Monday, June 30, 2014

Worker-Owner Dividend 2014

Did you know that it is Weaver Street Market Co-operative Employee Policy that all WSM staff should be involved in the decision to set the size each year of the worker-owner dividend?

This was decided in 2007 after a full employee consultation exercise was held to establish which decisions within WSM should be subject to the official co-op policy that all employees be included in the making of important decisions.

You didn't know because WSM management have swept this policy under the carpet each year, and left it to the General Manager to set the size of the worker-owner dividend. With the WSM Board of Directors then rubber-stamping his decision.

Not this year. I have already written to the WSM GM (seeing as today is the end of the 2014 financial year) to ask him when and how the process will be established to include all staff in the setting of the 2014 worker-owner dividend.

Now. You might say. Big deal. You might say. There's a profit. Divide it in two. Half to consumer-owners. Half to worker-owners. There's the worker-owner dividend.

Not so fast. There is no such thing as 'a profit.' What is 'profit' is open to definition. And if this policy is to mean anything, it means that staff should be involved in the decisions setting the profit. Because it is the setting of the size of the profit which actually sets the size of the worker-owner dividend.

Now, you can't 'set' how much we sold and how much that cost. That's fixed. Ditto with rents, leases, bank interest, salaries already paid and the like.

But after that, essentially any expenditure which is optional is, in fact, profit. That includes things like how much we repay on long-term debt. How much we set aside for capital projects for next year. And so on.

Bloody hell. I hear you say. Those are huge decisions. We've never been included in those decisions. We'd need all sorts of detailed information to which we've never been privy before.

Exactly. And WSM management have been in breach of WSM co-op policy since 2007 by not including all WSM staff in all of those decisions, and by not furnishing us with all that information BEFORE those decisions were made.

And I do mean ALL staff. Not just worker-owners. That is what the policy states. ALL staff. And it's not just some boring rhetoric. Some of the decisions about setting profit include really important matters like, how much money do we want to set aside for salary increases (for all staff), perhaps in preference to that money being set aside for the worker-owner dividend? Some staff might take the view that some part of the 'profit' should be shared by all those who make it, not just worker-owners - which is precisely why the policy says it is ALL staff who make these decisions.

So. I will be looking forward to Ruffin's early response to my initial letter. This is potentially one of the most important democratic co-op processes in which staff have ever been invited to participate. And I repeat, not to include us in the setting of the size of the profit and then the setting of the size of the worker-owner dividend would put all management in breach of co-op policy, and render them open to discipline.

You can play your part by asking your unit management what they are doing right now to ensure that this process this year includes you. Remember, democracy isn't something that someone else does for you. It is what you do for you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Occupy Chapel Hill, General Assembly - June 26

There will be a General Assembly of Occupy Chapel Hill, to be held on Thursday, June 26, beginning at 6.30pm, on the Peace and Justice Plaza, in front of the old Post Office, on Franklin Street. All are invited to attend.

Now, just getting a few things clear. There is no leadership of OCH per se. So, I am using this post initially to inform all-comers of a discussion that has been taking place on the OCH Listserv about what to do with some remaining funds in the possession of OCH. I pass on this information with no authority as such. Merely as someone who was and remains interested in the work and activities of OCH.

I have some views of my own on the GA next week. But I come to those later. And I stress they are my opinions alone. In the meantime, I think it is fair to say that the Listserv discussion has looked at a number of options with regards to the remaining funds. And out of that discussion arose a desire to formalize any decision with a GA. Along with thoughts about comparing notes on what's been going on these past two years. With one or two suggestions about a possible future.

Right, that's the formal, non-tendentious stuff. Now to some of my thoughts.

It's summer. It's hot. And sunny. What better time to hold an outdoor OCH GA? I mean, last time around, it was the depths of winter - for the most part.

For sure, we want to make the formal decision about funds. But we've moved a lot since 2012. Is there any kind of future for OCH and Occupy generally?

The furious activity of 2012 has abated. The encampments gone. We have, most of us, found new or old outlets for our advocacy. But did Occupy/OCH offer something different? Could it still?

