More on Food Coops

One of the major critics of Co-operative grocery stores on The Daily Page in Madison goes by the name of “Dogmeat”. Here is his decision-making process for grocery shopping (he had been accused of being a plant for Whole Foods):

“I’ve been to Whole Foods a grand total of 4 times. I can’t afford to shop there. That’s my only reason for not shopping there, unlike some who boycott Whole Foods because its non-union. I actually prefer to shop at places that are non-union. If a union muscles its way in the door, that means the company wasn’t doing the right thing in the first place. And of course, once a union is in place its number one priority is to protect the power of the union, not the good workers or the companies viability. I really like going to places where bad employees can be fired.”

What more is there to say? Should the co-operative movement really listen to critics who want to exploit workers? Is cheap food the only real goal and screw the community that raised it? As I mentioned in a previous post, the incidence of cancer and the rise of chemical farming and foods are not exclusive of each other. Cheap foods with chemically produced flavors may impress “foodies” but they really don’t do anything for society.

Still, the consumer co-operatives in this country need to get a handle on organics. They need to start develop co-operative farms and systems. Working people can’t afford good food anymore. We really can’t afford to pay $6.89 for 9 oranges. Granted, they are good oranges, last year at this time, they were $3.49. Right now, the organic farming community is planting the seeds for its demise. If only rich people can afford the food, then working people will abandon the co-ops that sell it. In the end, the wealthy like deals just like everyone else. When Wal-Mart develops factory organic farming, they will undercut the co-operative stores. What will be the co-operative difference then?

We need to be the movement that is larger than our companies. Co-operatives need to work together and with their community. Ultimately, they need to provide value–that means quality at affordable prices, with educated, informed and well-trained staff and members. We need to pool our resources. In the US, the co-ops are splintered and seperated by large distances, they need to start building a mass of co-operative stores and re-build the Wholesale Cooperative structure that fell apart in the 1990’s. We can’t stick our noses up and tell people that they should suck up 70¢ oranges. We need to create a strategy that gets the deals into the consumer and worker’s hands without exploiting people. It doesn’t sound easy, but when a capitalist grocery store can undercut a cooperative grocery on a cooperatively produced product, there is something seriously wrong with the movement.

We need to start living the principle of cooperation among co-operatives.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-op in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University and hopes to finish his Ph.D. in Business Administration soon. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle and Mission Circle for Sociocracy for All. He teaches on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College.
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