Friday, November 20, 2015

Pop Voxx EP - Tracking Complete!

Last evening, completed the last major element of tracking for the six-song Pop Voxx EP. Horns on 'Kisses', 'Romantic Fool' and 'Caribbean Sunrise'. Excellent playing from the guys, and some truly wonderful arrangement by Danny Grewen. All at Nightsound Studios, with producer Chris Wimberley and recording engineer Meghan Puryear. Won't be long now. The EP should be mixed and mastered by the end of the year. With the new Pop Voxx band. Yes. Band. Er. Yet to form it. New band playing a showcase/EP release party early in 2016. Keep your eyes and your ears open!!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hugh John Simmonds, CBE: April 20, 1948 - November 15, 1988

More so than at any time since I first learned cursive writing (1962), the world we live in is shaped by violent conflict. And whatever impulses may be driving the desire for armed confrontation, its expression is fueled by arms sales.

Which brings me to the annual anniversary of the still unresolved and mysterious death of the man who is the subject of my recently-published book, Maggies’s Hammer, and the dichotomy at the heart of that book and its promotion.

I will this coming Friday conclude two and a half months of initial international radio interviews talking to all and sundry about my book, its subject matter and why it helps ordinary folk and experts alike better to understand just what the heck is going on in the world today.

But, here’s the thing. My primary angle, beyond attempting to find out why my good friend, mentor and Margaret Thatcher’s favorite speechwriter ended up dead in a peaceful woodland glade, thirty miles west of the British Parliament, is to expose the rampant and high-level corruption associated with the arms industry in the UK, and the UK’s special covert military arrangements with the US. And explain how they feed so much of today’s geopolitical agenda. Everything from the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Africa, to last Friday’s appalling tragedy in Paris.

And yet, while I am engaged on what some might see as this noble mission, the man at the heart of my investigations was, in fact, actively seeking to make money from that which I now seek to expose. The first of so many dichotomies that have become acutely visible to me in the course of some 30-40 radio interviews.

I want truth. And yet so many of those to whom I speak engage in lies. That’s what spies do. My aim is simple – find out what happened, so that Hugh’s family may know. Yet too many of my informants play with me, as if I am a part of their game. And I have to try to sort out the chaff from reality. My interviewers genuinely feel for my ambition. Yet, they constantly seek to move my commentary into areas that, frankly, have nothing to do with my book. As a consequence of which, I feel myself ever so gently, on occasion, losing sight of the essential narrative. While worrying that what I see as my primary need (the opening of the relevant government files in the UK) becomes less likely the more I speak on radio programs that might affect my credibility.

Dichotomies abundant.

But, there is one constant which never changes. As awkward and as outrĂ© as it might seem in an age of yes she did, no he didn’t, instant ADD social media gratification. In 1989, I held the hands of an eleven year old girl. Whose face was vacant, her eyes haunted. And promised that I would find out why her father had died, without explanation for her. I will fulfill that promise.

And so, today, a few days after the western world engaged in its annual ritual of remembering those who died on our behalf. In military conflicts around the world. Conflicts they and we had no hand in designing. As we attempt to absorb the horror of one of those conflicts acting out in what we had assumed were our safe neighborhoods. As, hopefully, we might once again want to reconsider the importance to our economic way of life of arms sales. And the toxic influence they have on our body politic through associated arms kickbacks. I remember that twenty-seven years ago, on this day, my best friend died in the service of his Prime Minister. A fact which, as we remember so much else, very few will feel constrained to remember. Something I genuinely believe, now that my book has so very kindly been published by Kris Millegan, a man who has yet even to meet me, something I believe may finally change in this coming year.

RIP Hugh. Love to Janet, Karen, Juliet, Tanya and Paul.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Durham Co-op -- Even More ...

Fellow Southern Village Weave worker-owner, Neil Shock, has written a wonderful commentary on the article this week in IndyWeek about the Durham Co-op [below]. Thank you, Neil!

I'm assuming that, when WSM 'leaders' talk about clash, conflict and problems with worker-ownership as a principle (as they do in said article), they mean the times that one or other of those pesky WSM worker-owners has stepped up and reminded said co-op 'leaders' (whether in Orange County or Durham) how it is that co-operation, policy governance and their own policies are actually supposed to work? Cf. Attempts to remove WSM Employee Policy protections? In which case, yay for clashes, conflicts and problems. Which no doubt explains why I've never been asked to give governance classes.

