Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Women at War: The Guns of Fort Petticoat

The Guns of Fort Petticoat, screenplay by Walter Doniger from a story by C. William Harrison ("Petticoat Brigade"), directed by George Marshall, produced by star Audie Murphy and Harry Joe Brown, and released in 1957, is the tale of a Union Army soldier from Texas, played by Audie Murphy, who deserts his Arizona regiment and heads to his male short West Texas home town to warn its inhabitants of imminent Indian attacks after his martinet commander Col. Chivington (Ainslie Pryor) leads an assault on an unarmed Cheyenne village, a variation on real life historical incident the Sand Creek Massacre. Over the course of the film Lt. Frank Hewitt (Murphy) molds his "petticoat army" into a brigade that holes up for strategic reasons in a Texas mission and fends off an Indian attack.

The women of Hewitt's "petticoat army" include Sgt. Hannah Lacey (Hope Emerson), who repeatedly shows that she is as she says is, "worth more than three men". There is the sharp shooting and somewhat tomboyish Ann Martin (Kathryn Grant) who, after Hewitt discovers that his girlfriend Stella Latham (Patricia Livingston) is married, becomes Hewitt's love interest. There is the Christian pacifist zealot Cora (Jeanette Nolan) who learns that there are somethings worth fighting for. There is the toff from Charleston Charlotte Ogden (Isobel Epsom) who has her slave Hetty (Ernestine Wade) do most of her work until Hewitt teaches her that everyone is equal in an Indian attack. As for Hetty she proves to be a fine shot. There is the loose woman Lucy Conniver (Peggy Maley) whose piano playing and singing provide a kind of Greek chorus over the course of the film. The Guns of Fort Petticoat ends with Hewitt's "petticoat army" saving the lieutenant from a kangaroo of a court martial for desertion led by Chivington.

Though one might think that The Guns of Fort Petticoat would provide a lot of grist for the feminist cultural criticism mill and the representational mill that dominates a lot of cultural criticism of film and television these days, I couldn't find any scholarly writing on the film. This is a pity because The Guns of Fort Petticoat is both significant and important in a number of ways. The Guns of Fort Petticoat was made during an era in which the United States was dominated by a progressive liberalism, a progressive liberalism that would last from the New Deal to the oil crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, a liberalism which accepted the New Deal welfare state and even its expansion under LBJ. The Guns of Fort Petticoat was made during an era in which there were countercultures, business and cultural, hovering beneath the apparent Protestant-Catholic-Jew Cold War consensus that some have seen as dominating the era, a consensus that eventually would be torn apart by the civil rights movement, LBJ's Civil Rights act, Vietnam, and the Oil Crisis. The Guns of Fort Petticoat reveals some of the tensions amidst this apparent liberal consensus--divisions between American North and American South, the dominance of Jim Crow in the South, the need to fight the Soviets, the role women should and could play in the Cold War--and that makes the film not only historically and sociologically interesting but also historically and sociologically significant.

Whether someone likes, dislikes, the traditional binary pivots of film "criticism", or hasn't seen The Guns of Fort Petticoat, by the way, is immaterial unless you are engaged in audience analysis. Most audience analysis, when it is done scientifically, proves one thing, empirically speaking, over and over again. Some people like particular movies, some people don't, and still other people haven't even seen the movie at all.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: A Black Day for SUNY Oneonta

4 September 2015 marked yet another anniversary of the famous and infamous Black List at SUNY Oneonta and Oneonta, New York. On that day in 1992 an elderly woman was assaulted in her home. The person who assaulted her cut his hand during the assault and a police dog followed the trail of the assaulter to the SUNY Oneonta campus. To track down the culprit from there the police asked Vice-President for Finance and Administration Leif Hartmark, who was sitting in for the president of the college that weekend, for a list of Black and Hispanic male students. Hartmark authorized the release of the names of Black and Hispanic male students to the police and the police set about interrogating Black and Hispanic males on campus--one source claims some 300 were grilled--on the basis that the attacker was Black or Hispanic.

There was a backlash almost immediately. Black and Hispanic students, some faculty, and even some staff labelled what was happening an invasion of civil rights. The story of the Black List, as the list of Black and Hispanic students Hartmark released came to be called, went state wide and even national when it was picked up by the New York Times.

The fallout over the Black List has continued ever since. Vice-President Hartmark was suspended without pay, demoted, and later reinstated to his vice-president position. Suits over the action were brought by the students--all of them apparently were tracked down by the police and asked to show their hands to them--who were investigated by the police in their dorm rooms and at their homes in the city of Oneonta. A federal court dismissed the suits but later investigations found that the federal judges did not have access to the police reports which indicated that the victim said her assailant had a young voice and that she saw only his hand. She did not say he was Black or Hispanic. As a result of all of this SUNY Oneonta and the city of Oneonta have had to deal with claims that there was a strong undercurrent of racism in the investigation ever since. The national media occasionally report on the Black List and its fall out. A documentary, Brothers of the Black List, was released in 2014. Every 4th of September SUNY Oneonta ritually remembers the Black List and issues apologies for the release of the list.

Dissolve and cut from SUNY Oneonta, were I work as a part-time lecturer and have since 2010, to Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, New York. My Oneonta and Honest Weight lives are about to connect. I, a member worker and eventually a part-time cashier at Honest Weight since 2012, learn that Leif Hartmark is a member of the Coop when he comes through my line. I am not aware of his role in the release of the Black List when he first comes through my line. I haven't since asked him when I have seen him why he released the Black List to the police. I don't know his motivations for potentially violating the privacy of every Black and Hispanic student on campus. Was it fear? Was it mental fog? Was he convinced that he was right in his actions? What was it? I would like to ask him this question, though I hesitate to do so since it undoubtedly will open wounds and I wouldn't want to do that. As a historian and sociologist, however, I would love to get answers to these questions.

Speaking of Honest Weight, Honest Weight is in the midst of "change" or so some member hope and say. Charges have been made by some, likely thanks to advice from the National Cooperative Grocers Association, UNFI, CDS Consulting, and the National Cooperative Business Association, that Honest Weight's member programme, where members work for discounts, and the member programme of "coops" everywhere are illegal. At Honest Weight Board members including the aforementioned Leif Hartmark sent a letter to the New York State Department of Labour informing them that "new management" is "modernizing" the store and that part of that modernization process is the elimination of the "member worker" programme, something that has long been the symbolic and actual heart of Honest Weight and coops everywhere though many of these latter have raised the flag of surrender long ago without going to court and establishing a legal precedent in the process. Others at Honest Weight have fought back, however, and the "transition" the letter proclaims has been put on hold if very tenuously for the moment wince Deb Dennis and what is left of the executive committee, Leif Hartmark, and their lawyers met with the DoL after Board member and former Board president William Frye was recalled and John Serio, who as Board secretary was on the executive committee of the Board was defeated in a special election. They are apparently trying to persuade the DoL to issue a ruling on the legality or illegality of the programme, a ruling they likely think will go their way.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Times They are a-Changing: Has Change Come to Honest Weight?

When I began blogging about Honest Weight in 2014 I never thought I would see what happened at the Special Member Meeting on Monday. I felt like a voice in the wilderness while exploring historically and sociologically anti-union ideology, creeping corporatisation, and Board politics at Honest Weight.

Now, however, thanks to all these things and particularly Board overreach, namely, the Board’s attempt to lower the discount for weekly working members and to end the member owner worker programme in general, one Board member has been recalled despite the difficulty in getting 75% of the vote to recall him, another has lost by a massive margin in the special election, four other Board members have given votes of no confidence as has corporatisation at Honest Weight and the management team.

For me, this should not be the end of the story. I want to urge, in this blog, that the four Board members who have been given votes of no confidence do the right thing and resign at the next Board meeting. The reasons they should resign are several. I list them by Board member below:

Writ of Particulars, Deb Dennis
1. Sent a draft letter to the Department of Labour that could cause irreparable harm to Honest Weight.
2. Ended the member labour programme without a membership vote in violation of the by-laws.
3. Was either part of a group that bullied Board member Ned Depew or did nothing to stop the bullying.
4. Got the support of only 33% of voters at the Special Membership Meeting.
Deb Dennis should and must resign.

Writ of Particulars, Leif Hartmark
1. Ended the member labour programme without a membership vote in violation of the by-laws.
2. Was either part of a group that bullied Board member Ned Depew or did nothing to stop the bullying.
3. Got the support of only 35% of voters at the Special Membership Meeting.
Leif Hartmark should and must resign.

Writ of Particulars, Roman Kuchera
1. Ended the member labour programme without a membership vote in violation of the by-laws.
2. Was either part of a group that bullied Board member Ned Depew or did nothing to stop the bullying.
3. Got the support of only 38% of voters at the Special Membership Meeting.
Roman Kuchera should and must resign.

