Co-operative Pickles

[During the course of 2006, there was some discussion within the Weaver Street Market Co-operative workforce about maximizing department contributions on our path to unit expansion. What follows was my contribution to that discussion, pretty much as it appeared in the “Marketing Messenger,” WSM’s internal newsletter.]

So. When did we decide that we wanted to be a chain store instead of a co-operative? I’m guessing much about the same time that we set as our new goal the desire to be The Best Food Business in the Country.

Look, if we want to be WalMart-with-Tattoo’s, then let’s drop the pretence, and fully embrace corporate capitalism. But if we’re going to be a co-operative, then let’s start acting like a co-operative, and stop just playing lip service to the principles. And that means: small stand-alone co-op units, that serve genuinely local communities; and it means democracy in the workplace.

By all means, continue with the expansion. But, when it’s finished, set each unit free, to be its own, stand-alone co-operative. Multi-unit chain stores are the antithesis of co-operative principles. They can only be run with a trickle-down and reactive management style. Co-operatives, on the other hand, should be worker-driven democracies, that manage from the shop-floor upwards.

Efficiency and financial discipline have their place in a co-operative, but as the servants of co-operative principles, not as their substitute. With respect, someone’s getting it wrong. Our over-arching goal is not to compete. If it were, we would be the Weaver Street Competitive, not the Weaver Street Co-operative.

To paraphrase the TV commercial, it is happy workers who make happy customers. And happy employees are to be found in the democratic workplace of a genuine co-operative. If we were a true co-operative, it would be through pro-active workplace democracy that we would achieve the department contributions that we all seek. But, it’s more than that: co-operation is of itself a bold social statement; it is not a mystery shopper score.

Community, social and environmental values are not an afterthought of co-operative principles, to be bought off at the end of the process with a couple of checks. They should be the driving ambition of co-operation. Taking precedence over any desire to be The Best Food Business in the Country.

Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 11:13 am  Leave a Comment  

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