Friday, September 11, 2015

Worker-Owner Director Election Hustings - The Redux

I have really agonized over my interaction at the Southern Village Weave election hustings yesterday. I feel frustrated and annoyed. Am trying to work out why. Am trying to move on. Am trying to be positive.

Frankly, I'm sick and tired of managers listening to me and telling me I'm being confrontational. That I hate our co-op. That I have nothing positive to offer.

I love our co-op. I want it to be a better co-op and a stronger business. The people who are being confrontational and negative are the same managers who ignore the co-op policy they don't like. Who ignore workers they don't like. And all the while co-opt the language of co-operation to pretend they support and are implementing its precepts, when in fact they are reading from the Wal-Mart corporation handbook.

Co-operation is not an ownership model. It is a business model. The notion is that we avoid catastrophic cock-ups by ensuring that decision-making made by the few is always accountable to the many.

What has happened, and continues to happen in this co-op, is that a self-appointed few in the WSM corporate office deliberately and methodically set out to denigrate and minimize all possibility of genuine accountability. And the truly clever part is that they regularly employ tactics that look democratic, but aren't.

So, for example, this year, they have completely abandoned the Annual Meeting of Owners. And have replaced it with a Co-op Fair. They have produced truly pretty and enticing literature and rationale, which dances the merry co-op dance. Offers tasty treats and the Food House equivalent of dancing on the lawn. But doesn't permit rigorous questioning of the corporate office as to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will be spent in the next year on capital projects that owners have had no hand in approving.

And so it was that, at the hustings yesterday, I suffered the worker-owner equivalent of this dishonest sleight of hand. I listened to a senior manager expounding upon Policy Governance, as if it was supposed to reduce the Board of Directors to nothing more than an advisory group.

There is nothing written about the Policy Governance model which suggests other than that the Board of Directors should be the body producing strategic design for our co-op, and that its design should be implemented by the General Manager, not be subject to his veto.

Of course, the latter suits management, because, notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary, they have absolutely no interest in the co-operative democratic model. That would mean diluting their authority. Which is, of course, the whole point of co-operation and accountability and consensual decision-making. I don't mind management holding that point of view. I just mind their pretending it is the co-operative model. And I mind the fact that, when I call them out on it, they call me confrontational and a hater.

I mind incumbent Worker-Owner Directors wringing their hands and bemoaning their lack of progress on behalf of workers, when we do not see them from one end of their term in office to the other, and when the reason they have achieved nothing is that they do not have the courage to stand up to the General Manager, and to insist that he comply with co-op policy.

I can handle Worker-Owner Directors who think I talk a crock. I have a real problem with Directors who pretend they support worker inclusion in decision-making, but lobby against it the minute no-one but Ruffin Slater is watching. In other words, I can't handle bullshit. I was being served a truck load of it at the hustings yesterday, and I couldn't take it any more.

I wanted to ask the candidates what they would do to ensure that the Board insist that the General Manager begin to comply with co-op policy on including employees in operational decision-making. I wanted to ask the candidates what they would do to comply with the Policy Governance model, and remove the General Manager from the Board. I wanted to ask the candidates what they would do to ensure the reinstatement of the Annual Meeting of Owners. To provide more regular interaction with their worker-owners. Truly to represent their interests. And not merely be a rubber-stamp for WSM management.

But anger and frustration got the better of me. I was about to lose my temper. In the face of bullshit. So, I got up and left. And that has left me even more frustrated.

I hear managers justify their stance on the basis that, whatever may be the democratic precepts of co-operation, they think the WSM corporate office make good decisions, and that they, the managers,  don't want democracy interfering with that.

Even though that is a million miles removed from co-operation, they are entitled to their point of view. And I honor it, because we are a co-op, where democracy is supposed to prevail, and all are equal.

But, on that same basis, we are all equal, we are a democracy. And I say that the decisions being made hurt workers (literally), hurt the co-op, and I am entitled to say that publicly, in any forum, including the workplace (as managers are), without being denigrated, minimized or threatened.

Ah well. I write this rant. I get it off my chest. I enjoy my two days off. I go back to work on Saturday. I re-enter the fray. Continue the advocacy. And suffer the slings and arrows of management saying I'm confrontational and a hater ...