On a vacation in Italy with friends in October, our itinerary included a day visiting the Milan Expo. The theme of Expo 2015 was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” This was the first such international expo focused on food. While there were predictable national exhibits, the ones that were particularly thought-provoking were those exploring the theme.
“It has made all the difference in the world,” says Shelia Conboy. Conboy is the project manager for East Aurora Food Co-op, a startup that has been organizing its own food co-op in East Aurora, N.Y., since 2010. That’s over five years of organizing, and Conboy has been with the East Aurora project from day one. What has made all the difference? Mentoring—specifically the mentorship of Lexington Cooperative Market in Buffalo, N.Y., and their strong relationship with its general manager, Tim Bartlett.
Half of National Co+op Grocers member co-ops surveyed are under pressure to increase staff wages, according to a 2015 report. This pressure is not unique to co-ops. With efforts led by groups such as Fight for 15 and dialogues at local, state, and federal levels about minimum wage, there is a national spotlight on increasing wages. Co-ops that are not currently offering a livable wage and benefits would be well served to be proactive in this area, before the spotlight shines on them.
A new livable wage model
Since 1895, the cooperative movement has coordinated on a global scale through its apex organization, the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). The ICA was in the first grouping of organizations to receive formal consultative status with the United Nations in 1945, during its inaugural year.
It takes a lot to manage a food co-op. Co-op general managers (GMs) are responsible not only for the retail operations but also for budgeting, financial analysis, marketing, information technology, and human resources—functions that are provided by corporate headquarters to managers of chain stores. Co-op GMs, in addition to the demands of the business, must lead a democratic association of member-owners, working harmoniously with the elected board of directors to fulfill the co-op’s Ends or mission.
What was the largest consumer cooperative in the world, the U.K. Co-operative Group, has lately been in trouble, and things look bleak for its offshoot bank. As we prepare for publication, a new headline reads:
The Co-operative Bank looks set to fall into the hands of US hedge funds and other big institutions after they
tore up the embattled lenders £1.2bn rescue plan
It’s that second cooperative principle: Democratic Member Control.
Each year Cooperative Grocer Network (CGN) holds a board election, and we are now announcing our 2016 call for candidates. There are three open spots on our seven-person board, and two incumbents are running.
CGN board members work in the service of our mission: To strengthen all retail food co-ops by creating community and promoting the sharing and development of resources among members.
Over three years ago, Central Co-op made a commitment to strategically work to align with the principles and values of the “Statement of Cooperative Identity.” The relationship with labor is impossible to ignore in this context. On top of this, the debate about disparities in income and wealth, fierce divides on minimum-wage policy, and the declining power of organized labor have each informed our leadership’s thinking about managing relationships with staff and unions.
The demise of Co-op Atlantic marks the end of its nearly 90 years of producer and consumer co-op services in the Canadian Maritimes. The most recent of many reports on Co-op Atlantic appeared in this publication in 2007, when Tom Webb summarized the consolidation of 28 retail co-op members of Co-op Atlantic—a final attempt at preserving much of its retail base.
There is a world of cooperatives out there, inevitably full of both potential and problems. International reports highlight important challenges to major cooperatives and the cooperative movement itself—very few of these stories have made the domestic news. We cover a cooperative obituary in Maritime Canada and cooperative setbacks in the U.K., but more forward-looking examples from Coop Italia and the International Cooperative Alliance.