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November 15, 1968 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1968-11-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

JILL CRABTREE

Building

Co-op

Power

Militant life style
for urban and campus ghetto

ED VAUGHN is young, black, and energetic
and habitually wears a white butcher's
apron, even when on purchasing trips in his
panel truck. He runs a grocery store in the
heart of Detroit's Linwood Avenue ghetto,
three street numbers down from Rev. Albert
Cleague's church, the Shrine of the Black
Madonna.
His store is small but well-stocked, and
carries items like dashikis and jewelry along
with the standard flour, sugar, butter and
eggs.
The black women who works from 2:00 to
5:00 p.m. at the cash register runs from
jewelry counter to candy counter to serve you,
and suffers withdrawal symptoms around 3:30
when the kids get out of school and charge on
the store, asking for a penny's worth of this
and a nickel's worth of that. She's become ex-
pert at deciphering the scribbled notes of
mothers who send their seven-year olds to the
store for the day's groceries, and is very
understanding when the kids can't tell her if
mama wanted hamburger or ground beef.
Ed Vaughn doesn't often. talk in the
rhetoric of black power, but the brochure
advertising his grocery store - the Black
Star Co-op Market - indicates his feeling on
the issue clearly enough.
"Thousands of years ago," the brochure
reads, "we controlled our own communities.
We had kings and queens, doctors and lawyers,
universities and courts of justice. The roads
our caravans traveled stretched for countless
miles; our ships sailed to the new world before
Columbus or the Vikings ... We were together
as one people and we had justice and peace.
"But in later years, we have fallen upon
evil days. We walk the face of the earth lost
and alone, separated one from another, each
seeking to do alone that which can only be
done together."
"Coming together" in cooperative enter-
prises such as the Black Star Market, the bro-
chure contends, provides the bricks with, which
the blacks may rebuild their communities.
Such businesses, owned by the people they
served, provide a concrete kind of power--
economic, power-which people can under-
stand and support just as they understand
and support the idea of sugar at 10 cents a
pound instead of 12. While black farming co-
operatives have existed in the south since the
Civil War co-ops are a relatively new pheno-
menon in the urban ghetto. The Black Star
cooperatives; which include a clothing factory
and a gas station as well as the market, have
all come into existence since the Detroit riot
of two summers ago. Black housing coopera-.
tives have been started in Detroit and other
urban areas. these housing and marketing
cooperatives are helping to eliminate one of
the key links in the chain of urban blight:
exploitation of a captive market by absentee,
businessmen and landlords.
Detroit's housing shortage in the city is
severe. Urban renewal and the construction
of expressways, schools, parks and shopping
centers have whittled away entire residential
areas. Most of the new housing is too expen-
sive for low income families.

Because of the color barrier, long travel
distance, and poor bus service, displaced Ne-
gro families cannot move into the suburbs, and
decent housing in the inner city is minimal.
Even conservative estimates of absentee own-
ership of multi-unit buildings in depressed
areas hit the 90 per cent mark.
With so few vacancies, an Inner City tenant
cannot pack up and move to another building
if his landlord refuses to make necessary
repairs.,In the densely populated core of the
city, renters with a low income are limited in
what they can do to change their living con-
ditions.
Proponents of cooperative ownership and
rehabilitation of older buildings, however, say
this "airtight cage" can be sprung. People
who were once tenants can become home own-
ers in cooperative housing with little displace-
ment Of families and at minimal cost.
As home owners, residents have control of
their own dwellings as well as some voice in
community development.
The economics of cooperatives are simple.
Since they are owned by the people they serve
or sell to, profits normally taken from the
pockets of the consumer to line those of the
middleman-the white absentee owner of a
ghetto store, for example-are eliminated. Cus-
tomers are either charged lower prices, or to
simplify bookkeeping, charged competitive
prices and then given rebates 'at theend of
the business economic year, dividing the re-
venue left after cost.'

set by the government to determine who is
poor and who isn't - I know I'm one," he add-
ed.
The federal government sets $1,800 as the
minimum livable income for one person for
one year.
"You can live on that, all right," the stu-
dent said. "You can cram all your things into
a room somewhere and- eat at the A & W."
You can live on less than that in Ann Ar-
bor, and many students do, simply by floating
from apartment to apartment and sponging
off friends and total strangers. If yau can,
you leave a dozen eggs or a quart of milk as a
calling card.
Even students in less extreme financial
straights are limited in their choice of living
quarters by time and distance factors. The
majority of students do not drive cars. Limit-
ed to travel by bike or foot, the necessity of
getting to classes quickly and frequently con-
fines even the most energetic to quarters in
apartments or rented houses within the dense-
ly populated two-mile' radius of central
campus.
UNIVERSITY STUDENTS are a -captive
market for State Street and South Univer-
sity businesses, as well. Attending classes on
campus during most of the working day, few
students, shop regularly on Main Street, let
alone at outlying shopping centers.
Cooperatives have attempted, with con-
siderable success, to provide low-cost housing

