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.