On an aside, I find it interesting that, on the whole, and notwithstanding the fact that WSM is half-owned by its workers, whenever media outlets consult WSM 'leaders,' they seem always to limit themselves to management and Board members.

Anyway. Hush my mouth. Neil's lovely commentary:

" "But Stasio says it's more complicated than that. Based on the consultant's recommendations, he says, the co-op is adopting what is known as "policy governance," delegating management of daily operations to its general manager rather than an overly meddlesome board of directors. Issues will arise if the board micromanages such an organization—and having workers on the board will lead to more interference, he says.

Moreover, workers would face constant calls to recuse themselves over conflicts of interest when votes affect them, Stasio adds. And the store's general manager would also have to oversee employees who could, as part of the board, push to fire her."

I am a worker-owner at Weaver Street Market for the past four years, I have belonged to other co-ops in the past as well as working union jobs, I have had the board explained to me multiple times by multiple people, I have sat in on half a dozen board meetings, I have done some research on policy governance, and I was part of the election committee for the 2014 WSM board elections. So as I reading this all I can think is, "Bro, do you even co-op?"

Rather than being a conflict of interest, this sort of hybrid worker/consumer co-op leads to compromise-- if done correctly. It's fairly commonsense.

The ownership (workers and consumers) want a certain action taken. They elect a board responsible to them *only* and present the board with demands and goals. The board prioritizes these goals based on democratic input and shapes the objectives and parameters within which the co-op attempts to meet the owners' demand-- constrained by bylaws and budget, mostly. Once the board does that they present the goals, the boundaries, and the metric for progress to the General Manager. The GM is responsible to the board to see that we get from point A to point B without stepping out of bounds.

The GM is responsible to the Board. The Board is responsible to the owners. The owners do not directly interfere with the GM. But the owners ultimately hold the power and employ the board and GM. Owners -> Board -> GM.

Now, once the GM has been given their task, they are in charge of operations. The GM is essentially an executive position. That means that they function as a boss toward the workers. Which sounds like an inversion of the relationship above. The GM now holds most of the day-to-day power, including power over the worker-owners, with regards to daily operations. But the GM can only act within the parameters set by the board. Which is why it is crucial to have workers represented on the board-- to prevent conflict in daily operations by agreeing to the parameters of how the GM does their job and to provide recourse if the GM is putting unreasonable demands on workers.

The GM is essentially tasked with keeping the ball rolling towards the goals set by owners while the board is the where the compromises are made.

Also, this is total nonsense:

"Moreover, workers would face constant calls to recuse themselves over conflicts of interest when votes affect them."

Why? Wouldn't consumers be forced into the same situation?

Likewise, this misses the point of policy governance:

"And the store's general manager would also have to oversee employees who could, as part of the board, push to fire her."

Yes and no. The GM is responsible to the board in total, not to workers solely.The GM operates within the boundaries created by the board, which includes compromises made with the consent of worker-ownership. The GM only has to stay within the boundaries to be compliant. If the workers feel that the boundaries allow for the GM to abuse workers then they can go to the board to shift or narrow the boundaries. And active worker-owner representation should prevent the situation from going too off course to begin with. Again, compromise. The GM would likely only be censured or fired for failing to stay within the boundaries set by bylaws, policy, and budget.

On top of all this, worker-ownership incentivizes workers to be responsive to consumers, since profit in the firm is returned to them in their dividend. This tends to be a bit more progressive motivation than, "Do what the GM says or we'll fire you." "

[Not sure how to comply with WSM Employee Policy on this one. Do I add the caveat that only my comments are my opinion? Since Neil's are his. Even though I mention them in my article. And are WSM 'leaders' still making comment? Even though they say they have no comment to make on the comments not attributed to them? Ok. I've got a headache. And I need to go lie down ...]

Monday, November 9, 2015

Durham Co-op -- The Consultants

I have set out elsewhere the advice the Board of Durham Co-op Market (DCM) have attributed to the Weaver Street Market Co-op (WSM) GM, in the DCM Board deliberations which preceded their decision to promulgate a referendum, seeking to abolish worker shares in DCM, which referendum has now been withdrawn pending further discussion.