made in 1929,"which prohibits the University to
"encourage or approve the establishment of
co-operative mercantile organizations within
University buildings or under circumstances
that will give such enterprises advantages in
the way of lower rents, freedom from taxation,
or other cooperation.
THE REGENTS apparently based their policy
forbidding University competition on the
fact that should the University enter into the
retail book business with all the advantages
of tax exemption, free heat, light and rent as
well as relatively cheap student labor, private
bookstore owners would be in open-market
competition with their own tax dollars at an
unfair, business advantage.
This ruling has been interpreted to forbid
University sponsoring only of operations hand-
ling new books. In the past several University
book exchanges dealing only in used books
have enjoyed the benefits of the University's
exemption as a state-supported institution
from taxes on transactions, as well as Univer-
sity facilities.
The rationale for allowing such exchanges
is that students are not selling or buying from
the exchange but from each other. However
this rationale has also been the economic
downfall of -the exchanges which have oper-
ated in the Student Activities Building and
the Union over the last thirty years.
To support the idea of the exchange as a
neutral "meeting place" for student transac-

"Perhaps the biggest benefit to be gained from cooperative student-directed enterprises is not mone-
tary savings but self determination. On campus, as in the ghetto, people seek to make the decisions
which govern their lives."
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In the case of housing cooperatives, "rent"
is determined solely by cost, with allowances
made for the cost of repair and maintenance
so buildings do not deteriorate. This is in con-
trast to rent paid by tenants of absentee land-
lords, which is normally high enough to pay
the total cost of the building in ten years or
less. After the owner's mortgage is paid, his
expenses are reduced to taxes and operating
expenses-but the tenants continue to pay the
same high rent indefinitely, draining the pur-
chasing power of inner-city residents.
THE POTENTIAL provided by cooperatives
for low-cost living and self-determination
is not confined to the ghetto, however. Striking
parallels can be drawn between the captive
life of the inner-city dweller and that of the
student on a university or college campus.
The "student as nigger" faces the same
lack of housing alternatives as the ghetto resi-
dent, only to a lesser degree. Except for afew
cases, students are "underprivileged" in the
amount of money they have to spend on living
expenses after tuition.
As a Levi-clad student told me recently,
"There are hundreds of students at this Uni-
versity living below the minimum income level

alternatives for students here. The nine hous-
es of the Inter-Cooperative Council provide
room and board to over 200 students at an
average cost of about $300 a semester.
A new multiple-house co-op planned for
North Campus will house about 200 more.
But inexpensive housing is only one of the
many services which can be managed on a
cooperative basis.
Cooperative university-owned bookstores
are operated on many campuses throughout
the nation including Stanford, Harvard, Mich-
igan State, Wayne State and Ohio State uni-
versities.,
At Berkeley, students and residents may
also take advantage of cooperative super-
markets, service stations, pharmacies, a var-
iety store and a liquor store.
Cooperative wholesale houses are operated
in Iathaca, Chicago, Palisades and Washing-
ton, D.C.
Cooperative Services, Inc. in Detroit oper-
ates in addition to housing cooperatives an
optical center staffed and patronized for the
most part by black inner city residents.
ANN ARBOR has none of these. Not that at-
tempts haven't been made. Creation of a
University-operated cooperative bookstore
has been the objective of periodic student agi-
tation since the early fifties. The last attempt
to create such a bookstore was in 1965, when a
formal proposal from SGC got as far as the
Regents before being smothered.
While Ann Arbor bookstores do not charge
cutthroat prices on new textbooks-such books
are fair-traded and the list price set by pub-
lishers cannot be changed except to lower it-
discounts to bookmen range from 20 per cent
off on textbooks to 20-40 per cent off on "trade
books." This percentage is the bookstore's
revenue above the actual cost of the books.
In addition, Ann Arbor bookstores with the
exception of Student Book Service, follow a
tacit policy agreement on used books of giv-
ing no more than 50 per cent of list price, and
selling for no less than 75 per cent.
Soft goods-notebooks, pencils, stationery
-a bookstore's main profit items-often carry
as much as 40-50 per cent mark-up, according
to a study made in 1965 by Christopher Cohen,