Writ of Particulars, Rossana Coto-Batres
1. Ended the member labour programme without a membership vote in violation of the by-laws.
2. Was part of the group that drafted the letter to the DoL.
3. Took part in a video that was put up on YouTube that likely violated state law.
4. Was either part of a group that bullied Board member Ned Depew or did nothing to stop the bullying.
5. Served like Erin “Je Recuse” Walsh before her, on the Board nominating committee while running for the Board.
6. Got only 42% of voters at the Special Membership Meeting.
Rossana Coto-Batres should and must resign.

So are things really a-changing at Honest Weight? I am not sure. I will be more convinced they are and that coop oriented Honest Weighters are really putting a halt to creeping corporatism and reversing course back to cooperatives if these four Board members who have just been given significant votes of no confidence by the voting membership resign. Time, of course, as it always does, will tell.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Yet Another Board Application In Search of Board Candidature....

When I decided to rejoin HWFC after leaving it because of creeping corporatism, diminishing "democracy", and the bullying of a Board member my only intention was to vote. I was told I couldn't vote, however. But I was also told I could run for the Board. Initially I had no intention of running for the Board. I decided to run since I couldn't vote, however. Below is my second Board application. I turned it in on the 22nd of November only to find it appear, disappear, reappear, and re-disappear like a Stalin era dissident. My application went up. Then my application disappeared because of a wrong date. Then it reappeared. Finally I was told that I couldn't run. Fast forward a few days. I was told by one of the orange shirt brigade that I would have to run as a write in candidate along with Saul Rigberg. OK. Over the last several days several members of the orange shirt brigade asked me not to run so that I wouldn't split the ballot. Yesterday I got a message saying that additional information was necessary. I wrote back notifying the orange shirter that the information was already in my application. Today I was told that nothing further was needed for my application package. The application is still missing in action, however, and I was pointedly not invited to the "meet the candidates" soiree today though Mr. Rigberg was. When I arrived at the "meet the members" soiree I was told by one of the members of the orange shirt brigade that she couldn't talk to me at the moment. I want to end this prelude by noting the differential treatment from the orange shirters I received compared to that of Mr. Rigberg, who another member of the orange shirt brigade has praised to high heaven on the hwfcinfohub site. As to me, there was nothing but a deafening total silence on the hwfcinfohub. I am not one of them, I guess. I must say that I find this differential treatment quite revealing. Apparently to the power wanna bes the ends--victory--justify the means--getting me off the ballot so the vote is not split. Before you vote on Monday you might want to take this into account.

Honest Weight Food Coop
Board of Directors Candidate Application

Date: 22 November 2015
Name: Ronald Helfrich, Jnr.
Phone Number: [deleted]

Questions and Answers
Are you a member?
I have been a member of HWFC since 2012 with absences in 2015 because of the corporatisation I saw at HWFC and the bullying of dissident Board members I saw going on by other Board members. I found it morally difficult to remain a member of an organisation in which this was going on and in which I too was being bullied simply because I received inconsistent information when I decided to run for the Board in March.

I am a member again and am fully paid up in terms of my dues though I still have my 4005 number—it makes it easy and quick to sign in on the registers. I hoped to vote, but I am being disenfranchised though I have worked 15 to 27 hours per week, more than enough for a weekly worker, at HWFC since 2012. I was also a member of Bloomingfoods in Blooomington, Indiana—I went to college at IU—back in the 1970s when to be a member you had to work and to buy in the coop you had to be a member. I will not be a member if Honest Weight continues down the road of covert corporatisation.

1: What are some of the “Co-op”activities you have been involved in (cashiering, stocking, committees, etc.)? Since starting working at Honest Weight I have been involved in membership work (with Nate), stocking, and cashiering. As a working member—the only type of member you could be at Bloomingfoods Coop in the late 1970s and early 1980s--I worked stocking teas and herbs.

2. Have you ever served on the board of directors before? If yes, please describe your experience(s). If not, what experience do you have with other organisations that will be useful in your work as a “Co-op” Board member?
First part, no. Second part: I have been involved in a variety of activist groups, including the Mormon Peace Gathering in which I, the only “gentile” on the planning group, helped teach cooperative governance to a group of Mormons. Additionally, I have been involved in academia since the 1990s, an involvement that requires me to partake of a variety of bureaucratic procedures now and again.

3. Please describe your experience with and approach to group decision making processes? What do you think makes for good group processes and what are some of the challenges to group decision making process?
I have, as I mentioned earlier, been involved in social activism, Quaker and peace activism, which involved consensus forms of decision making. I also served on the coordinating committee of the Mormon Peace Gathering, a group that was planning to and did go to the Nevada Test Site outside of Las Vegas to protest American nuclear weapons testing in the desert. This involved a good deal of consensus practise and dealing with those who had opposing views. Finally, let me note again that I was a member of a real Co-op in the 1970s, Bloomingfoods, which engaged in consensus governance until it, like Honest Weight, evolved or devolved from a workers cooperative that was for members only to a consumer “cooperative”. I learned a lot in my earlier coop involvements in "cooperative governance".

As to the second part of the question, as with acting, listening and respect makes all the difference when involved in decision making. I have not, by the way, found this at Honest Weight during my years here. When I attended a Board meeting I saw members of the Board and members of the LT, as a dissident Board member spoke, play with their ipads and their smart phones while that member spoke. This is hardly active or respectful listening.

4. Please discuss the skills you could bring to the HWFC Board.
I think I can bring intellectual, analytical, and problem solving skills to the Board. After all I have degrees in Religious Studies (a BA), Cultural Anthropology (MA), and History (a Ph.D.). My academic background means that I have a healthy understanding of statistical analysis and an ability to critically think about and analyse whatever is before me. I thus could bring a set of “professional” skills to the Board. I also, since I have studied the history of coops, know something about coops and their evolution or devolution.

5. Please describe your understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the board of directors.
As I understand it the Board’s first responsibility is to the membership. The Board, again as I understand it, is supposed to act in the name of the membership and assure that what it has voted for is followed in the “Co-op”. At present, on the basis of my observations over the last several years, the Board is not living up to these promises. Instead it, because certain members of the Board are too close to management (a real and perceived conflict of interest) and as a result are largely acting as a rubber stamp for management decisions some of which have violated the reality and spirit of the “by-laws”, are not acting in the name of the membership but are acting in the name of the management.

6. What do you think the major issues that the “coop’s” board needs to address over the next five years?
a. What Honest Weight is or should be is an important issue. Honest Weight, at present, is a hybrid. On the one hand, it is, thanks to its history as a worker cooperative, a coop. On the other hand, thanks to changes since the 1980s and the fact that Honest Weight has ties to organisations like the National “Cooperative” Business Association and UNFI that have routinised, professionalised, and rationalised the once workers coop, the "Co-op" is also a corporation. I think members need to decide which one of these Honest Weight's Honest Weight wants to be.
b. Given our problems with Whole Foods (in reality Whole Food isn't doing as well as their bureaucrats prophesied) and the current downturn in finances perhaps we can talk to Wheatsville, the “coop” in Austin, Texas, home of Whole Foods, about how it survived the Whole Foods onslaught, if we already haven’t.
c. Process. A biggee. Currently, process is broken at the “Coop”. There have been several instances where the management group has acted unilaterially and been backed up by rubber stamps on the Board, and that needs to change.
d. Democracy? Another biggee. If you think that elites using and abusing their power to keep members off the ballot is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think Board members dissembling about the real reasons someone was kept off the ballot is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that the vetting or censoring of member questions is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that printing ballots so small as to not allow for write in candidates (something New York State does not even do) is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that not accepting nominations from the floor is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that providing no written information on an issue to be voted upon is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that "successful" is all you need to know about something before you vote on it, then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that excluding an elected member of the Board from a secret meeting that an unelected member of the Board attended is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy for you. If you think that a concern about perceived conflicts of interest in certain instances but not in others is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you.

7. How will you use your skills to contribute to addressing the above issues?
As an ethnographer, as someone who almost took a Ph.D. in sociology, and as a historian, I am fully aware of the evolution or devolution of “coops” from charismatic worker ones to bureaucratic consumer ones guided by boards and management teams. I hope to work with Board members who are more cooperatively oriented to return Honest Weight more closely to its real cooperative roots.

8. Please list any potential conflicts of interest you might have. (Conflicts of interest will not preclude you from serving on the Board, but helps establish open communication).
None. I am a staff member but I am also a professional. As a professional with a passionate dispassionate temperament I can analyse anything systematically without emotional attachment. As to another potential or real conflict of interest I know members of management but I am not close to them, indebted or emotionally attached to them, or emotionally disattached to them. Ergo, there is no potential or real conflict of interest here.

9. In order to maintain our liquor license all elected Board members must be able to pass a background check conducted by the New York State Liquor Authority (NYSLA). If there is anything that may preclude you from passing a background check, please feel free to ask a Board member. Please keep this in mind during the application process. None that I know of. I have been arrested at protests—Quaker protests against nuclear power and nuclear weapons—but those are misdemeanours. I am, by the way, quite proud of this activism.