The consultants the DCM Board have been using have now decided to post their own statement on the discussion thread following the original article on Bull City Rising. Sigh.

Merrily scattering disclaimers all over the place, I decided to enter the fray (again), and offer a gentle rebuttal. To be honest, I've had enough of so-called co-operative consultants peddling a line which, in my personal opinion (only), has absolutely nothing to do with applying co-operative business principles in practice. It might seem harmless. But not when it leads to the sort of episode we have just witnessed with DCM.

CDS statement:

"There are all kinds of cooperatives including consumer-owned, worker-owned, farmer-owned, and multi-stakeholder. We love them all! CDS Consulting Co-op is a shared services cooperative owned by our member consultants. As consultants committed to supporting other cooperators, we often base our recommendations on what we have seen work for other co-ops.

While we are intrigued with multi-stakeholder models, we know of only one example of successful implementation of a worker/consumer hybrid food co-op - Weavers Street Market. Given the rarity of this model, it's not one we have a strong reason to recommend or identify as a best practice.

Starting a new food co-op is a very complicated and challenging endeavor that takes several years to implement. In order to survive, new co-ops require an intense focus on building sales, improving operations, and achieving profitability. We think the more complicated multi-stakeholder model makes it even more challenging and therefore do not advise it at the start up stage. This is a matter more of practicality than of values.

We support the Durham Co-op Market's board decision to take more time to discuss the organizational structure with the co-op's members. If they decide to implement the multi-stakeholder model, we will offer the best consulting support we can to help them move forward with their decision.

Marilyn Scholl, manager
CDS Consulting Co-op"

My gentle response:

"I apologize, but I'm going to introduce a slightly tendentious note. As before, I want to stress the views I'm about to share are personal, and do not represent in any fashion the official line of Weaver Street Market Co-operative - although I might wish that they did. These views are, however, based upon some nine years of advocating for worker rights within WSM, and attempting to make WSM a stronger business by being a better co-op (and if you're in any way interested in what that looks like, maybe take a peek at my blog, linked below).

The representative of CDS says: "In order to survive, new co-ops require an intense focus on building sales, improving operations, and achieving profitability." I'm bound to say this is very much reflective of a fearful attitude prevalent among many in the co-op community. The inference is that we can get around to being a co-op once we're successful as a business.

Look, I'm not stupid. I used to earn six figures a year as a management consultant. I know how to do corporate capitalism. But why is it that so many in our co-op community are so scared of the notion that it is co-operation that enhances the chance of profitability, rather than being an obstacle or an afterthought?

What first attracted me to co-operation was the notion that it represented an alternative business model. Not just an alternative ownership model. But a whole new way of making a business successful.

As I see it, the concept always has been this. You get to the heart of what it is you want to do. You have a group of people who have a common need. Could be groceries. Could be a mushroom farm. Or horse-riding. You set about mutually meeting the need. While removing all the extraneous outside interferences that add cost to the equation: capital that can be speculated; empire-building management; marketing that guesses, as opposed to consumers deciding what they want.

You bring in people dedicated to providing the need, and ask them how they would like to provide the need. Because if you ask, and they are allowed to decide, then they are invested in making sure the how they decided actually works.

Nothing here of that intense focus on remote management techniques, operational excellence, building sales, etc. etc. Just meeting a need, the simplest way possible, by asking consumers and then asking workers. Democracy.

And for the life of me, as simple as the concept appears to be to me, someone steeped in the arcane intricacies of corporate capitalism, I simply do not understand why co-operative consultants seek solace in those arcane intricacies, rather than actually giving economic democracy its best chance.

DCM have taken a moment to rethink their path. I would invite them to use the moment to rethink more than just the voice they give to workers. Actually take a longer moment genuinely to work out why you want to be a co-op at all.

Co-operation. Democracy. Inclusion. Consensus. These are not afterthoughts to the business model that should be DCM - and WSM for that matter, too. They are the very foundation which creates the business model that is the much better alternative to conventional corporate capitalism."

