If we were a real business …

i am a general manager and the marketing manager for a business which might gross a million dollars this year and has seen a 25% growth in sales since i took over.  If we were a real business, this would be indisputably good news.  But we are not a real business and it might not be good news.

The community businesses are all booming.  Tofu sales are up, hammocks sales are up, Indexers are working flat out, wholesale seeds business is way up.  But here is the rub, our population can’t increase to provide more workers to all these areas, and usually we cant get that much help from people outside the community for lots of reasons.

As i have written, we have been at our population capacity for the last three years, which is about 93 adults.  A number which is determined by the number of adult rooms we have in our residences, which is a difficult number to increase, given it takes a year of process before we can break ground on a new residence.

So how to deal with this windfall of work in these otherwise poor economic times?  Well, the tofu business is following the model of our sister community East Wind and automating production.  The hammocks business has employed some local ex-members and a neighboring Catholic Worker community Little Flower to become satellite hammock production facilities for us.  Wholesale seeds is just getting better organized.  And i dont know much about what is happening with Indexing, but i see Ezra in his pajamas a lot which usually means he is working on it.

One of the huge differences between us an regular businesses is we are a worker run collective, so the title “General Manager” is deceiving.  I cant really fire anyone, at least not without a lot of process and gross negligence on their part.  I cant hire anyone, except to ask people to do tasks which they get the same credit for as the things they are already doing.  And what i really cant do is pretend that my decision making is more important than the area managers who are working “below” me.  If i want to get a new machine, because i think the one we have is fully depreciated or even dangerous, if i cant convince the area manager, then nothing changes.  If i want to bring in outside workers to boost production and the area manager disagrees, it is not happening.

And all the managers work in the business.  And by this i mean on our production lines doing manual repetitive work.   These days during our busy production season for hammocks, i spend far more time making hammocks than i do selling them.  And if i am not selling them, no one here is.  And this part i never think about changing.  [I occasionally fantasize about being a "real" general manager who can just do things by fiat.  Mostly this passes, though sometimes i get grumpy about not being able to just rush forward with my oh-so clever ideas.]  There is a whole legitimacy managers gain by working in the areas they manage.  You are much less likely to make exploitative choices if you are going to take the hit as well.  And there is an identity and affinity piece as well, you dont put yourself “above” the workers on the shop floor, because you are one.  And you are much more inclined to listen to others, which is not something classical capitalists have much interest in.

When it is all said and done, i am glad we are not a real business.