I just learned that my Board application and that of the other write-in candidate will not be made available to voting members at the special membership meeting tonight. Apparently the members of the nominating committee learned their democracy at the feet of Mayors Daley and Rizzo. Petty. Pathetic.

If I Was Running for the Honest Weight Board Here is What I Would Say...

Before I begin my remarks let me say that I didn’t need media specialists, pr firms, or advisors from the National Cooperative Business Association, the National Cooperative Grocers Association, CDS Consulting, UNFI, or either faction at Honest Weight to help me write my remarks. I wrote them. I fully approve them.

A little about me: I am a member of Honest Weight again, am fully paid up in terms of my dues, and am fully up to date on my member hours. I became a member once more in the hope that I would be able to vote in this special election. I am, however, being disenfranchised because I wasn’t a member on a particular date though I have worked 15 to 27 hours per week, more than enough for a weekly worker, at HWFC since 2012. In bureaucracies one size fits all. Before Honest Weight I was also a member of Bloomingfoods in Bloomington, Indiana—I went to college at IU—back in the 1970s when to be a member you had to work and to buy at the coop you had to be a member. Yes Santa Claus, once upon a time there were worker coops.

Why did I drop my membership in 2015? I saw the bullying of dissident Board members by other Board members at HWFC. I saw increasing corporatisation. I saw violations of the by-laws every Thanksgiving. I was given contradictory information about running for the Board in March and denied the ability to run for the Board and the fact that I was given incorrect information by Board members was simply ignored. As a result I found it morally difficult to remain a member of an organisation in which this was going on. Ironically my current application hasn't been handled any better by the orange shirt power wanna bes raising the question of whether the new bosses, should they replace the old ones, will be any better than the old. The actions of the orange shirt brigade with their almost any means to achieve the desired ends seems as morally problematic to me as the actions of the corporatists.

Speaking of quandaries: Today, I fully believe that Honest Weight is at a cross roads and the decision tonight will either restore democracy and cooperative structure to the HWFC or lead to the Honest Weight’s further corporatisation. The fundamental question we need to address tonight, in my opinion, is the same question we have needed to address for years now: whether to corporatise or not to corporatise.

With further corporatisation Honest Weight will become even more a “virtual branch” store of the National Cooperative Grocers (Association). With further corporatisation we will continue to see CDS Consulting “advise” Honest Weight to ditch the member worker programme quickly and will see Honest Weight continue to hire CDS consultants like Thayne Joyall who fail to mention that in addition to being members of the Syracuse Coop they are CDS Consultants who have for years been arguing that member labour programmes are illegal when they are, legally speaking, not. With further corporatisation we will continue to see a veil of secrecy fall further over Honest Weight like a fog of war and thicken around things like management salaries. With further corporatisation we will continue to see Board members like Deb Dennis not take responsibility for sending a draft letter to the New York State Department of Labour and not resigning as a result of this major mistake and John Serio accept appointment to the Board even though he didn't run in the election of the Board member he replaced and even though he finished second nearest the post not first. With further corporatisation we will continue to see what little transparency that remains at Honest Weight decline. With further corporatisation we will continue to see a rise in the number of goods in the store made in China and a decline in local product. With further corporatisation we will continue to see a diminishment in the democratic foundations on which Honest Weight was originally built. With further corporatisation will continue to see banality increase more and more in the bureaucratic and hierarchical structures of Honest Weight. With further corporatisation we will continue to see the sense of community diminish at Honest Weight as cooperative culture is replaced by corporate culture. With further corporatisation we will see Taylorism increasingly come to dominate discussions about staff. Whether further corporatisation will improve Honest Weight’s financial condition is a question worth asking particularly given the increasingly saturated marketplace.

Like those who called this special meeting according to the by-laws of Honest Weight—they are not the coup plotters those who voted to end the member labour programme without a vote are the coup plotters— I am concerned that corporatisation has gone too far, a corporatisation too far that is reflected in microcosm in the Board's decision to unilaterally and undemocratically eliminate the member worker programme. According to the letter the Board had couriered to the New York State Department of Labour HWFC’s “new leadership “has directed Honest Weight’s management team to commence the transition [to a non-member labour programme] with all deliberate speed”. This is the reason we are having this special meeting tonight and are voting democratically on whether or not to recall the Board.

One final word and that word is fear. We have known for a long time that fear is an effective manipulator of human emotions. Tell the masses that the enemy is near and they will declare themselves ready for war. Tell Honest Weight members that our banker loan holders are concerned with instability and they will vote, not necessarily knowingly, for further corporatisatiom. Or will they? I guess we will see tonight. By the way, are our banker loan holders in the audience this evening and if they are are they ready to go on the empirical record expressing their discontent with this democratic action tonight?

You have a clear choice before you today. If you want corporatisation to continue as it has for several years vote to retain the current members of the Board. If you want corporatisation to slow down and transparency, democracy, and checks and balances to be restored at Honest Weight vote for those Board members opposed to corporatisation as it has been put in place by the powers that be and their “advisors” over the last several years.

In closing let me note that I am running at a four fold disadvantage. 75% of the vote is required to remove a sitting Board member--the game, in other words is rigged as usual in favour of the powers that be--a difficult threshold to meet, I have not been allowed on the ballot by the powers that be because of bureaucratic technicalities, I was not invited to the Sunday meet the member meeting though I stopped in during my break on the registers at HW, and my application will not be distributed at the special meeting thanks to bureaucratic pettiness. I urge you to remove all sitting Board members. As to who to elect you could do worse than me. At least I am someone who is independent of the old bosses and the new boss wanna bes. Isn't it time to elect someone who is independent of both factions who are jockeying for control of the Corpop to the Board? Thank you.

Ronald Helfrich, member-worker-owner, at least for the moment.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Dirty Little Secrets and Dirty Little Lies...

I want to go back to the future in this brief blog. As I noted in previous blogs I decided to renew my membership so I could run for the Board. I submitted an application at the urging of one member because I was told by Board members that the deadline for an application had been extended. After being bullied by Board Members Bill Frye and Roman Kuchera to withdraw my application I asked them if they were acting on behalf of the Board. Apparently they weren't so Frye wrote me saying he would take the issue to the Board.

Take it to the Board they did. Here is the outline version of their decision:
One possible candidate applied past the deadline. Deb motioned that the application was ineligible and Roman seconded the decision.
Board Member
Bill Frye Yea
Hilary Yeager Yea
Erin Walsh Abstain
Kelly Carrone Yea
Deborah Dennis Yea
Ned Depew Yea
Roman Kuchera Yea
Leif Hartmark Absent

An email should be sent to this person to clarify the board’s decision.

Let me point out several things here for realities sake. Deb Dennis, who motioned to deny me the opportunity to run despite conflicting information, never met with me and never talked with me. She likely learned everything she needed to know from Frye and Kuchera. Whether what she learned was an accurate accounting or not I don't know. It really doesn't matter because either way it really doesn't speak well for Ms. Dennis. Kuchera knew that I had been given conflicting information. Apparently it didn't matter to him. Erin Walsh knew I had been given conflicting information. That Erin "Je Recuse" and J'abstain Walsh abstained knowing the truth is yet another instance of the banality of evil that seems so characteristic of modern and postmodern bureaucracies, economic or political or cultural. Hillary Yeager never talked to me. Kelly Carrone never talked to me. Ignorance is bliss? Ned Depew knew that I have been told that the Board had extended the date on which applications could be turned in. I hope he got something in exchange. The email that was supposed to be sent to "clarify" the decision came only after I requested one from Frye and didn't "clarify" anything. It just muddied things since the minutes emphasize that my application was "late" while the email emphasized membership issues. I have, by the way, asked for the fuller annotated minutes in order to clarify these issues but have yet to receive them from Karen Roth. Finally, let me note that I wasn't even invited by those who tried to bully me out of submitting my application or those ignorant of the real facts to attend my own execution. No noblesse oblige in evidence among these "elites" I am sad to say. Anyway, all of these actions speak volumes about members of the Board and how the Board works.

It is now deja vu all over again. I decided to rejoin the Corporation hoping I could vote. I was told no though I have asked the GRC to review this decision since I am an employee who has had the hours to vote since 2012 since I have worked at least seventeen hours a week since then. But then bureaucracies have a one size fits all mentality though one size never fits all. They sent me an email saying they would. The subject line of the email, however, had this little gem in it "re: disgruntled employe". Reality check, I was a member by this point and only apologists, polemicists, demagogues, and ideologues would mistake facts for disgruntlement. I was told by management, however, that I could run for Board. So I pulled out my old application and submitted it. It was put up on the Board board. In quick succession, however, it was taken down by god knows who though I have my suspicions. I have asked Karen Roth, one of the members of the Board Nominating Committee for clarification on who removed it. I got an email from Roth asking why I submitted an application dated April of 2015. I responded that I turned it in on 22 November because I intended to run for the Board on 30 November. Roth put the application back up online and presumably on the Board board though I looked for it there on several occasions and found it was missing in action. Soon Roth wrote me again saying I couldn't run because oops she made a mistake. I wasn't a member in early November, she said, so fait accompli. Technically, speaking, Roth is right. However, I am again appealing the decision for the same reason I am appealing my disenfranchisement. I have had my three hours of work a week since 2012. Roth, by the way, knew I had been given information by members of the Board indicating that the date for handing in Board applications had been extended during my earlier attempt to run for the Board. She even told me she didn't see a problem with allowing me to run because of this information. When the Board took their action, however, she apparently did nothing to clarify the issue.

