Sunday, August 30, 2015

Maggie's Hammer - Week One

Bloody hell! What a week!! The book finally released. Five radio interviews, in both the UK and the US. I had 600 and some hits on my web-site ( just today. 1,118 plays of the UK interview, on The Richie Allen Show (and Richie is a hoot!). My General Ranking on Amazon UK has gone from #3,500,000 (ish) to #4,800. And in its special category, from #12,000 to #31. In the US, my Amazon General Ranking has gone from #4,800,000 to #31,000. And in its special category there, from #180,000 to #791.

I am delighted for my publisher, RA Kris Millegan. He placed enormous faith in me, sight unseen. His primary concern was that he believed my book and its subject matter should be in front of a wide audience. But I'm hoping he'll make a little money for his trouble, too.

For me, I don't care about the money. What I do care is that, finally, after 27 years, some justice may be on the way for Hugh's families. If enough folks buy the book, I may be able to fund a year or two more of tracking down the final leads. If enough people read the book, maybe someone out there will realize they know more about this than I do, and can help bring closure. Finally, if we all use the book as a roadmap as to how to tackle those who abuse the authority we give them, then maybe we can become an army of activists who take back control of our lives.

There is no way I can thank all of you who have taken the time to read about my cause. Whether on my site or by ordering a copy of the book. But I thank you here, from the bottom of my heart.

As for the picture attached. It's like I said in all the interviews so far. I take the subjects for which I advocate very seriously. But the only way I manage to retain my sanity is by being able to chuckle at myself. Regularly.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bank Interest, New Stores and Workers

Well, I know I'm baying at the moon. But so what? Someone needs to bear witness.

At our Southern Village WSM store annual employee meeting a couple of weeks ago, in answer to my question, why are managers not complying with WSM co-op policy that demands that employees be involved in decision-making that affects them, we were told, bluntly, that we did not have the applicable skills to be involved in such decision-making. Rather, there were folks in our corporate office who had the necessary talents to make those decisions for us.

Those talented folks would be the same ones who, in 2008, put our co-op $10 million in debt to finance the Hillsborough store and the Food House. Who did so without asking owners, consumers or workers if they could do so. A debt which still stands at $5,459,112. And which cost us $1,363,031 in bank interest and depreciation this past financial year.

There is not a penny of this annual bank interest and depreciation charge which stays in our community. So, when you are told how much good our co-op does with the millions it keeps within our communities, please remember the millions of dollars that get sent out of our communities, to fat cat bankers, because of decisions made by our talented corporate office, without our inclusion, contrary to co-op policy.

This is precisely why the policy exists. We do not defeat the anti-social antics of corporate capitalism by marching on Wall Street. Or even by voting for Bernie Sanders. We do it at the local level. By ensuring that our very own co-op does not ape those antics. By demanding that it complies with its own co-op policy. So that we workers, the ones who sweat blood to raise that extra funding for bankers, we workers act as a brake on dumb, corporatist decisions made by those in our corporate office.

Is this really all that relevant? Yes. Why? Because we are about to go there, all over again. The WSM corporate office wants to build three new stores over the next six years. Without so much as holding a vote among the owners, consumers or workers of The Weave. Um. Are we truly going to stand by and let this happen all over again?

Worker-Owner Board Director Election 2015

For what it is worth, I will be voting for Caitlin Moira Williams in the upcoming election for a Worker-Owner Board Director of Weaver Street Market Co-operative.

We have exchanged. She wants dialogue in our co-op. I've been looking for meaningful dialogue since I first became active in WSM 'politics' in 2007. And I find her commentary more compelling than the other two candidates.

Now, I do say, for what it is worth. I fully realize that my support is the kiss of death among the 40 or so managers in our co-op.

But folks, thanks to the campaign I waged since 2007, which led to it becoming easier to become a worker-owner, some 220 of the 250 workers in our co-op are now worker-owners.

Ordinary workers more than overwhelm managers in this election. So, please do not sit on the sidelines.

Vote for a candidate who comes from somewhere other than the corporate office, and who will truly represent shopfloor workers, because she is one of us.

