April 13th, 2002


Phone Fun

People complain that the internet leads to rudeness that you’d never get away with in public. But they forget that before the internet there was the anonymous phone call. Yesterday I got a call at work. (Edited to prevent reader boredom)

Me: Hi, you have a question about coops?
Caller: Yes, I wonder why you call yourself a coop when you’re not.

Me: (Knowing this won’t be good but trying to figure out which way it’ll go) What do you mean?
Caller: (long lurching story about living in Vancouver and working at a coop that was all volunteer-run and that sold food to members at cost, convinced farmers to go organic and was 100% good in every way.)

Me; We’re a worker-coop. The members are the workers here. We believe in workers controlling their own workplaces. You’re describing a buying club coop or a consumer coop. We’re a different kind of coop.
Caller: I don’t understand.

Me: San Francisco had a network of volunteer buying clubs in the early ‘70s that was falling apart. People in that system decided to open collectively-run storefronts so that working people and, say, people with kids who didn’t have the time to volunteer, could also have access to healthy, unprocessed food at lower prices.
Caller: So basically you have a parasitical relationship to the unwashed masses,* exploiting people’s need for food in order to enrich yourselves. I just don’t understand why you call yourselves a coop.

Me: (still trying to be nice) Look, what you described in Vancouver is great. We just do something different here. We have a 200-person workplace with no bosses, everyone gets a wage they can live on in San Francisco, it’s a great place to work and our prices are cheaper than other natural food stores. If you want a buying club, you should start one. We’ve offered assistance in the past to people starting buying clubs.
Caller: So basically you’re saying that you’re going to continue your little Mafia at the expense of the unwashed masses. (Long rant, again about Vancouver and volunteerism, blah blah) you’re no different than the Ford Motor Company.

Me: (interrupting) If you think we’re no different from Ford, there’s no point in us having this conversation.
Caller: Oh, so now you’re going to talk over me. Is that how you work there? Does that make you feel like a big man?

Me; C’mon you are so full of crap.** You aren’t letting me get a word in.
Caller: (Again with the rant on our parasitical relationship with the unwashed masses, and Vancouver, and that we are nothing but capitalists with a fake coop. Blah, blah, blah. Then he hangs up before I can reply.)

*He must have used the phrase "unwashed masses" 10 times in our conversation.
** Yes, I actually said, "crap" instead of "shit". Customers could hear me and I was still trying to be relatively nice.