Will this deja vu of conflicting information, dirty little secrets, inconsistencies, and dirty little lies given to me once again turn out any different this time than the first? I doubt it. Banality, dirty little secrets, and dirty little lies are deeply seated and deeply embedded in the Board bureaucracy at Honest Weight as I have noted in previous blogs. And they wonder why apathy is even higher at Honest Weight than it is in the US at large. I know if I lose my appeals to bureaucratic banality I won't be doing much at Honest Weight beyond my job ever again though I could always run as a write-in candidate. Four strikes and you really are out.

The GRC never acted on my appeals. All very revealing of how power works at Honest Weight. Can you say absolute power....

Monday, November 23, 2015

And Now For Something Completely Not Different: The Wonderful World of Honest Weight Apologetics and Polemics

Sometimes I feel like I have wondered into a movie that is part Monty Python, part Alice in Wonderland, and part Franz Kafka but not in a good way. Today was one of those days. Instead of those down by the juice and java area of the store who have been collecting signatures for a special meeting and emails of members so they could be contacted about the issues currently tearing the Corporation apart were two employees of Honest Weight. They were passing out a letter from one Shem Cohen and a an 8X11 manifesto on light blue paper which urges members to show up at the special meeting and vote to retain the current members of the Board.

In The Epistle of Shem Cohen, "Principal of Change Events, Inc.", designer of the Strategic Planning and Bylaws Task Force initiatives at Honest Weight this past year, to "Everyone", Cohen, after he plugs his Corporation and his skills as facilitator extraordinaire, makes the point that "no one asked" him to write this" letter and that he has no "agenda". The intention of Cohen's letter is apparently to debunk several "myths" that he heard presumably at the meetings he "facilitated". Myth buster number one: Contrary to rumours, rumours I haven't heard by the way though Cohen's use of quote marks suggest someone said it or wrote it, Cohen says his work at the Corporation was not meant to end the member labour programme nor was it, he writes, the intention of the Board to end the member labour programme. Myth buster number two: The attempt to end the member labour programme was not a reaction, Cohen claims, to the failed vote to lower the discount of weekly working members from 24% to 20% as apparently recommended by Cohen's Task Force (shades of Marvel comics), another claim, I have not heard. Myth buster number three: It was not, Cohen claims, the intention the Task Force and the Corporation's lawyers to end the member labour programme. They defended it he claims. Myth buster number four: The Task Force recommendation to expand shareholder voting rights was not an attempt to eliminate the member labour programme, again a claim I have not heard. Two other myth busters are repeats of the others.

There are a number of things that are fascinating about Cohen's myth busting claims and his promptings for members to seek our "valid information". Before I get into those, however, let me first note that Cohen was a paid consultant of the powers that be at the Coop and that his protestations of a lack of agenda, to paraphrase the Bard, are, methinks, protests that are rather too much. But back to the substance of Cohen's Epistle to "Everyone". First, the admission that the Board was staunch in its defence of the member labour programme, if correct, is interesting because it means that the Board's decision to end the member worker programme was a sudden one. When this is placed next to the claims of many of the supporters of the powers that be at the Corporation that the calling of a special meeting on 30 November has been done in haste it raises interesting questions about consistency. Why, one might ask, is it alright for the Board, which is, by the way, and contrary to Cohen's language not unified on the issue of ending the member labour programme, to act in haste but not member owners? Cohen's contention that the Board and its lawyers had no intention of ending the member worker programme is, by the way, belied by the fact that they did end it by diktat not democracy in late 2015 and the Letter the Board sent to the New York Department of Labour. Cohen of course, repeats the myth that member worker coops violate federal labour laws. Cohen, however, fails, like others before him who make the same claim, many of them associated with the National Cooperative Grocers Association and CDS Consulting, to mention that there is no legal foundation for the assertion since there has been no court case to adjudicate the issue. Cohen's repeating of this myth raises questions about Cohen's fairness, objectivity, lack of an agenda, and claims of "rationality" since "rationality" generally involves, at least in academia and one presumes in the world of facilitation, of giving a fair hearing to all perspectives on an issue.

Fairness, objectivity, lack of an agenda, and rationality bring me to the next star in our firmament of apologia pro vita Honest Weight's powers that be, the blue manifesto. The manifesto uses pleas--even if you don't agree with recent decisions of the Board--fear--removal of Board members may create financial instability at the Corporation and jeopardise the corporations relationship with lenders--and anti-empirical rhetoric--"a small percentage of the membership has called this meeting" and "...a difference of opinion is NOT (the paper's emphasis) the same as charges". These statements are mere rhetoric because they do not offer any statements from our lenders that they care about Corporation politics (the banks care about more than money fallacy), they don't specify the percentage of dissidents (the no data to support their contention fallacy)--as far as I know no social scientist has undertaken a census on this at the Corporation--and they, as apologists so often do, attempt to confuse fact with opinion (the make fact fiction fallacy).

But the "best" is still yet to come. At the bottom of the blue manifesto is a url that those nameless individuals who wrote the blue manifesto (fess up please) urge members to visit to learn more about the issues, a url that leads one to the murky world of Vote No Recall-Retain the Board. I went to this website but I found little in the way of empirical information there. What I did find was a lot of polemical name calling, caricatures, and stereotypes, all, apparently, the product of one Michael Wheeless who claims to be "a shareholder (note the use again of this increasingly common corporate term instead of member worker) and member worker at the Coop [who] loaned money for the new store and [who] personally created this blog. Let me give you a sample of Wheeless's polemical work. He refers to those who called the special meeting as "non cooperative" elitists (shades of Spiro Agnew). He plays the fear card claiming that the victory of the SMM "zealots" would result in the loss of all monies loaned to the Corporation by people like him (shades of Lee Atwater). Drawing on the retro rhetoric of the so-called Cold War Wheeless refers to SMMers as Bolsheviks and accuses them of plotting a coup (the putting the blame on the wrong Mame fallacy) to take over the store (shades of the John Birch Society). He claims that SMM holier than thous (the they are all alike fallacy) are buying votes by giving member workers who don't have enough hours (actually sharing hours has a long history at Honest Weight) to vote the ability to vote (shades of Republicans who cry voter fraud but can't find it in anything approaching significant numbers). Wheeless's solution? Don't recall the Board--which shouldn't be difficult given that those who wish to recall Board members have to get 75% of the vote--and simply love the LT (the don't blame those who caused the financial problems of the store or we love you Beatles or yes we do fallacy). If this school yard polemics is what passes for "valid information" for the authors of the blue manifesto I am going to have to pass. I like my information empirical.

Gee wouldn't it be nice if we could have a mature and adult discussion of the central question Honest Weighers need to discuss, namely, to corporatise or not to corporatise? Wouldn't it be nice if those who favour corporatisation would come out from behind the curtain, inform members that they have been consulting organisations like the National Cooperative Grocers Association and CDS Consulting who have long recommended getting rid of member worker programmes and corporatisation, and make their case in mature, rational, and empirical terms? A boy can dream can't he?

Today, 24 November, I noticed that the url of Mr. Wheless has been cut off from the bottom of the blue manifesto. As for Wheeless's website he has either revised or eliminated the emotionally ideologically driven rhetoric toning it way down and making it impossible for historians to do follow the ideological trial. Fascinating. Apparently, Wheeless is doing his own version of what Stalin did during his reign, eliminating history by scrubbing people out of photos and books and other media. Once again, the commissar has disappeared.

You Are Who We Think You Are: Social Science Meets the "Coop"

I love being a social scientist. The reason is simple: Social science comes in handy when trying to really understand life around you. At the heart of a social scientific approach to the messy reality of human beings and the things that humans have created are five little things: economics, politics, culture, geography, and demography. Humans are demographic animals. They are male and female and everything in between. They are young and old and everything in between. They are born and they die and everything in between. They are small in population or large in population and everything in between. Humans are economic animals. They gather food or work in order to survive. They create small scale economic organizations and large scale economic organizations and everything in between in order to survive. Humans are political animals. They create political institutions, some of which are limited in scope while others, thanks to population size, are massive. Humans are geographic animals. They live in particular places in time. Humans are cultural animals. Humans give meaning to the world around them and the lives they live in these worlds. Analysts separate out such concepts and categories of human life but just as Weber separated out the concepts of charisma, paternalism, and bureaucratisation in order to understand how authority plays out in human life, Weber called these ideal types, it is worth remembering in practise that these phenomena are generally entertained in human life.