Please take especial note. Voting begins on September 16. BUT. The voting period lasts only two weeks. So, don't get caught out!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Maggie's Hammer: The First Interviews

And so it begins. The radio interview campaign across the nation. To market Maggie's Hammer. The book is finally due for formal release at the end of August. I received a few first editions this past week. I equipped a corner of the warehouse that passes for my apartment as a Skype/Phone/TV studio. LED lights, headsets, desk, chair, backdrop, the whole works. And conducted my first two interviews on Thursday. Reaching 20 radio stations in the US and Canada, and a potential listening public of 4 million. Hmm. Hope it's worth the Ferrari ...

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Book and Wal-de-Mart ...

Tears of joy. Tears. Of. Joy. As of yesterday, you can buy The Book at ... wait for it ... Wal-de-Mart. I know. Ptoeey, ptooey, spit. Get over it. The more important point is this. Now, when you are buying Trump's autobiography. Or the latest Duck Dynasty calendar. You can buy The Book. Do you think they will arrange for me to do a book signing with Jessica Simpson ... ??

Monday, August 17, 2015

WeaveBusters ...

You had to be at the Southern Village Annual Employee Store Meeting to get it ...

Bernie Sanders, Corporations, Co-operative Democracy

After the Annual Employee Store Meeting in the Southern Village outlet of Weaver Street Market Co-operative last evening, I was going rather pompously to title this post: The Loss of Co-operative Democracy. But I found an even more sweeping and pompous subject heading.

And so. Last evening, finally, I was able to address my peers on the co-op policy that demands that all workers be included in decision-making within our co-op. Even better, I got a response from the gathered management team at SV:

1) We mere minions probably do not have the capacity to understand complicated figures. Best to leave that to the experts. A variation on, don't you worry your pretty little heads, we've got this. Um. Has anyone recently done a headcount on the number of employees in SV with college degrees, and/or who have run their own businesses?

2) To allow 250 people to be involved in making important decisions would be chaos. No. It wouldn't.

The starting point for my advocacy on this very clear policy (which, by the way, not one person denied does actually exist, and I attach once more, to remind you) was that we needed to expand on the raw policy by now designing a system for implementing it, so that the policy would not bring day-to-day operations to a grinding halt.

But leaving that obvious 'duh' to one side, the whole point of spreading responsibility for major decisions is to act as an antidote to the clusterfuck that results when just a few corporatists, in a small room, behind a combination lock (our corporate office in Hillsborough), make decisions without reference to all those affected by their decisions. Which antidote is called 'economic democracy.'

Clusterfuck decisions like the ones that led to the $10 million debt incurred by WSM senior management in 2008, as a result of the failed expansion program in that year, which debt we are still paying off (costing us $500,000 a year in interest and depreciation - do you notice how this minion actually knows how to spell those words, and use them in a complete sentence?).
Which mistake we may be about to repeat with the new plans to build three new stores. Not least because the decisions will be taken by just a few members of senior management, blah, blah, cf. combination lock, $10 million debt, loss of co-operative democracy ...

3) We are a worker-consumer co-op. Consumers must have their say as well as workers. True. And they do. But, as has been recognized throughout the existence of WSM, workers get a smidgeon more of a say, since we are the ones on the ground. This approach is why the dividend is split exactly 50:50 between workers (250) and consumers (18,000), to the obvious financial advantage of WSM employees.

On which point. Consumers? Please note, your Annual Meeting, one of the few times you get to answer pointed questions of your senior management, is this year going to be reduced to a guided tour of the WSM Food House, and a couple of our new sandwiches. For which tour, you will have to buy a ticket. Yes, you will have to pay to ask senior management questions.

Meanwhile, I did notice that, for the very first time in the ten years I have been with WSM, there were no senior officers from the WSM corporate office at our meeting last evening. We were talking to ourselves.

This is how, by stages, hiccups and sneezes, year on year, co-operative democracy is reduced to a pizza evening and a raffle.

And the worst part? No-one gives a shit.

People, it is no good writing self-serving, pompous rants about ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, the evils of hegemonic corporations, and the lurking slavery of global economic fascism, if we can't be bothered to raise our hand in our own co-op, because we'd rather be getting drunk at a Peggy and The Fishtails concert.

