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PAUL GLOVER ESSAYS: community control of food, fuel, housing, health care, planning, education, finance.

From Food Co-op
to Food Corp

by Paul Glover  *  October 2010

The Woodstock Generation started food co-ops in the 70s to provide healthy food cheap, by pooling labor. They confronted capitalism, hierarchy, and agribusiness' abuses of human health, labor, nature and animals. They sought community control of capital, for local benefit.

As the Boomers aged they became America's landowners, landlords, executives and investors. Their food co-ops likewise gradually gentrified, becoming New Age convenience stores less committed to low prices, bulk food staples, whole foods, non-corporate brands, member labor, member committees. Food co-ops became job machines whose greatest priority is the payroll.

Today, co-op wealth leaves town when 401(k) retirement plans plow staff benefits into global stock markets. Likewise, sales of corporate organic brands such as Hain (Bearitos) send local cash to Monsanto, ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, Citicorp and McDonalds.

This has been done in the name of "professionalization," to ensure co-op survival in a capitalist world.

There is a difference between professionalization and corporatization, however. Co-op Grocer magazine promotes corporate "industry standards" and the costly consultants who reinforce these.
They endorse "Policy Governance," which explicitly disparages membership committees. It also requires the co-op board of directors to "speak with one voice," blocking minority board views. Such governance relegates directors to broad discussion of goals and values. Meanwhile their General Managers must interpret lofty goals narrowly, as payroll pressures grow.

Co-op Boomers have thus abandoned their children and grandchildren to a brutal debt-ridden economy with depleted natural resources, without truly affordable safety nets for food, health and finance. While Boomers fade and drain Social Security, Busters will need to revive genuine co-op traditions to meet their needs. They can professionalize without corporatizing.

This means their new co-ops will stay lean and green, by hiring only those who live simply-- more excited by mission than money. New co-ops will need to avoid mortgages and slash utility bills by rehabbing marginal properties with member labor and deep insulation; relying on community credits and barter; stocking low-markup bulk staples grown regionally; starting affiliate health co-ops, housing co-ops, revolving loan funds, and regional stock exchanges.

These mutual aid programs, and community solidarity, will be their social security.

Glover is a Boomer and founder of member-owned organizations for grassroots control of food, fuel, health care, jobs, schools and finance. http://paulglover.org

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