All of these phenomena can be used to understand everything human. Take the Honest Weight Food Coop. Honest Weight is an economic institution, a business, that was formed by a group of individuals, most of them of the countercultural variety, in the 1970s. It began as a worker cooperative but since the 1980s has morphed into a consumer cooperative and slowly but surely into a corporation, which it now officially is. While no studies have been undertaken on the demographics of Honest Weight anyone who visits the store can see that Honest Weights employees and customers, including member workers, is primarily White though the store is not without its "ethnic" and "racial" diversity, and likely largely bourgeois, middle class, in its class structure. Honest Weight's politics like its economics have changed over time. Honest Weight began as a charismatic and radical democratic organisation. That period did not last long. Today Honest Weight is like every other economic and political bureaucracy in the United States. It is characterised by hierarchical structure with those at the top having more authority and power than those at the middle and bottom layers. Those at the top of the hierarchy are rewarded with more compensation than those laborers in the middle and bottom layers of the authority and power structure just as in the federal government and at Apple.

As someone who has long been interested in culture it is the cultural aspects of Honest Weight that particularly interest me. There is so much on the cultural level that one can analyse at Honest Weight. One can usefully and profitable, for instance, explore the social problems process and social problems rhetoric currently in play at Honest Weight. Recently, the Board decided to eliminate the member worker programme at the Corporation by diktat rather than by vote. This, however, caused a backlash. One one side social problems claims makers made a claim that Honest Weight was and is violating labour laws. On the other claims makers made a claim that Honest Weight wasn't violating labour law. Since there is no legal precedent in regard to violations of labour law all sides of this social problems cultural war can and do make valid claims about the Corporation being in violation or not in violation. One thing that all claims makers want to do is to get more attention for their claims. To do this they often go to the media since the media offers claims makers a way to reach a significant audience in one fell swoop. At Honest Weight, for instance, the powers that be agreed to talk to a reporter from the local paper, the Albany Times-Union. Reactions to the article have been mixed. Some accepted the powers that be's explanation that Honest Weight's member labour programme was illegal under federal labour law. Others, like myself, have not. Some are sure that the Corporation is in violation. Others are sure it isn't. Some, like me, see ambiguity. Since there is no legal precedent it is possible for members and even government bureaucrats (those who try to enforce social problems policy once it becomes law) to have differing interpretations of whether HW is in violation of labour law or not. Those who are not powerful and insider proponents of a social problem, by the way, don't have the same access to the media that the powerful do as the Honest Weight situation bares out. Social problems claims makers often use “experts” to make their case but they rarely make use of “experts” who disagree with their perception of a social problem. Proponents of the we are in violation of labour law rhetoric have called upon lawyers and consultants to make their case including one consultant, Thayne Joyall, who didn't identity herself as a consultant thus making her I belong to a "coop" in Syracuse, NY and we gave up our member labour programme and now everything is alright discourse more powerful in the social problems marketplace at Honest Weight. Those who oppose ending the member programme have their own "experts" including judges, lawyers, and political bureaucrats. The social problems marketplace is best conceptualised as a marketplace where social problems claims makers and their allies compete for social problems consumers. Social problems claims makers thus not only try to convince consumers that they are right they also try to avail themselves of policy makers whether politicians or bureaucrats in political bureaucracies to try to push them to take up their social problem and eliminate or diminish it. At Honest Weight the powers that be, for instance, wrote a letter through their lawyers to the New York State Department of Labour asking policy makers to confirm their reading of the law and confirm that Honest Weight violates labour law. To sum up claims makers, when one explores claims maker culture, use rhetorical or discursive strategies to try to achieve their goals. These strategies are apologetic and polemical rather than objective or dispassionate.

In the rest of this essay I want to focus on something that is central in claims making and central in human life in general, manicheanism. Manicheanism originated in Ancient Persia and particularly in the Zoroastrian meaning system. At the heart of manicheanism is a binary rhetorical or discursive structure, in the case of Zoroastrianism a binary of good and evil. In classical Zoroastrianism intellectuals envisioned history as ultimately a war between good, a war between the good god Ahura Mazda, and his evil arch nemesis Ahriman. This manicheanism and the apocalypticism, the notion of history as a struggle between good and evil that ends in a war between heroes and villains, was adopted and adapted by several meaning systems and has become important central aspects of the Jewish faith that developed during and after the Persian exile, in Christianity, a cult or new religion that arose out of first century CE Judaism, and Islam, a cult or new religion that emerged out of Judaism and Christianity. Both binary manicheanism and binary apocalypticism of these meaning systems have been central to Western meaning systems, "religious" or "secular", ever since.

One can find, for instance, manicheanism alive and well across the modern or postmodern world and the so called developing world including at Honest Weight. Manicheanist rhetoric, like social claims rhetoric which is manichean. Social problems claims makers often, for example, find evil in the form of a social problem in the world and try to "cure" this evil, there is a prominent culture of medicalising as social problem in the social problems world, and punish the villains responsible for the social problem. An example: I recently decided to rejoin Honest Weight in order to go the 30 November general member meeting which will decide whether or not to recall the powers that be on the governing body of the Corporation, the Board. I learned that I could run for the Board but could not vote. I requested a ruling from another of the governing bodies of Honest Weight, the Governing Review Council or GRC, on whether I could vote or not arguing that since I am a staff member who works and has worked far over the necessary three hours a week needed to be able to vote that I should be able to vote. I did not expect to win this argument--I understand how bureaucracies with their one size fits all formulas work at least on the formal level (informal levels are another matter_==but I thought it was a valid and fair argument to make and worth a try. I did not win the argument.

What I found far more interesting about this case and the decision, however, was the manicheanism that pervaded it. I was characterised by, one presumes, one of the mid level bureaucratic powers that be, in rather typical it is not social factors or a reading of reality that makes one critical of what is happening but rather disgruntlement. I was categorized and simultaneously demonized or stigmatized and as a result, marginalized, in a discursive strategy that is older than Erving Goffman or Michel Foucault or even Methuselah, as a "disgruntled employee". Forget that I was told by Board members, when I ran for the Board earlier in 2015, that applications were being accepted past the original acceptance date. Forget that two Board members, Messer's Frye and Kuchera to name names, tried to force me to withdraw this application without, apparently, Board approval. Forget that I was told by a member of the Board nominating committee, who is still a member of the Board nominating committee, that given the misunderstandings she thought my application could be accepted. Forget that Frye and Kuchera decided to request a Board vote on the matter and did not invite me. None of these realities matters in the melodramatic ideologically constructed minds of the powers that be at Honest Weight. The problem is not these social factors. It is me, the victim of Board inconsistency. Needless to say, this social and cultural construction of ideological driven realities is common amongst the human species and while it may be common and "real" to those who construct and believe such hero and villain melodramas, it is not real when it is compared with reality.

My favorite response to my demonisation or stigmatisation by Honest Weight's power that is was this one. Context first: After I rejoined Honest Weight I offered to sit at the desk collecting the emails of those who are concerned with the actions of the Board. Later last night I received this email from one of the people who is organising the tables, one Rebekah Rice, and I quote: "The petition group met tonight to make plans for the next week. Your name came up because you had offered to help with tabling. Simultaneously, the GRC forwarded us your request for a decision on voting. We find this a troubling convergence of requests, and would rather stay out of the middle of it. Thank you for your offer of assistance, but we have to turn you down at this point." I responded by saying that I was "[n]ot sure why they, they being GRC, forwarded my request to vote to you. Nor am I sure why there is a "troubling convergence of interests". I don't see a convergence whatsoever. No chaos theory where the GRC flaps its wings leading to orange t-shirts morphing into give Ron the vote. Sorry to say, because it is so much more boring than conspiracy theories, but the two events were totally unrelated to each other. There is perhaps a convergence with the vote on 30 November, however,... [b]ut that is not as exciting as the GRC/Table sitting conspiracy theory either. Anyway, given the surrealness of all this I won't offer to work the table at any time in the future..." Rice later wrote me back wondering why the GRC had sent this information to a body that is not involved in any way, shape, or form in the governance of Honest Weight and hence deciding who should and should not vote in the 30 November election. Of course, anyone with a critically functioning mind knows the answer to that question: it is all about marginalisation, stigmatisation, and demonisation, a rhetorical polemical strategy to deal with dissenters that the powers that be use all the time to maintain the status quo. And it is about control. Just as spell check changes the spelling of words you have correctly typed the powers that be want to make sure you don't disturb the status quo that benefits them and allows them to control you economically, politically, and culturally. What is so interesting is that many of the insider critics of the powers that be if they take over the reigns of power, follow the same strategy. The new boss, in other words, is the same as the old boss culturally and politically.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

It's the Time of the Season...