Economic democracy begins at the immediate, intimate level. Generals do not get where they are without the willing compliance, ignorance or silence of the foot-soldiers.

But I digress.

Back at our Store Meeting, I ended my seemingly pointless monologue by emphasizing that democratization of decision-making is truly the best way to increase sales - the latter being the purported theme of the evening.

Consumers buy more when they are happy. They are happy when employees are happy. And, leaving aside giving each employee a Ferrari, workers are happy when they are empowered by being included in the decision-making that affects how they perform.

And that, my friends, is almost that. There is a better way. In our co-op. In the corporatist world. One where we do not leave decision-making to just a few. Where we spread the burden to a wider knowledge base, to those who will be implementing the decisions, so that they, we feel invested in the outcome.

That is how we create a co-op we want to work at. That is how we create a new economic democracy. One that makes a profit. Pays the dividend. And is a joyous, happy place to be and work. I leave you with this taste of what an authentic worker co-op could look like ...

... but, with this admonition: you gotta put your hand up ...

Sunday, August 16, 2015

WSM Aline Card

I have already expressed misgivings about the WSM move from paychecks to either direct deposit or an Aline card.

I want control over my money, when I deposit and where. So, I will not be going direct deposit. My worry about the Aline card is having to pay fees. I was told we wouldn't. Sigh. We will.

Letter to WSM Human Resources Manager (and BTW, this is why, in a worker-consumer co-op, we have a policy which states that employees must be involved in decision-making - namely, that in an institution which is supposed to practice economic democracy, that policy protects us from the sort of worker-thoughtless decisions that Wal-Mart makes):

"Hey Deborah,

I finally got a definitive answer from my bank (PNC) Friday. They do not allow deposit of Aline money over the counter. You cash at one of their ATM's and then deposit. And, since the Aline card is not PNC, there will be a $3.50 charge every time I draw cash on the Aline card.

I do feel that employees should be told this in the Market Messenger. I will still want an Aline card. But I would like confirmation that each paycheck will reflect the cost of getting my money off the Aline card.

All the best,


Friday, August 14, 2015

Response To My E-mail On Pay Increases

I have received a next-to-useless reply from the Weaver Street Market Co-operative General Manager to my e-mail about unit meetings, employee inclusion in decision-making and pay increases. I am not surprised. But I will not let nonsense go unchecked. Sigh. Ruffin's e-mail:

"Hi Geoff,

Thanks for your note.

Micki is leading the SV meeting and can give you more specifics.

She has told me that the meeting will include time for employee involvement in increasing sales which in turn enables increased pay.

As we discussed at Co-op Plan, the average hourly (non-manager) pay will increase to over $14 this September and to $15 next September assuming continued sales growth.

The MM article yesterday discussed how the board allocates 50% of any profit to the worker dividend.

With these two mechanisms in place, employees are positioned to shape their future compensation through their involvement in improving service, sales and profits over the next year.

Tony is planning the FH meeting and has told me that it will include discussion of how to prepare for additional stores.


My response:

"Oh dear, Ruffin. With respect, your answer is something I would expect from the police chief in Ferguson. Side-step and obfuscation. Not straightforward replies, from the General Manager of a co-operative, which claims to exercise economic democracy. Where to start?

Well, first. Transparency and accountability, which are a part of the co-operative business model, can only be meaningful if demonstrated in front of peers. That's the whole point. So that discussion can ensue. And so that, again with respect, nonsense answers can be seen precisely for what they are.

I am grateful for your taking the time to respond to me. But the replies do not stand up to scrutiny. So, I will be looking for proper answers at the Store Meeting.

I am not prepared to be told there will not be time. This is the only time we employees are ever allowed to seek accountability in front of our peers. This meeting is our meeting, not just management's.

The primary point is the same one it has been for three years now. There is co-op policy which demands that employees be included in decisions that affect them and their workplace.

I want to know how and when we employees will be involved in the decisions which determine how the money we earn for the co-op will be allocated, once the fixed costs have been paid.

Your response is that managers make those decisions, on their own, in breach of co-op policy. Managers decide how much money the co-op will earn, what that means for sales increases, what will happen to the money earned from sales increases, and how, specifically, the money from increased sales will affect our dividend, our pay and our benefits - without employee inclusion in that decision-making. All in contravention of co-op policy.

