I am looking forward to the future! For the last nine months, I have been in the role of General Manager of my co-operative. It has been a very difficult time made more difficult by the ebbs and flows of a business cycle based, in part, on government funded programs and bad weather. This year, the money was mostly ebb with little flow.
The biggest lesson that I am walking away with is the realization that hierarchy in a worker cooperative is dangerous at best. Creating a “boss” and recreating the dynamics of the traditional workplace do not allow a worker cooperative to succeed. It creates a fertile ground for petty political maneuvering around personal agendas instead of open and transparent discussions about the value of cooperation. It causes the workforce to engage in a bizarre form of sibling rivalry in which the GM and the Board play the role of indulgent parents.
I am very happy that our co-op decided to get rid of our GM position and replace it with a council consisting of department leaders and senior workers. We have yet to see how this will work, but we have spent the last nine months practicing. Although I accepted the title of Interim General Manager, I attempted to diffuse as much power as possible to the various work teams. By a previous board decision, discipline and accountability issues had already been turned over to a Behavior Review Council-this made me the first GM without the authority to discipline.
It is an exciting time to be in the worker coop world. New worker coops are starting every day. Older worker coops, like mine, are reinventing themselves, and new energy is coming into the movement from the Steelworkers and Academia. Hopefully, now that my interim period is coming to an end, I can return to chronicling and commenting on the exciting energy that is out there!
I will be in Halifax for two months beginning May Day. I hope to return to my Monday postings, so please start checking. The world really is changing. After 170 years, co-operatives are finally coming into their own and we get to be a part of this incredible transition.