Two or three years ago I suggested to members of the Leadership Team at the Corpop at one of the staff meetings that I used to attend that if they wanted to diminish the increasing divide between management and labour at the new corpop store that they consider doing member work on the floor for three hours a month. I was told by a member of the LT that they simply didn't have the time to work three hours a month on the corpop floor.

So imagine my surprise today, 22 November, when I saw the same member of the LT who said she didn't have the time to work on the floor working on the floor at the cash registers. Do the LT now have the time to work on the floor or are they simply feeling the heat from the reaction to their regime of secrecy and corporatisation? Regardless of the reason or reasons I am sure it does present a good image of the LT to the broader public, including the broader member public, and I must admit it really is nice to see a member of the LT actually doing member labour work.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Not So Curious Case of the Corporate Smoking Gun: Musings on the Honest Weight Board's Letter to the Department of Labour

I was in high school when the Watergate scandal hit. I remember hearing about it when it happened and thinking that there was something fishy going on there there and hoping that the scandal would have a negative effect on the Nixon re-election campaign and a positive one on the campaign of George McGovern for president. It didn't. There was no smoking gun to connect Nixon to the break-in or the coverup. Fast forward to a year or so later when the smoking gun appeared. It was John Dean and Alexander Butterfield in their testimony before the Senate Select Committee and the forced release of the tapes which Nixon had made of his conversations by Judge John Sirica, and particularly the tape with the missing eighteen and a half minutes, that provided the smoking gun. Nixon, it was clear from the tapes, knew of the Watergate coverup and the payment of hush money to many of those involved.

I couldn't help thinking about Nixon and Watergate and American history as I read the Letter from Honest Weight Food Corporation's lawyers (Joanmarie Dowling and John Vero for DOWLINGLAWpllc) to the acting commissioner of the New York State Department of Labour dated 24 October 2015, a letter the powers that be at the Corporation did not want "member owners" to see, a letter that according to one Board member was a draft that Deb Daniels inadvertently sent before bringing it back to the Board for further approval. There are those pesky little things called freedom of information laws, however. The letter makes it clear that Honest Weight, Inc. is, to quote the letter, "undergoing a transition in its management, staffing, and governance structure" and that the Corporations powers that be have decided to "transition", presumably without one of those pesky semi-democratic elections I might add, "certain aspects of its business, particularly how certain members contribute to Honest Weight's operations".

The reason the powers that be presumably did not want "shareholders" to see this document becomes quite clear after reading it carefully. It transforms--it is written in the language of a fait accompli--what was once a counterculture community even more fully than it already is (thank you management, thank your Board, thank you Lynn Leukakis) into a corporation with a Board of Directors, a CFO, and lawyers on retainer, who are immune from the annoyances of even faux democracy. It also clearly reveals the intentions of the current powers that be, the Corps "new leadership", to transition "certain members" out of governance and presumably place "certain" other "members", those ensconced in the palace no doubt, to positions of corporate governance and power. It reveals, in other words, that what I speculated was a coup in an earlier blog written about a month ago on this site is accurate. There really is a coup going on at Honest Weight, a sentiment, by the way, confirmed to me a week later by a member of the Board. It is a coup, of course, aided and abetted by the National Cooperative (sic) Grocers Association and CDS Consulting the noticeably missing links in this epistle. Welcome to the real world of contemporary "coops". One wonders, by the way, if the "new leadership" at the Corporation the Letter references is the NCGA and CDS since the LT has been around for some time.

As my Dad, who worked in low level management for a division of the Dutch conglomerate Philips told me long ago, such corporations tend to insulate their powers that be from their own "mistakes" and any responsibility for the mistakes that they make. When these management "savants" do leave for greener pastures to work their management "magic", not, on others, they are rewarded, as my Father told me, with financial perks thanks to a kind of Alice in Wonderland illogical logic, that dominates corporations and Wall Street, an illogical logic that enriches them even further despite or perhaps because of their blunders. So your future corporate upper level bureaucrats, don't worry if your actions lead to million dollar overruns, don't worry if your actions don't bring the sales you expect and promised the shareholders. Don't worry because you will always be able to blame others for your mistakes, whether competitors who too are suffering and laying off staff or those pesky inefficient workers. Just think positively and repeat to yourself, I am Teflon. I am Teflon.

Let me close this blog by noting that I am no longer a member of Honest Weight. I saw too much of the Watergate in the membership side of the operation while I was a member and just couldn't stomach what was going on. Let me note that I am a staff member and I really enjoy working at Honest Weight. It is one of the best and most enjoyable jobs I have ever had and thanks to it I have met some great people. So let me, as a ex-member and employee throw my two pence worth into the arena: In my opinion the members of Honest Weight need to make a choice once and for all. They need to choose, preferably in an open and semi-democratic way, whether they want to be a cooperative organisation or a corporate organisation. What is clear is that you can't have both, have your cake and eat it too. So please chose. I may even renew my membership and take part in the choosing fearing that corporatisation means likely losing the sense of community and the sense of comradeship that HWFC still has as well as losing the sense of joy that comes with working in such a community as opposed to a corporation (which I have also had the unfortunate experience of working within).

I want to end this biog by returning to Watergate once again and quoting "Deep Throat", the source that helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the truth about Watergate. I want to urge members of Honest Weight to take Deep Throat's advice and "follow the money". For those of you who need a more recent reference take Jerry Maquire's advice and ask the powers that be at Honest Weight to show you the money.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Meet John Serio or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Coops and Fall in Love with Corporate Oligarchy

I got a kick out of John Serio's letter on the hwfcinfohub the other day. Serio, you know, is the Board member who was appointed to the post despite not running in the same Board election of the person he was replacing and despite finishing fifth rather than fourth in the Board election following that of the Board member he replaced. Nicholson Cook finished in fourth and wanted to serve on the Board but most Board members for whatever reason, decided not to choose the individual who finished next to those who got elected as they did when they previously appointed the corporate bureaucrat Leif Hartmark to the Board. Ain't corporate democracy wonderful?

But back to the letter, I found the letter interesting for several reasons its corporate bureaucrat speak amongst them. Serious letter was chock full of words and phrases like "decision authority", "information gathering", "committees", "management", "methodically solicited", "market survey", "shareholder surgery", "input sessions", "core values", "culling the best ideas", "information sessions", "strategic planning", "mission threats", and "small group discussions". After reading it I felt like I had just been at a meeting of the state school board, IBM, the Albany government, or the Pentagon but not a Quaker meeting or a traditional coop. By the way, do words reveal the man?

I also found what was not in Serio's letter interesting. There is no mention that federal labour law supersedes state law so one wonders why the powers that be chose to write the New York state labour department, that different lawyers have an entirely different take on whether Honest Weight is in violation of labour law, that several organizations that advise, and I use that term advisedly, Honest Weight have long been pushing HW to eliminate the member programme advisory groups like CDS, the NCGA, and UNFI, that members of the LT have been pushing to get rid of member labour for years, that the powers that be control the means of communication and only deign to give approval for critics to speak. Power does have its perks, that the oligarchic diktat issued by the Board that end the membership programme without any member discussion and without a vote was anti-democratic just like the how he was appointed to the Board and that this really might be illegal despite the little trick the Board has up their sleeve whenever they want to do something that they don’t want members to vote on, fiduciary responsibility, that HW did quite well before the Leukakis regime turned HW into a cash cow for some lawyers office, and that it was the powers that be not the members who cost the store a million dollars in its plans for a new store, promised meat as the salvation of the store almost a year ago, a promise that has not materialized as of yet despite increasing amounts of meat in the store, and tied us to a loan which is, if the powers that be are to be believed, killing us. Mr. Serio presumably could also tell us how much the financially ailing HWFCorp is paying for lawyers and advisors but doesn’t. One wonders what fiduciary responsibility means in this regard to him and other members of the Board.

John Serio came. John Serio put his letter on the hwfcinfohub. John Serio vanished ignoring all the issues I and others raised. It was rather like living in Burlington, Ontario, receiving a brief visit and hearing a brief speech from one of the members of the royal family, and watching them leave never to return again. And that dear readers ends this lesson on corporate oligarchy at Honest Weight. I could go on, suffice it to say that the notion that there is “democracy:” at the HWFCorp as Mr. Serio's appointment to the Board, his letter, and the actions of virtually all of the Board and LT over the past several years shows is a rather bizarre one. As Mulder said, trust no one and I would add particularly if they are apologists and polemicists for the powers that be.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We're Just Like Everybody Else: Even Countercultural Organisations Get the Ad Hominem Blues....

