Friday, November 6, 2015

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!"