Friday, November 14, 2014

Is WSM Already A Worker-Consumer Collective?

I link to an article by Co-op Cathy of the Co-operative Development Institute, not because it mentions Weaver Street Market Co-operative, but because what it says about WSM's management structure is, in my opinion, fundamentally wrong.

Which, in some measure, is understandable, since not even WSM's management understand what structural guidelines they are supposed to be following. Hence, my current campaign in that regard.

But, before I turn to what WSM's management structure ought to be, under existing but little known existing WSM co-op policy, let's have a quick gander at what this article says about other co-ops which include an element of worker-ownership (remember, WSM is a hybrid consumer-worker co-op), and whether they have a management structure which is preferable even to what WSM's ought to be.

Bottom line, the examples mentioned revel in the glorious financial and social success of non-hierarchical, collective decision-making by workers within the workplace itself. Could this work in WSM? Absolutely.

Following the pattern referred to in the article, there would be a Board of Consumer-Owner and Worker-Owner Directors, which would set strategic goals and then monitor them. Pretty much as we have now. Except the Directors would actually do this, as opposed to merely rubber-stamping General Manager decisions. Heck hem.

A meeting of senior management (which we have at the moment, once a week) would then apply the strategy to all units of the co-op, and set budgets for unit contributions. That would, of course, be subject to each of the participants at the senior meeting properly representing the views of the units which they manage, views gathered at unit meetings at which the employees of the units would study and comment upon the senior management's intended application of strategy (still with me?).

Each senior manager would then take the consensually-agreed plans back to their respective units, and, in conjunction with the relevant departments, determine each department's contribution. Departments would then determine how to meet their departmental contribution goal.

The process would then reverse upwards. As departments decided how to meet their goals, managers would then be responsible for implementation. Ditto unit managers, senior managers, up to the General Manager, who would report back to the Board of Directors.

Could this work? Yes. Would it be time-consuming? Well, it would involve more than the one unit meeting a year we have at the moment. But it would save an awful lot of time already spent in explaining hierarchical decisions made non-collegially. Swings and roundabouts.

Is it likely to happen? Not a chance. It would require a revolution. That would only be triggered by the ordinary workers among the 192 current worker-owners (out of a workforce of about 250) choosing to vote for a Worker-Owner Director Candidate who espoused belief in a democratic workplace. We had such a Candidate in the Election just held in October. That democratic Candidate commanded merely 19 votes. The management-backed Candidate drew 55 votes. Go figure.

Which brings us back to my point, we don't need a revolution; we already have a co-op policy which affords all employees (not just worker-owners) the right to be involved in the decisions that affect their workplace.

It's all in the blog post to which I linked above. I link to it again. As you can see, I am now engaged in a process which will (hopefully without too much argument) result in a structure that permits employee participation in such decision-making on a regular and more formal basis.

In the meantime, I have written to Co-op Cathy to let her know that, again in my opinion, she missed this important part of our co-op policy.

[And I make clear to Co-op Cathy, and anyone else reading this post, in compliance with WSM Employee Policy, that I am a worker-owner with WSM, these are my views, and I speak for no-one but me.]