As some of you may know I spent a good deal of the 1990s doing historical, sociological, and ethnographic research on Mormonism in the buckle of the Mormon Culture Region belt, Provo. One thing I will never forget about my foray into Mormon Studies is a review article written by BYU professor and FARMS member William Hamblin in a 1994 issue of FARMS Review. The FARMS review, published by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, was, along with FARMS, central to the intellectual culture of modern Mormon apologetics and polemics in the era after Hugh Nibley and was greatly influenced by Nibley's various and sundry forays into apologetics and polemics and most famously his often ad hominem polemic against Fawn Brodie, author of a biography on Mormon leader Joseph Smith titled No Man Knows My History. Nibley gave his polemic against Brodie the patriarchal and paternalistic title, "No Ma'am That's Not History". What stuck out to me about Hamblin's review of a book edited by Brent Metcalfe on modern approaches to Book of Mormon Studies, which borrowed heavily from modern Biblical Studies, and which still does these many years later was its secret message, a secret message embedded in, before the article was reedited, the fist letter of each of the early paragraphs of the review essay, the message "Metcalfe is a butthead".

Ad hominems like this, of course, have been part and parcel of polemics for some time and perhaps have become even more common these days thanks to the new digital social media. Ad hominems are also, I am sad to report, common currently at what once was a countercultural institution, the Honest Weight Food Corporation. As many of you may be aware there is currently a cultural war going on at the Corporation between the forces of corporatisation, bureaucratisation, routinisation, standardisation, and those who still prefer their coops cooperative. One of the figures who has been critical of the Leadership Team's and a faction on the Board's attempt to end the membership worker programme which has been at the heart not only of Honest Weight but, until the 1980s and after, other coops across the US, is lawyer and former judge Cate Doyle.

A rumour has recently making the rounds at Honest Weight about Kate Doyle, no doubt because she is spearheading the legal response and rejoinder to those powers that be who claim the member worker programme at the Corporation is illegal, may put the Corporation into financial jeopardy, and want to rid themselves of it, is a rumour in which questions are raised about the character of Doyle. While all of us no matter who we are all have skeletons in the closet we might wish to forget the reality is that character is simply not the issue nor is it really relevant here. What is issue is whether Doyle has valid points. The ad hominems that have been floating through the Corporation are a distraction from the real issues in question and, as such, raise the question of where they have come from and if they were meant to distract from the real issues.

What I find so sad about all this is that when it comes to ad hominem attacks the once countercultural coop and the Mormon polemical and apologetic organisation find themselves strange bedfellows with someone like Lee Atwater and his heirs. Lee Atwater, the man who said that what matters is not the truth but what political strategists like himself convinced people was the truth. Lee Atwater, the man who used the fiction of Willie Horton and his revolving door of crime to help his client, George Herbert Walker Bush win the presidency over Michael Dukakis. Lee Atwater, the man who trained Republican strategist Karl Rove and future president George Walker Bush. Lee Atwater, the man who apparently never met an ad hominem he didn't like.

So does the company you keep say a lot about you?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

We're So Special... Not!: Corporatisation and Coop Non-Exceptionalism

One of the things I have learned while I have been a member worker and an employee at the Honest Weight Food Corporation is just how unexceptional it and other "coops" like it are. As someone who was a member of a workers cooperative in the 1970s I came of intellectual age in a coop that was worker run, a coop in which members had to work, and a coop that only member workers could buy at. I was thus surprised when I started working at Honest Weight and as a result learning a lot about its ideology and its operations how what was once a countercultural institution that was meant to be distinct from conformist capitalist culture had come to mimic the neoliberal and social liberal world that they initially reacted against.

This mimicking works on a number of different levels at contemporary "consumer" "coops". Many "coops" including Honest Weight in Albany, New York, are members of the Iowa City headquartered National Cooperative Grocers Association, aka, National Cooperative Grocers, an organization founded in 1999, the organization that has copyrighted the c+op logo that appears on their website and on their coupon books which are found at many "coops" across the US including Honest Weight (see above). The goal of this organization, as noted on its website, is to unify coops in the United States (a "cooperative" IGA ), help them operationalise their resources, help them strengthen their purchasing power, help them establish competitive pricing, help them with operational and merchandising training, and help them with expansion. Needless to say, Honest Weight's powers that be have availed themselves of all of these services. The NCGA with its emphasis on operationalization, strengthening purchasing power, training, centralization, routinisation, and growth (amen) makes the goals of the NCGA very similar if not fully similar to any other capitalist enterprise in the US. So much for "coop" exceptionalism. See you later counterculture.

One way that the NCGA "helps" its members or branch coops, as one member of the Leadership Team at Honest Weight, referred to NCGA "coops" including Honest Weight, is with product. To "help" with product distribution the NCGA signed agreements with United Natural Foods Inc which makes UNFI the primary distributor of its some 80,000 products to what the NCGA calls its 143 retail food "coops" with their $1.8 billion dollars in sales per year. UNFI, which arose out of the merger of regional distribution networks in the US and Canada in 1996 defines itself in a registered public relations phrase as "America's premier certified organic distributor" and distributes, according to its website, natural, organic, and specialty goods not only to NCCA "coops" but to Safeway thanks to an agreement signed in 2011 with that mainstream grocery store. Not getting your product on this monopoly is likely hazardous to the health of small scale organic businesses. UNFI, which is not a cooperative and is traded on Wall Street (NASDAQ), which describes its goals as ones of unity, evolving, carrying, doing, focusing, and connecting, also offers retail, financial, marketing, and store design services to its clients like Honest Weight. One source told me that Honest Weight has adapted some but not all of suggestions that have been made to us by the NCGA and UNFI. Another source told me that vendors and UNFI came into the new Honest Weight store and advised on how and where to put product. Needless to say all of this is no different from how capitalism has worked since the Gilded Age. So much for "coop" exceptionalism. See you later counterculture.

There are, by the way, several "coop" consulting firms out there in corporate land including CDS Consulting Co-ops which says on its website that "[o]ur consultants help clients develop the insight, skills and resources they need to adapt to market challenges and be models of teamwork and cooperation in their communities." "Through experienced assessment, coaching and planning assistance", the CDS website says, "our team works with clients to strengthen internal and external business systems and relationships that result in profitability and greater capacity to fulfill their mission." Honest Weight is a member of CDS and has, according to one source, availed themselves of CDS. Several CDS member "coops"--they are also members of the NCGA--have recently ended their member programmes including the East End Food Coop in Pittsburgh and the Putney Food Cooperative in Vermont because, they were told by "advisors" that it was illegal. Honest Weight, which according to one source has availed itself of the "advise" of CDS, is just the latest "coop" to get this member programmes are illegal treatment. Speaking of consultants, one source told me that the person from Syracuse who was at the lawyers meeting on Saturday and who spoke about the transition from member worker to non-member work at the Syracuse Coop was none other than Thayne Joyall, a consultant for CDS who has long advised coops across the US to get rid of their member worker programme. I am told Ms. Joyall didn't divulge her work with CDS at the meeting. Can you say suspicious? Anyway, Ms. Joyal lists her specialities as board perpetuation, elite maintenance of power, in other words, coaching board members, coaching board members in corporate speak, corporate propaganda, and corporate demagoguery, in other words, and building relationships between management and the Board, the development of a coop aristocracy, in other words. Some, by the way, might find Ms. Joyall's articles interesting and revealing particularly the one on throwing out the old by-laws and bringing in the new. Consulting, of course, has long been a central aspect of modern corporate capitalism. So much for "coop" exceptionalism. See you later counterculture.

Then there is the National Cooperative Business Association. The NCBA, among other things, sponsors the Consumer Cooperative Management Association Conferences. The CCMA, as the 2013 conference website notes, has been helping managers of corps since 1956 "learn how to develop a marketing strategy and market your food co-op for growth, [d]iscover how to differentiate a food co-op in an ever-changing competitive landscape, [s]hare best practices and strategies with food co-op leaders, [d]iscuss governance, management and the role of a board of directors in food co-ops, [d]iscover the latest products and services available in the food cooperative community" at hotels across the country. The conference was held in 2013 at the Downtown Marriott in Philadelphia. Translation: the CCMA brings together coop managers from across the US, including those at Honest Weight, and inscribes them in a corporate culture and inculcates within them the ideologies at the heart of cooperative corporate culture. Can you say a kind of counter corporate culture Bohemian Grove?

There is, by the way, as other have noted, suggestive evidence of a revolving door between the promoters of corporatisation in the coop world. CDS Store Planner Nicole Klimek used to work for UNFI as her Linkedin profile page makes clear. National Cooperative Grocers Association Business Development Director used to work for UNFI as his Linkedin profile page makes clear. The Board of Directors of the National Cooperative Business Association includes the Director of Membership and Cooperative Relations of the National Cooperative Grocers Association, an attorney from the Minneapolis firm of Dorsey and Whitney, the Chief Regulatory, Legislative, and Compliance Officer of CoBank, and the Vice President of Cooperative Affairs, Organic Valley Family of Farms. Once again the contemporary cooperative world with its revolving political and economic doors and its bankers and other elites who show up again and again on Boards of Directors mirrors the corporate capitalist world at large.

