Sunday, July 12, 2015

Time To Invest In Worker-Owner Democracy

"Dear Board and Elections Committee of WSM,

I wish this e-mail to be forwarded to the full Board and Elections Committee of Weaver Street Market Co-operative.

My friends, for the fourth time in five years, the election for Worker-Owner Director will this year be uncontested. This is not a sign of a healthy democracy. It is a consequence of the fact that our co-op does not invest properly in worker-owner democracy.

Almost all of the governance activity of our co-op is financed by operations. Which is to say that senior management effectively decide what aspects of governance will be financed, and which not.

This is the wrong way round. Governance should be the master of management, not its servant. The Board's budget is in the tens of thousands of dollars. In a co-op which this year will likely have a turnover exceeding $40 million. This is ridiculous.

What is worse, the Board in the past year actually congratulated itself for reducing its budget. For why, I ask? That budget is not just for the Board. It should be for the entire governance apparatus of our co-op.

What does this mean for worker-owners? Essentially this. If you undertake work to improve the governance of our co-op, which work is sanctioned by senior management, you get paid. If it is not formally sanctioned, you do not get paid.

If you serve as a Worker-Owner Board Director, you receive remuneration. If you attend a Board meeting, only to discover you are in disagreement with what is happening, and you seek to protest, you may protest, but no remuneration.

Those worker-owners who organize Board meetings are paid. Not the worker-owner observers. Those who serve on the Elections Committee are remunerated. Those who follow, are not.

The Board and its Elections Committee have gone to considerable lengths in recent years to try to encourage more worker-owners to get involved in governance. And here's the irony. Those organizing the consequential efforts, such as the Leadership Sessions, get paid. Not those we are urging to attend.

I repeat. If we want greater involvement from our worker-owners in governance, then we as a co-op must be willing to invest in their involvement.

And here's the important part. Without that investment being pre-determined by the view of management on the nature of governance involvement.

Investment must be independent of management. If you contribute to governance, there should be a process of remuneration. Management should not have a veto simply because they don't like the nature of the contribution.

How can we give effect to this sentiment? We can start immediately with this current election. Since it is going to be uncontested, why not use the election table sessions in each unit as a broader attempt to find out from worker-owners how they would like the co-op to encourage their involvement in governance activity?

And. Demand that management find a way to allow all worker-owners who are interested to take part in these sessions. And. Pay for those worker-owners who are not on the schedule already to come in and attend these sessions.

Next. Demand of senior management that they finally give effect to the co-op policy which requires that the General Manager include all workers in decisions that affect them and their workplace. I can think of no decision more important in this regard than the decision about how much money the Board will be given to engage in and encourage governance activity among workers.

Another irony. I have been campaigning on this latter issue for three years now. Namely, compliance with the Board policy requiring that employees be included in decision-making. But all of this campaigning has been undertaken on my unpaid time. As with the writing of this e-mail.

I have clearly contributed. For the recent Employee Communications Survey was the first concrete result of my campaigning. As are the current Co-op Plan Events. However, I receive no remuneration.

I do not care for myself that I am offered no remuneration for my contribution to the governance of the co-op. My concern is to get others involved.

And this will only happen if the Board makes a conscious decision to demand that it be given a sufficient budget so that it, and not senior management, can be responsible for organizing and financing the governance activity of worker-owners.

I look forward to hearing views.

Yours truly,