Just to keep things updated, Bull City Rising just posted an account of the DCM Annual Meeting last evening. This is the last time I will be posting from that blog. For no reason other than the fact that I have an EP to complete! I invite you to keep any eye on the blog yourselves.

[As always, I am duty bound by WSM Employee Policy to state that these opinions are mine alone, and do not in any way represent the policy of WSM. Mind you, anyone who is an employee of WSM is subject to the same policy. I can't help but wonder about the manner in which the DCM Board were offered the advice they attribute to WSM; whether any declarations were made about the nature of that advice (personal or WSM policy); and, if the latter, what entity of authority within WSM has ever properly determined a policy which states that WSM may tell other co-op's that worker-ownership is not best practice. I mean, I wonder.]

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Durham Co-op -- Stop The Press !!

The referendum to do away with worker shares has been withdrawn, pending further discussion. I would say only this. Do not gloat. This is a victory for no-one other than democracy. Which means that everyone has won.

It takes a deal of courage to stop mid-course, and choose a different path. Well done everyone. And I do mean, everyone. Including the brave folk who spoke up. And the courageous people who listened, heard and acted.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Durham Co-op, Worker-Owners, Bylaws, Continuing ...

The article about Durham Co-operative Market (DCM) seeking to do away with worker-ownership is now up on Bull City Rising (BCR). I am quoted (with no explanation as to who I am -- oops). But, I prefer this part:

"After the Durham Co-op opened, though, the board began honing and reviewing governing documents, including grievance policies. It was after conferring with CDS and Weaver Street general manager Ruffin Slater, that Durham board suggested striking the language about worker shares, subject to a vote of the membership. “They [CDS] said ‘Nobody does this,’” says Frank Stasio, board president.

Stasio says that Slater also advised against a worker-owner component because "it’s very difficult, especially for a start-up.""


Next up. The Annual Meeting itself this coming Sunday (November 8), at 6.00pm, in the DCM store. What I didn't know was that voting has been underway for two weeks already. However, it continues until the Meeting itself, and I believe is permitted at the Meeting as well. We'll see.

In the meantime, BCR has a Facebook Page, and comments are going up on the post there.

[For the sake of complying with WSM Employee Policy, I posted the following comment to both the original BCR article, and to their post on their Facebook Page:

"I am the 'Geoff Gilson' quoted in the article. Although no description is given of me.

I am a worker-owner advocate with Weaver Street Market Co-op. I was approached for my thoughts. And the comments I make are made in a personal capacity only.

It's a difficult thing. I believe that co-op's work best as a bulwark against speculative and corporate capitalism if they are truly democratic, and remain under the control of their community, free from outside interference.

By definition, not being a member of the Durham Market Co-op, and living one town over (in Carrboro), I am 'outside interference.' So, I commented with care.

That said, my experience has given me a universal interest in worker rights. And I felt compelled to say something, however carefully."]

Oops. There's more. I have now discovered an online notice for the DCM Annual Meeting, which notice has the wording of the proposed change to the Articles of Incorporation, and indicates that voting may take place up to and including November 13. So, one can vote at the Annual Meeting this coming Sunday (November 8), and a bit beyond. The Annual Meeting and all voting takes place in the store itself. And yes, I'm up at 5 o'clock in the morning. I've made the point before, and I'll make it again. I don't get to do any of this on anyone's clock but my own.

Durham Co-op - Proposed Changes To Bylaws

I think there is something in the air! I was approached by a local media representative on Thursday (November 5) for my comments upon what appears to be a move by the Board of the new Durham Co-operative Market (DCM) to remove protections for workers from the DCM Bylaws, at their first Annual Meeting, to be held this coming Sunday (November 8), at 6.00pm.

The reason for the approach was the understanding that the Bylaws of DCM were based upon the Bylaws and Board Policies of Weaver Street Market Co-operative (WSM).

I made some enquiries, did some research, wrote a statement, had a conversation with Frank Stasio, the President of the DCM Board, and nationally-renowned host of WUNC's 'State of Things,' and then amended my statement, which was released to the media representative in question, and posted on my Facebook Page and here. The media representative is Lisa Sorg, and the media outlet is Bull City Rising. Both Frank and I will be speaking further but separately with Lisa on Friday morning.