Occupy is the 99%. That covers a lot of political viewpoints. What on earth could bind so many different opinions - in any kind of meaningful way, which did not allow one group to impose an agenda on other participants?

Well, dealing with the latter first, the answer is to ensure that all proceedings are conducted with strict adherence to principles of consensus - in both letter and spirit.

As to the former - what could bind us? I would say that all of those I saw engaged in OCH found common ground in our disappointment with soul-sucking, impersonal, money-and-me-is-all corporate capitalism. And our desire to explore community-based alternative economic and social activities.


There is no way a body encompassing the 99% is going to consense on a single agenda. And I think (being as non-controversial as possible) it was misplaced passion overcoming common sense that last time around made some think that was possible.

So. Why not consider a model where we each of us pursue our chosen agendas for alternative economic and social community models in our own groupings - be it Croatan Earth First, Carrboro Commune, the Democratic Party, Occupy Heatlh and Wellness, Solidarity Economy, Weaver Street Market Co-operative, wherever.

And then we have OCH as a clearinghouse for information and a discussion platform to compare notes and provide each other with support?

We don't need to meet twice a week. Maybe once a month would suffice. And then, in the course of our interactions, if there is a local, regional or national matter where we all, gently, voluntarily, above-board, find common cause, then, consensually, we can choose to work together in that regard.

Well. Those are my thoughts. And mine alone. Well, so far ...

Now again. GA of OCH next Thursday, June 26, 6.30pm, Peace and Justice Plaza, Chapel Hill. All are welcome. Come and meet old friends. Make new ones. Chat. Socialize. Politicize. Discuss. Laugh, weep, cry. Whatever you choose to do. That is the beauty of Occupy, after all. It is ours to design as we see fit. Consensually ...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Board Nomination 2014

I will NOT be submitting my name in candidature for the election of a Worker-Owner Board Director of Weaver Street Market Co-operative this year (close of nominations are this evening).

The good news is that there WILL be a candidate standing for more democracy in our co-op and greater inclusion of all workers in the making of the decisions that design the character of our co-op and which forge our own individual destinies in the co-op which is half-owned by its workers.

I did not take this decision lightly. And so, I will not be casual about my explanation.

Standing for the Board of Directors of WSM has, for me, never been about me. Not about my learning something, just for me, simply by being on the Board. Not about educating myself. Not about padding my resume.

For me, standing for the Board has been about wanting to create the space where all the voices of all the workers in our co-op can be heard. About creating the space for a democratic conversation in which all workers can participate. About helping to create a workplace where we all feel respected and honored and safe and happy.

I have stood four times for the Board. I am happy to stand again. So that we do not have what we have had for the past couple of years, which is uncontested elections. But if there is someone else who wants to stand. Who believes in democracy as I do. Then, as I keep saying, this is not about me, and I will not stand in their way.

But why, I hear you say. Why don’t you both stand? And that is where idealism meets up with ugly truth.

The ugly truth, as much as some may wish to deny it. The ugly truth is that, several years ago, senior management in our co-op decided they did not want loose employee cannons on ‘their’ Board. So, they began a practice of recruiting employee candidates who were … and I sincerely apologize to those recruited candidates who have simply been hoodwinked … who were not going to cause trouble on the Board.

And senior management have succeeded in that regard. Every year since 2007. Even when I stood those four times. Why? Numbers.

I won’t bore you with the calculations in detail. But the fact has been that, until recently, with the high cost of worker-ownership, only about half the workers in our co-op have been able to afford to pay to vote … I mean, to buy worker-ownership.

Of that half, about half were managers, who dutifully voted for their recruited candidate. And of those left, as hard as some of us worked, we could not find enough votes to overcome the management bloc vote of about 45 votes.

Until now.

Seven years ago, I and others began campaigning to make it easier to become a worker-owner. To have the right to vote for representation on the Board. With little immediate success. In 2009, in frustration, I stood on the single platform of saying that all workers should simply be given the vote. That year, management recruited a candidate who promised to make it easier to become a worker-owner. And he won.

