The 'Coop Group' Modifies Its Goals


Two springs ago, labor organizers failed in their attempt to unionize Coop workers, prompting charges that management had interfered unfairly with the drive. The department store's recent expansion into Boston provoked cries that it was becoming more of an impersonal business corporation than a student-oriented cooperative. These criticisms were intensified by the common complaint that the University's main textbook store was taking advantage of students by exacting monopoly prices.

The elections for student members of the Coop Board of Directors provided an outlet for these gripes and a slate of nine candidates called the "Coop Group" ran on a platform of progressive management reform. Five won, and they carried their crusade onto the 23-member board.

When their one-year term approached completion, members of the slate conceded that they had not accomplished many of their goals, and blamed their lack of success on timing. "We have learned things too late in our term to be able to do anything with that knowledge," said one slate member.

So another similar "Coop Group" slate ran in the spring of 1982, hoping to build on the experiences of their predecessors. Again, they captured five of the 11 student seats.

Now, five months into their term, the second-generation "Coop Group" slate has modified some of its aims. The labor issue has died down, since over the summer union organizers decided not to hold another election despite the National Labor Relations Board's findings of impropriety against the Coop.


Also, like the previous group, they acknowledge the difficulty of getting much done in such a short time on the board. "I adhere to the original platform," says Laura Pollard, a third-year law student, "but it takes a lot more time than any of us had originally anticipated," she adds.

But in some ways, they have altered their original approach. A prominent example is textbooks, where all three slate members available for comment this week said they were now convinced that their original call for lower prices was unreasonable. "We found out that on the whole, the Coop does sell the bottom line on prices," said slate member John H. Adler '81, a second-year law student.

"Our goal now is to act as a monitor to check further abuses," said one slate director who asked not so be identified. "The Coop is not as political as we thought."

Despite modifying its original attacks, the five member bloc does claim some success in its actions. One that Pollard notes is a shift in the direction of the Coop's charitable contributions. "Coop Group" directors hold four of the seven seats on the contributions committee, and say that during their term the $20,000 charity fund has been channeled more toward directly helping the homeless and the needy.

Several faculty members of the board of directors praise the contributions of Coop Group members, but deny that they differ sharply from other student members in practice or philosophy. Says William Andrews, professor of Law: "The things that they set out to do weren't based on a very sound understanding of the situation that they were talking about." But he adds, "Since they've come onto the board, they've responded intelligently."

The key change in the group's outlook, says slate-member Julia S. Rubin '84, is that it has a more realistic view of the officials who run the store. "They're not monsters--they're people," she explains, adding. "Their main thing is making money; our major concern is the undergraduate. Often the two don't interfere--its just that they don't always coincide."