tions, the exchanges have not given students
immediate-payment for books, but have made
them wait until their book is bought by anoth-
er student before they receive any return. This
has resulted in delays of weeks and even
months between the time a student gives his
book to the excahnge and the time he is paid
for it. Local merchants offer less money, but
pay immediately upon delivery. Speed has
proven more attractive than money to most
students.
The last book exchange operated by the
Union was turned over to SGC in 1959, $200 in
the red. SGC ran the exchange from 1959 to
1963, losing money on the average every other
year.,
In 1963, the exchange was taken over by
the National Students Association. It opened
a store which sold new books in the Nickels
Arcade. But it lacked enough initial capital
to cover the tremendous outlay necessary to
stock a complete inventory. It also had trouble
acquiring reading lists for courses, and many
students had to wait two and three weeks for
their required texts. The enterprise folded
within a year. Officials admitted later NSA
had "underestimated the task at hand."'
In September, 1966, SGC began its agita-
tion for the establishment of a University-
backed student bookstore which would deal in
new books. Students felt that use of Union fa-
cilities and initial financial backing by the
University could firmly establish the copera-
tive effort Vice President for Academic Affairs
Richard Cutler, was asked by the Regents to
formulate a recommendation on the economic
feasibility of such a bookstore. r
He kept his recommendation secret until
two days before the Regents' January meeting,
when the news was leaked in The Daily that
he would recommend dismissing the book-
store from Regental consideration as economi-
cally unfeasable. It was thought Cutler would
ask the Regents to rescind their 1929 ruling in
the event that such a bookstore became econo-
mically feasible in the future. Cutler, however,
responded to Regental insistance and omitted
this clause in his recommendation.
THE 1929 REGENTAL ruling, then, still
stands in the way of University-backed
cooperative enterprises. The economic feasi-
bility of a new bookstore is up for debate in

initial capital outlay such as groceries, cloth-
ing, pharmaceuticals, cafeteria dining, even
arts and crafts supplies, lend themselves rea-
dily to cooperative management. The problem
which now must be solved is finding a source
of initial backing and organization.
The Michigan Union is an ideal vehicle for
these enterprises because it has' existing phy-
sical facilities. However it is hampered by the
Regents' long-standing policy.
If Student 'Government Council incorpor-
ates itself, that organization could obtain loans
for initial costs. Individual members of coun-
cil have expressed interest in cooperative busi-
nesses, but consideration of such an endeavor
has not recently come before SGC for con-
sideration.
The Inter-Cooperative Council (ICC) is
presently absorbed in getting its new North
Campus housing complex built, and has no
plans for branching out into other areas. How-
ever, ICC director Luther Buchele has indicat-
ed interest in forming a cooperative cafeteria.
This type of enterprise could provide low
,prices by eliminating the high rate of mark-up
charged by "name" and "atmosphere" res-
taurants.
Grocery stores are also a tempting area in
which to try to reduce living costs. Fred
Thornthwaite, manager of Cooperative Serv-
ices, Inc., says cooperative grocery stores are
unfeasible at this time because they would be
competing with national chain stores. Chain
stores can afford to sell at very low prices be-
cause they buy in huge lots, in some cases op-
erating their own canneries and grain mills.
However, Ed Vaughn finds the Black Star
Market competes with chainrstores in prices
on canned and dry gods, charges "the same
price for better quality" on meat and frequent-
ly undersells chain stores on produce "because
we can go out and buy directly from farmers
while they buy through a wholesaler who has
to charge enough to make a good return him-
self."
Buchele pointed out that a co-op grocery
store will increase enormously in feasibility
when a cooperative wholesale house is started
in Detroit. ICC once attempted to obtain food
from the co-op wholesale house now in Chi-
cago, but found the cost of drop-shipping that
distance eliminated any savings.
EVEN THE IDEA of a cooperative bookstore is
not dead. Although Anri Arbor does sup-
port six commercial bookstores already, only
one-Student Book Service-has been added
in the period of time that the University's en-
rollment doubled.
Although such a store might be able to sell
books only a slight percentage lower than
commercial stores they could greatly reduce
the cost of notebooks and writing material.
The Stanford Cooperative Bookstore which
sells soft goods in addition to books, gives cus-
tomers an annual rebate of approximately 12
per cent.
But perhaps the biggest benefit to be gain-
ed from cooperative student-directed enter-
prises is not monetary savings butself-deter-
mination.
On campus, as in the ghetto, people seek to
make the decisions which govern how they
live their life. Students in cooperative houses
express satisfaction in being able to determine
the rules and conditions by which they must
live. "It's nice to know your money for food
and rent isn't being taken without having any
say in how it's spent," said one sophomore at
Vail House.
Debates rage long over whether to buy a
television or a freezer at cooperative house
meetings. The matter of how much work is to
be done by each member is a subject of con-
stant discussion, with consensus vacillating
from laziness to competitive pride in the
house's appearance.
The decisions individually are minor, but

taken together they mean taking responsibil-
ity for your way of life. If this kind of deci-
sion-making could spread to a variety of en-
terprises within the community, it could serve
in a small but important way to reduce the
"ivory-tower" atmosphere of university life
and make campus a community rather than a

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