You tell me that the only decisions in which we may participate are how we are to meet the sales goals set by management. This leaves you and management in continued breach of co-op policy.

How exactly do you and management claim the right to discipline us for breach of co-op policy, when you merrily breach it yourselves?

On a side note, you try to infer that the Board sets the dividend. No. It does not. Managers do. The Board only determines how much of the dividend, the size of which has already been set by managers (without employee inclusion), how much of that pre-set dividend will be allocated to worker-owners.

Even your own narrative does not stand up. You claim that we employees may influence our pay with our contribution to sales increase. That is demonstrable nonsense.

My department has achieved year on year sales often averaging between 10% and 20%. I have never seen a pay raise of 20%.

You then congratulate yourself by saying that, next year, average pay will rise to $15. How can you know this? Sales for next year have not yet occurred.

In other words, we receive the pay increases that you managers determine. It has nothing to do with sales increases. And even less to do with our being involved in the decisions that allocate the money we earn for our co-op.

You made great play of the fact at the Co-op Plan Event that what set WSM apart from conventional grocery stores was not what we did, but how we did it. How we are supposed to do business is the co-operative way. The inclusive way. The democratic way. Practicing economic democracy.

There is not one scintilla of evidence in your response to me of any sort of employee democracy or employee inclusion in the serious decisions taken in our co-op.

Rather you have made clear, in an e-mail which would do Wal-Mart proud, that we do business like, well, Wal-Mart.

Frankly, all of the seemingly wonderful work of the past 18 months. Last year's inclusive Store Meetings. The Communications Survey. The Co-op Plan Event. All of that work was merely expensive window-dressing.

You promised inclusion. You delivered a group hug and a discussion as to how we can meet management's pre-set sales goals.

As to the Food House, your commentary is evidence that all Food House workers will be allowed to determine is how to implement the decision already taken to build more units. Not whether they want them. Not whether they think it reasonable to try to service them. But I leave that discussion to them.

I am disappointed that the apparent journey to worker inclusion and economic democracy has led us back to where we already were. Spending our Store Meeting talking about how to meet your sales goals, and make money, the allocation of which is yet one more important decision in which we are not involved.

I am disappointed that you and management refuse to move yourselves into compliance with co-op policy on including employees in decision-making. And I expect my questions to be properly answered in front of my peers.

Yours truly,

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Annual Employee Unit Meetings, Pay, New Outlets, Food House

Yup. It's that time of the year again. Annual WSM Employee Unit Meetings. Followed by pay reviews. For me, this year, the two are linked. Due to my continuing campaign to have WSM comply with its policy to involve employees in decision-making that affects the workplace. Fairly self-explanatory e-mail to WSM General Manager, Ruffin Slater:

"Hey Ruffin,

Following our conversation at the Co-op Plan Event, I'd like to give you notice of two questions I will be trying to ask at the SV Annual Store Meeting this coming Sunday (August 16):

1) You know that I have been advocating these past couple of years for WSM to comply with the employee co-op policy that states that employees should be included in decisions that affect them. In this regard, and as I told you, I was really quite heartened by much of what has happened this past year, with the Survey and the Co-op Plan Event. I also told you that, specifically, I would be turning my attention to employees being involved in the decisions which determine what happens to the co-op profit, which they help to create. And so, at the Store Meeting, I would be grateful if you could address my question which is, what will you be doing before the next Store Meeting to ensure that employees are involved in the decisions that determine what happens with the co-op profit, and specifically, what will be done to ensure that employees are involved in the decision which determines how much of that profit will be allocated to pay increases?

2) My second question concerns the continuing suggestions that WSM is planning more outlets. You will remember that, at the Board discussion on this Goal, a number of Food House workers attended, to make it quite clear that, in their opinion, the Food House was not in a position to service any more outlets at that time. It is my information this remains the position. I will be asking if you can confirm that this is your view also. And that, before any planning for new outlets gets under way, Food House employees will be fully consulted as to whether or not they feel they will be able to service new outlets at that time.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

All the best,