Before I come to my statement, I want to make clear that I completely believe that the Board of DCM believes itself to be acting in the best interests of its workers, and at no point has my interaction with DCM been hostile.

DCM have been completely friendly and welcoming to my input. I am just concerned that, as well-meaning as they believe themselves to be, they are being given bad advice by their consultants. I am wary of anyone who says that worker interests can best be represented by anyone other than workers, be they consumers, management or consultants. Let workers represent themselves, both in operational decision-making and on the Board.

My statement:

"I am a worker-owner advocate of some nine year’s standing with Weaver Street Market Co-operative (WSM), which co-op helped with establishing the Durham Co-op (DCM).

I am told that this coming Sunday (Nov 8), a ‘consumer-owner referendum’ will be put to the DCM Annual Meeting, which referendum is described as removing the notion of worker shares from the DCM Bylaws, thereby apparently removing worker-owner representation from the DCM Board of Directors.

I have been approached in the belief that the governance structure of DCM is modeled on that of WSM, which is what is known as a worker-consumer hybrid co-op, one where the capital is forthcoming from both consumers and workers, and one where, therefore, the rights of both consumers and workers are represented and protected.


I can find no Bylaws on the DCM website. I can find no reference to any proposed changes to be presented at the Annual Meeting. I can find a list of Directors for DCM, which list does not appear to include any workers from DCM. I can find no reference to there being worker shares.

I am, therefore, making this statement solely on the basis of what has been told to me. I am doing so because I take the notion of worker rights seriously. If there is an attempt to reduce worker rights in any co-op, I would be disappointed, and would want to say something.

So, I may have this all completely wrong. In which case, the only deleterious impact is that I look foolish. And I’ll take that risk!


The supreme concept behind co-operation is that it avoids the self-serving pitfalls of corporate capitalism by putting all decision-making democratically in the hands of those the co-op immediately serves. Thus, toxic outside interference (speculators and the like) is reduced to a minimum.

If the locally-based, democratic owners of DCM choose to remove rights of workers this coming Sunday, that is their right. And commentary from me, one town over, is, by definition, ‘outside interference.’


I can find no evidence that DCM is a worker/consumer hybrid. Even if it is not, I would recommend the structure to it and to all other co-ops. It is a model which, if properly implemented, can be both profitable and fully protective of the rights of all that are served, including those who do the work necessary to make the entity profitable.

The essential modus is this: consumers decide what it is they want provided to them – without the need for expensive capitalist marketing, which merely spends a lot of time and money guessing. And workers then decide how to provide – without all the soul-destroying and wasteful shenanigans of remote worker-management techniques.

It is no secret that I advocate heavily about WSM. Not least because the senior management of WSM seems neither to understand the component about workers being included in decision-making, nor to want to implement the co-op policy that demands such worker inclusion.

I am told that “the party line in Durham is that it's ‘not a best practice’” [worker shares, that is]. Sigh. Again, I emphasize that I am speaking in the absence of a lot of information.

However, if it is true that there is a proposal which some might characterize as diminishing the rights of workers in a co-op, then that is not something avowedly progressive people would want widely to advertise.

In my WSM co-op, we are in the middle of an exercise to attempt to diminish the rights of workers in our worker-consumer hybrid, by having the Board Policy which protects the right of workers to be included in operational decision-making totally removed.

I have played some small part these past few days in bringing that move to a halt, and getting it reviewed by the WSM Board.

The ‘line’ used in advocating for removal of that worker protection was that “it is not in line with other co-op’s.” A line which appears to be similar to the one being attributed to ‘Durham.’

Both lines are nonsense. The essential point about co-op’s is that those immediately served are protected from interference with the provision of what they want, in the way they want, by democracy.

The lines offered essentially amount to, well, democracy is inconvenient. Of course, democracy is inconvenient. That’s the whole point. It offers the checks and balances to protect against corporate capitalism.

I would go so far as to say this: when you hear a line about ‘in line’ or ‘best practice,’ it is most likely coming from a technocrat and not from a dedicated co-operator

There is absolutely no evidence that the application of democracy interferes with the ability of a co-op to make a profit.

