Market Basket

Column: That Beautiful Naiveté

The following is a column from Kathy Nolan Deschenes. To submit your own column, e-mail the editor at [email protected]

 

It was a fairy tale ending. The man who his employees and customers picketed for and threw their loyalties to not only survived but ruled the outcome.

It was six weeks of constant news coverage, social media speculation, higher food bills and lack of income. Everyone was on edge and no one knew how it would end.

Having worked at Market Basket (Demoulas Supermarkets for my generation) for 5 years to put myself through college, I had some first-hand knowledge of the family. My grandfather who was a Nabisco salesman in the 30s and 40s loved Mike Demoulas because he always said hello to him when he was in the store.

My experience with Mike and his son Artie T. was not good and I found George’s son Angelo (Artie S.’s brother) to be the only family member who could relate to the workers. But Angelo died young and Artie T. rose to the top. Artie T. seems to have figured it out along the way and I’m glad to hear that.

When I worked there part-time, I became friendly with the full-timers. All really good people who worked hard. The salary wasn’t great back then but they got an annual bonus that kept them at their jobs.

Some of these people were college graduates who were stocking shelves. Some moved up to individual store management or “higher” positions like receiver. Looking back, it was the most fun job I ever had but even now it is not one I could do full-time. I needed a bigger challenge.

I found myself thinking about those workers who are probably still working at Market Basket. I know for sure that some are. These are workers who have never worked anywhere else in their careers. So they’ve never been “screwed over” by corporate America like those of us who left there to test the waters.

Would these workers have walked if they had previously experienced first-hand how The Man giveth and taketh away in publicly-traded companies? Could they have stuck to their mission for as long as they did if they had seen before how little their voices mattered in a corporation?

The media talks about the workers’ resolve. I think the bigger story is their naiveté. Now don’t think I mean that as an insult. I don’t. But I believe it is exactly that lack of cynicism and bitter disappointment of their staff that made the Market Basket story so intriguing.

Because I have lived in an atmosphere of layoffs since I left Demoulas Supermarkets in 1981 I can see how my staying there would have insulated me from that feeling of disempowerment. It would have made me think that anything was possible if I spoke the truth and did what was right. And more importantly I would have felt that I was not just allowed to but had a basic right to a voice in a company.

How beautiful is this naiveté and how rare.

Will it change anything at the corporations who routinely layoff good workers when the stock market experiences a blip? Will it make corporate leaders nervous about this happening to them?

I guess I’m back to my old cynicism when I say that I think not. Remember that the American workforce outside Market Basket has been knocked down from years of unjust firings, bloated executive salaries and 24×7 job expectations.

They/we wouldn’t be able to stop the feelings of inevitability from creeping in and sabotaging our good efforts. We’ve hardened and learned how to survive in a powerless worker economy. It has changed our DNA and there’s no going back.

There will be a lot written for years to come about what the Market Basket workers pulled off and what effect – if any – it has had on employers. But to me it will always be a story of beautiful naiveté.