Another way the Honest Weight is far from exceptional is in its crisis discourse. The powers that be, the Leadership Team and their allies on the Board (Frye, Kuchera, Daniels, Hartmark) and their fellow travelers, have been playing the fear card to try to "convince" members to do away with the membership progamme. First they used the fear that Whole Foods was going to take us to court and claim that our member programme was an unfair labour practise. I could find no instance of anything like this happening. Then it was that the claim that coop member worker programmes which have been around since the 1970s if not earlier was illegal according to labour laws. I could find no legal precedent making member working programmes illegal. Then it was that Honest Weight could be fined thousands if not millions and forced to pay back wages to member workers for this unfair practise. I could find no legal precedent for this and wonder about such an argument since Honest Weight is a corporation with limited liability. Then it was that members would be liable for any violation of labour law back pay, this despite the fact that corporations have limited liability. Again there is no legal precedent here. Then it was that the banks Honest Weight owes monies to don't like change. Whether the banks care anything other than getting their money back has yet to be proven, however. Fear at Honest Weight just like it is in the US at large is the powers that bes best friend. Don't believe me, just think back to fears used by elite to manipulate US public opinion during World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Iraq I, Iraq II...You know the drill.

There are other "coop" consulting service beyond CDS. Another is Co-operative Business Consultants who describe their mission as "helping democratic enterprises to start up, grow and thrive. For over a decade, its website trumpets, it has delivered high quality advice, mentoring, training and research on business development and financial planning, governance, legal structures, human resources and other key issues crucial to co-ops."

Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Mimi Yahn, "Losing Our Principles", Brattleboro Commons
Mimi Yahn, "Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op", VTDigger, 4 February 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: And the Award Goes To Lovely Rita Metrics Maid...

For the second year in a row I am being "honoured" by being "asked", nay ordered, by SUNY Oneonta's bureaucrats to complete an evaluation form for a general education class that takes hours to do.

A little background. I teach part-time at SUNY Oneonta. I earn the staggering sum of around $2750 per class, a job, by the way, that required around 5 hours of work every day during the summer for the preparation of one class, three hours a week teaching the class, several hours a month grading assignments, and several hours a day answering student queries I receive everyday via email. I am, in other words, paid slave wages for the "honour" of teaching at a college. Add to this overwhelming workload for poor pay the bureaucratic duties we part-timers are now required to do including completing faculty activity reports and flawed "metrics" like the one I am being ordered to do by some of the ever increasing number of bureaucrats on college campuses and I guess one could say I don't even get paid slave wages.

One of the reasons I have tended to prefer part-time academic work to full-time is that up to know part-timers traditionally haven't had to involve themselves as much in the mind numbing bureaucracy that has increased as exponentially as the number of high level and particularly mid level bureaucrats on college campuses. The general education "metric" I did last year is one of these mind numbing bureaucratic practises which bureaucrats with neoliberal mindsets use to discipline, to use a Foucauldian term, academics, particularly in the "radical" liberal arts in the modern "university". The general education "metric", for instance, wants the percentage of students who passed, the percentage of students who failed, objectives, those bureaucratic practises that were developed for primary and secondary school which like high school itself has been making its presence felt in colleges and universities, and data about the global component of the class.

What these "metrics" don't, of course, ask for, and this is why they are fatally flawed, is the whys of student success and failure. They only want to know the what. Since they only want to know the what they are simply meaningless. These measure are grounded in a neoliberal ideology that has become more and more prominent since the so-called Reagan Revolution which, in truth, was less a revolution than, on one level the retention of the status quo along with, on another level, a back to the nineteenth century future of bah humbugism. One of the fundamental assumptions of this neoliberal gobbledygook is that broader social and cultural contexts really don't matter when it comes to student achievement. There is no noise, these "metrics" assume in the interaction between teacher and student that teachers can't overcome. While such an ideology may play in neoliberal lalaland it doesn't in real academic life. For instance, the reason that almost everyone failed in my US History II class last spring was that they didn't do one or two of the assignments which made up individually 20% of their grade. In neoliberal lalaland, I guess, this is all my fault because the focus is all on the outcome and not the reasons for the outcome.

Over the years I have attended and taught in colleges and universities across the US I have seen the high schoolisation, the increasing corporatisation, the increasing bureaucratisation, and the increasing trivialisation of a liberal arts education. I have seen in the small state schools, in medium state schools including medium state research universities, and even at some medium sized private schools the death of education as it once was or once hoped it was. I expect this death by a million cuts to continue at these universities leaving the true liberal arts to the Oxford's, Cambridge's, the Harvard's, the Michigan's, the Chicago's, and the Indiana's. Sadly, only a very few, probably the siblings of the wealthy and powerful and perhaps even the most gifted, will ever have a sense of what a true liberal arts education is like.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Welcome to the Machine: Musings on the Corporate Culture of Honest Weight Food Corporation

I am shocked, shocked that some members of the Board are at it again at the Honest Weight Food Corporation.NOT. They may have backed away from their proclamation from on high ending the working member programme, odd given their claims that the Corporation could be fined thousands or millions of dollars for having what they claimed was an illegal programme and that they only contacted the state instead of the federal labour department AFTER they ended the programme in a bassackwards kind of way. The reasons, by the way, the ruling clique of the Board ended the member worker programme before they contacted the Department of Labour, contrary to the logic one would expect, should be obvious to anyone by now.

Erin Walsh resigned as Board member and secretary of the Board at Honest Weight this Tuesday in order to take a revolving door job at a local non-profit. The new Board secretary is John Serio. Serio was appointed to the Board earlier this year despite not running in the same Board election as the Board member he replaced and despite finishing second in line, fifth, not first, fourth, in this wrong Board election cycle. How he can justify being on the Board as a result of all of this is beyond me but he can. When I talked to him he claimed that some members of the Board told him that the fourth place finisher was no longer interested in being on the Board. This, however, is patently untrue. How some members of the Board can justify such anti-democratic actions is also beyond me but apparently they can. Welcome to topsy turvy world of corporate culture.

The Coop Scoop which was taken over fully by the Corporations leadership team a few years ago has become a shill for the corporate mentality that dominates the Corporation's management team, the middle level bureaucrats they hired many from non cooperative job backgrounds like Price Chopper, and members of the Board like Bill Frye, Roman Kuchera, Deb Dennis, and Leif Hartmark. I happened to pick up the Coop Scoop while I was at the Corporation yesterday and found articles on the "metrics" of growth, "metrics" has become the word of the moment among the leadership team as it has been for years among the corporate class and in corporate culture for years, and strategic planning, another one of those things that makes corporate mentality types go ga ga. Where corporate culture leads many at Honest Weight will follow not realising that cooperatives were created as alternatives to such corporate speak and corporate actions.

Another retread of a term that keeps popping up in Honest Weight management corporate speak is "growth". Growth, of course, was something that coops originally wanted to get away from. They wanted to get away from the notion that bigger is always better, that ever increasing urbanisation, suburbanisation, environmental degradation, the treatment of workers as mechanical cogs in the money making machine whose productivity was to be increased at all costs, treating companies solely as money making machines to increase the profits of corporate elites, and treating consumers as metrics to which to sell product even if it increased obesity was a universal good. Welcome to the fetishesed corporate mental world where the new boss has become much same as the old.

Still another is the term "shareholder", a term that is replacing "member worker" which itself replaced "member volunteer" in Honest Weight management speak. One wonders whether the term "member worker" plays right into the hands of any at the Department of Labour that think that so-called cooperative membership worker programmes violate labour laws and should be paid retroactively for work they have done in "coops".

Rumors, not surprisingly given the context, abound at the Corporation these days. One rumour has it that some members of the Board, undoubtedly after consulting lawyers paid for by the Corporations leadership team, have suddenly discovered that they don't have to have an election to decrease the highest level of member worker discounts from 24% to 20%. That the membership voted down such a decrease at a membership meeting a few months ago seems immaterial to the Board members who, rumour has it, want to do this. This will be difficult since the rules--one must get two-thirds of the vote to recall one of the powers that be--is rigged in favour of the powers that be. So much for the notion that the Corporation is "progressive" and democratic. It is more like that paragon of "radicalism" the US Senate. Snark. Another rumour has it that those planning to possibly recall members of the Board and decide on whether or not to renew the jobs of the Leadership Team want to rid the Corporation of all paid employees. This scenario is unlikely since only a tiny fraction of critics want to get rid of members. Another rumour raises questions about the character of some of the critics of the Board and LT. It is not necessarily the character of the critics that matters, however, it is whether they have a point and are right. Rumour has it that Honest Weight is now carrying Cargill Meat products.

Now for a few things that aren't rumours. The meat continues to grow like a blob taking over more and more of the store displacing things that were once in the space they have taken over. Things made in China now carried in the store from bamboo underwear to little knick knacks near the front desk continue to grow exponentially. How this assuages bourgeois guilt is beyond me. Members concerned about the recent decisions made by the Board at Honest Weight are having a difficult time getting contact information for members from the powers that be at the Corporation so they can express their concerns about what is happening at Honest Weight to the members of the Corporation. The dictatorship of the coporatariat or concerns about privacy or both?

"They're not that innocent..."