Quite the reverse. Economic democracy enhances the performance of workers, produces dedicated consumers, and prevents any and all profit from being siphoned off by outside elements.


On Thursday evening, I spoke with Frank Stasio, the President of the DCM Board of Directors. I understand that he will be speaking on Friday morning with the same media representative who approached me.

Briefly, what Frank stated to me was that DCM has been receiving extensive consulting advice about governance, as it has developed operating and governance structures this past year. That the original structure was, indeed, based upon that of WSM, which included worker ownership as a class of ownership separate to consumer-ownership. That the advice of the DCM consultants was that a worker-consumer hybrid is not best practice. That the DCM Board wished to protect worker rights. But that the advice was that this could best be done not by worker input as a separate process, but by the GM making proposals. With the caveat that workers could become general owners, and vote alongside consumers.

My reaction, in tune with the above, is this, subject again to the caveat that I am not an owner of DCM:

1) I think it is important to the concept of co-operation in retail that all stakeholders are included in decision-making. In a manner that best presents the ‘investment’ of the stakeholder in the co-operative. I do not believe that there is anyone better able to represent the interests of workers than workers. Not the Board. Not the GM. I am concerned that subsuming the voice of workers among consumers (who have a different agenda) and to the GM, who is the ultimate boss of all workers, who may not feel free to express their true concerns to their GM, is diluting the voice of workers. I think there should be a separate worker voice in operations and on the Board.

2) I am a little concerned that DCM is removing the protection that exists for worker input without having a plan to replace already in place. I completely believe that the Board of DCM is acting in good faith. I’m just concerned about the hiatus created. Once something is removed, it is difficult to put it back.

3) I would be much happier if I was hearing that the workers of DCM are totally in support of the proposed changes to the DCM Bylaws.

4) I am little moved by consultants who say that democracy is not best practice. And yes, I know that comment is tendentious. It’s what I’m hearing from the consultants in this matter. My opinion!

I am sending this statement to Lisa Sorg (the media representative), Frank Stasio and Leila Wolfram (the DCM GM). I am also posting it on my Facebook and my blog, only because I put all my co-op involvement there. Anyone is perfectly welcome to comment there also!"

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Charles, Participation, Self-Management

Got a very nice note from new Weave Worker-Owner Director, Charles Traitor. He confirms he will be speaking at the WSM Board Meeting tomorrow evening (November 4), in support of new language for WSM Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff,' entrenching not erasing WSM employees' rights to be allowed to participate in WSM decision-making; which decision-making must also be transparent.

I am delighted that Charles will be representing worker views so soon and so actively. Thank you, Charles. That said, if any WSM owners, worker or consumer, are available tomorrow evening, please do not leave him on his own. Try to find the time to attend the Board Meeting, to show your support.

And to any WSM Board Members or managers reading this, if no throng turns up (e.g. I will be working), please do not take that as a lack of support. The true indication of support that worker democracy has in our co-op was demonstrated quite clearly in the 62 votes garnered by Charles, and the 33 votes received by Caitlin, in the recent Worker-Owner Director election.

The truly interesting part of Charles' note was the emphasis he puts on the organization and self-management of worker-owners. Charles makes the point that the correct language in policy is important as a reference. But it counts for nothing if there is not that organization and self-management.

I am a tad concerned that we do not become so taken with 'organization and self-management' that we do not apply it where it can work. For myself, I have spent my time over the past nine years focusing on the proper language and its implementation, so that the space exists for workers to take advantage if they so wish. I have not attempted to organize as such. My view is that I can not force folks to do things. I can only show them what is possible.

But you know, I really think that what Charles and I are doing are the flip sides of the same coin. On the one hand, making sure the correct language and opportunity are in place. On the other, organizing folks to take advantage of the opportunities created.

Now, that said, I do think you can expect Charles to be knocking on all of your doors, to ensure that you do now participate. Not just in implementing the language and opportunity that has been forged. But generally, in utilizing worker-ownership in a collective sense, so as to inculcate among workers more of a sense of what is possible in our co-op.

Charles also very kindly closed his note with a quote from Eugene Debs: "I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out." Grateful for the quote. Even if no-one would ever mistake me for a socialist!

As Charles said: "Good luck to us all - I mean, good organizing" ...