During the following three years, that promise was simply shunted to one side. But I would not let it go. I continued with my campaign. And finally, in 2012, enough members of the Board saw the sense of my argument that we simply cannot have two classes of worker in a co-op (those who can afford to vote, and those who cannot) that they voted to spread the cost of paying for worker-ownership over five years rather than just one.

As a consequence, in 2013, worker-ownership almost doubled. There are now enough votes to overcome the management bloc vote. Provided. Provided it is a straight run-off between a candidate of management and a candidate of the workers. There aren’t enough votes to entertain two or more democracy candidates.

Sorry to be so practical about it. But facts are facts. I didn’t create the facts. I just recognize them.

After the call for candidates in this current election cycle, it became clear to me that there was a hugely qualified candidate, who wanted truly to represent all workers on the Board, who believed in our co-op being more democratic, and who would work hard to ensure that workers were more involved in the making of important decisions within our co-op.

One more time. This has never been about me. And so, since he has never stood for the Board before, I have offered not to submit my name in nomination. So that we will not divide the worker vote. So that we will have the best chance possible finally to have on our Board someone who truly represents all of the workers.

This does not mean that my campaigning for more democracy will stop. Far from it. With the chance that, at last, there might be an ear on our Board that is sympathetic to the notion of more democracy in our co-op, I will campaign as hard as ever I have.

Moreover, if I sense in the future that there is to be a worker-owner election which might go uncontested, or one in which there is not a democracy candidate, I will be ready to submit my name in nomination again.

But, for this year, I am happy to say that I will gladly be voting for Byron Wall.

Now. Just because the numbers have changed does not mean he is a shoo-in. You still have to vote too. And if you are not a worker-owner yet, become one now. You will then be eligible to vote in this year’s election. And Byron needs all the votes he can get.

When I became a worker-owner, I was told that there was a conversation in our co-op, which determined how our co-op behaved, and that I was entitled to be a part of that conversation.

I have been looking for that conversation ever since. Without success.

This year, with you and me acting together, in the best interests of all the workers in our co-op, we may finally be able to elect to the Board someone who will ensure we have a voice in a conversation which no longer will take place behind closed doors.

I’m excited.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hello World, from Pop Vox and Nightsound ...

#PopVox will be appearing at #WeavestockII. But that will pretty much be my only live performance for a while.

I am working with the wonderful team from #NightsoundStudios to record some of the songs you have heard, danced to and shouted at (and some not), all to a sound and beat in my head, which I'm hoping may be the Gangnam/Pharrell William's hit sound of 2015 and beyond.

Or the Franklin D. Roosevelt Senior Citizens' Center, Panama Beach, Florida shuffleboard background muzak. We'll see. Meanwhile, here is the team, hard at it ...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

D-Day and my Father

My father will be 90 this year. 70 years ago, he flew B-29 bombers for the USAF. In the Pacific arena. Not in the D-Day operation.

I grew up with pictures scattered throughout my home of my father in uniform. Of my mother and he marrying in Okinawa after the war was over.

It is only today that I have grasped how old he was then. Or rather, how young.

Have a good look at those around you who are in their twenties. How confident. How frail. How strong. How uncertain. How full of hope they are for fullness in a life that stretches endlessly before them.

I describe myself as a sort of pacifist. But I am haunted by the fear that my self-description may merely be an excuse for cowardice.

What I do know is that the world is full of leaders who are not pacifist. And that I am afforded the luxury of wallowing in my inner turmoil only because others are prepared to take my place on the front line.

And I know that those others are our children. For it is always the young we send to fight the wars of the old.

Today marks the last major anniversary of D-Day when survivors will be able to gather in numbers to remember those of their friends who were not so lucky.

I remember with them. And I thank them. The living. And the dead. And most especially those who have suffered reduced lives these past 70 years due to injuries they received on our behalf.

It is the sacrifice they made as much as the protests we engage in which help to ensure that we minimize the possibility of further violence in the future.

My father and I have chosen to go our separate ways. Too many differences. We will not re-bond before he dies. But the parting was civilized.

I do not know where he will be today. But my thoughts are with him. Memories of better times. Memories of those pictures. Memories of a delicate young man in uniform.

Whatever he is doing, I think of him today with thanks. And with pride.