloor workers to be able to elect two real worker representatives to their Board of seven Directors.

And how, if they do that, consumers might then feel encouraged to run their own consumer-owner candidates, ones who truly believe in a real co-op.

And how that might, in less than, say, three years, lead to a majority of four (two worker, two consumer) Directors on the Board of WSM, who could work to reclaim our co-op from the forces of efficiency-crazy, productivity-driven, expansionist, corporatist, chain-store-by-any-other-name non-cooperators who currently claim the majority on our WSM Board of Directors.

It is result that counts. Not credit. The victory is in the consequence, not the argument. I don't care who claims credit for the opportunity that now exists to win back our co-op. I care only that we recognize the opportunity. And that we grasp it.