‘The socialists are taking over,’ Whole Foods CEO John Mackey laments

Libertarian co-founder of Amazon-owned grocery chain, who once compared Obamacare to fascism, is to retire in September

The “socialists are taking over” Whole Foods’ CEO and co-founder, John Mackey, has lamented in a recent podcast interview.

“They’re marching through the institutions. They’re taking everything over. They’re taking over education. It looks like they’ve taken over a lot of corporations. It looks like they’ve taken over the military, and it’s just continuing,” he told the libertarian magazine Reason in a podcast released on Wednesday.

“I feel like with the way freedom of speech is today, the movement on gun control, a lot of the liberties that I’ve taken for granted most of my life, I think are under threat,” Mackey said.

Mackey pegged the candid sharing of his political opinions to his upcoming retirement as Whole Foods’ chief executive in September.

“In six weeks, I will retire from Whole Foods, and I have muzzled myself ever since 2009,” Mackey said, referring to the op-ed he penned for the Wall Street Journal that year where he compared Obamacare to fascism.

“My board basically shut me down. It’s like a father, they started attacking the child, and I was intimidated enough to shut up,” Mackey told Reason. He compared his upcoming experience to the Home Depot billionaire and conservative Bernie Marcus.

“People were constantly going after Home Depot to get them to shut up Bernie Marcus. Home Depot has to say Bernie retired over 20 years ago, we can’t get him to shut up, you have to take it to Bernie,” he said.

“I was telling my leadership team, pretty soon, you’re going to be hearing about ‘crazy John’ who’s no longer muzzled, and you’re going to have to say, ‘We can’t stop John from talking any longer.’”

Though the Whole Foods executive has long been outspoken about his libertarian beliefs – the New Yorker in 2010 referred to him as a “rightwing hippie” – Mackey said he would be able to “talk more about politics in six weeks than I can today”.

Mackey co-founded a natural foods grocery store in 1978 that later merged with other stores to make Whole Foods. The brand expanded, buying out smaller stores and competitors, until it was bought by Amazon in 2017 for $13.7bn. Mackey and the Whole Foods brand are credited with helping to popularize organic food in the United States. The chain has about 500 stores across the US, Canada and the UK.

In his interview with Reason, Mackey criticized the younger generation, saying, “they don’t seem like they want to work.”

“Younger people aren’t quick to work because they want meaningful work,” he said. “You can’t expect to start with meaningful work. You’re going to have to earn it over time.”

Over the last few years, Amazon has been staunchly resisting unionization efforts – particularly in its warehouses – and Whole Foods has been no exception.

In 2020, it was revealed that the company created a heat map to track stores that were at risk of unionization. Even before Amazon’s acquisition of the grocery chain, the company had a history of working against unions, including hiring an anti-union consulting firm and amending the employee handbook to ban recording of all work-related activities without management approval. When Amazon enacted a $15 minimum wage for workers, including Whole Foods employees, in 2019, workers at the chain said they saw their hours cut.


Lauren Aratani

The GuardianTramp

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