Sunday, February 22, 2015
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet...
Additionally, membership has given oversight away by allowing the Board (and the management team since the Board generally rubber stamps management decisions) to make unilateral decisions about the satellite cafe at the Plaza perhaps establishing a precedent in the process, something else management has longed for. They did this, so I am told, without any knowledge of what the monthly, quarterly, or yearly earnings (if any) from the Plaza satellite store are. The management team apparently, or so sources report, couldn't supply specific numbers despite requests from one member and despite the fact that they supposedly had the loss numbers at hand that new meat was supposed to reverse. All they could say was that it was successful, whatever that means. How most of the membership present at the meeting could vote yes on such a proposal without this critical data is beyond me. The fact that they did certainly doesn't restore my faith in humanity, the same humanity that elects people like Walker and Brownback to political office.
Anyway, I am sick and tired of being a member of an organisation that continues to maintain the fiction that it is a cooperative--it is not--so I will be cashing in my "coop" chips as soon as I can. To digress for a moment, let me state that I would be willing to rejoin if Honest Weight made several changes. First, I would like to see a name change from Honest Weight Food Coop to Honest Weight Food Corporation, if the powers that be want to keep the C. Second, I would like to see changes in the the regulations which inhibit the store from becoming what it largely already is, a food market run by a management team. Third, I would like to see a store in which management and department heads stock items which bring profits to the store. Fourth, I would like to see members transformed from member share holders to corporate share holders, corporate share holders who receive a mix of discounts and dividends, the latter depending on the profits the store makes.
I am sure many of you will be happy to know that this will be my last blog posting on the Honest Weight Food Corporation. I will say two things as I bid the coop side of the Corpop adieu (it is mostly a pr fiction and ploy anyway): as a corporation Honest Weight is a good place to work and I will continue working there with the understanding that it is a corporation--I will be a worker and not a member--and HW proves a point made by Weber, Michels, and a number of analysts of communes, namely that the bigger, demographically speaking, a countercultural place gets, the less historical memory it has, the less countercultural it remains, and the greater the tendency there will be by the many to give power to the few. What a long strange trip to knowledge it's been. Charismatic authority, in other words, gives way to bureaucratic I'm a professional authority. I leave these posts as a trial that dispassionate analysts can follow in order to understand how a once countercultural organisation came to mirror the very bureaucratic corporations it once decried, becoming, in the process, a kind of kindler and gentler Sam's Club and BJ's version of Whole Foods.
Before I go let me make one observation. Though the supposed vegan and veggie nazis seem to have compromised on the meat issue several times since 2005 no compromise, apparently, is a good compromise for those who have longed to get their way on the meat issue. And now that they have got it should we expect profits to double to $50 million a year? Little did I know that Jesus was a cold cut.
Gossip Girl reports that several sources told her that they were advised or "told" how to vote on the meat issue.
Gossip Girl reports that at present there is one backroom bureaucrat for every four staff members who work on the store floor. Comparative data shows that middle level bureaucrats, bureaucrats who do duties assigned them by the executive staff, have been on the rise for years. The numbers of middle level bureaucrats is up in colleges and universities by 120% or so just as they are up at Honest Weight. Many want to know how middle level management can keep going up up up up up in times of financial crisis.
Gossip Girl reports that sources tell her that by-laws mandating organic and humanely treated meat products are still on the books at Honest Weight and that, as a result, they are still in force. On the other hand, other sources note that the leadership team and their rubber stamp allies on the Board have been violating these by-laws for at least two years much like George W. Bush issued executive orders essentially overruling the rules Congress set during his reign.
The management team just announced the hiring of another general manager for the store. The first two were, I am told, a disaster. There was no mention of his experience including no mention of any coop experience he might have. I have learned that he has no coop experience and comes to us by way of corporate Price Chopper. Needless to say, this speaks volumes about how the powers that be see Honest Weight. Managerial capitalist bureaucracy on the march. As for power, well that continues to accrue more and more to the management team who now seem untouchable despite the debt and the several problems that have plagued several departments at Honest Weight during the last year.
According to a source the Honest Weight Board is concerned that staff members may, if they get elected to the Board, take revenge on the powers that be for, to take the example this source raised, changing the operating hours of the store. This is an interesting point but it opens a whole host of Pandora's boxes. One of these opened boxes relates to how Board members (and perhaps the Management Team) see staff. Do Board members really perceive the staff as vengeful and petty and totally lacking in professionalism? Is that all we are in their eyes? This is, by the way, reason number god knows how many at this point why the Honest Weight staff should form a union. Speaking of the Board, if staff members must recuse themselves or are banned from the Board doesn't this create a caste system at Honest Weight in which only those members who aren't staff can engage in the full array of potential member activities?
While we are on the subject of conflicts of interest, perceived or real, let's turn the tables a bit. The Board seems to have fixated on what they call "perceived" conflicts of interest, so it needs to be asked whether there are Board members who, because they are too close to the Management Team, are, as a result, unable to act as a check and a balance on the Management Team? Isn't this a perceived and perhaps real conflict of interest? And what about other perceived or real conflicts of interests in the store that aren't on the Board's radar? Are they simply irrelevant and unimportant to the Board? If not, when will they be taking these conflicts of interest on?
The same source claims that the Management Team has not brought the issue of construed conflict of interest to the attention of the Board. So I guess Lynn Leukakis was channeling the will of the Board at the last Board election when she did her are you now or have you ever been a staff member? But wait, haven't relations between the Management Team and the Board developed on both the formal and informal levels at Honest Weight? Am I really supposed to believe that the Management Team and Board members have never discussed this issue in any way, shape, or form whatsoever?
The source I talked to seemed to imply that there is growing contention and dissension on the Board. At present the Board appears to be dominated by those with a more corporate mindset. Corporatish Board members claim to be in favour of a consensus model of decision making up to a point. When that point is reached they favour a majority rules, winner take all, system of decision making. Others, or at least one other Board member, who also happens to be a staff member, however, has a view of coops that is more consistent with the worker collective model of coops and a worker collective decision making model. Is this why many members of the Board are concerned about the presence of staff members on the Board? Is this further evidence for how a once countercultural organisation has gone all liberal corporate mainstream.
What has and continues to happen at "coops" like Honest Weight and Bloomingfoods is intellectual candy. More than anyone else Max Weber and Michel Foucault have influenced me in my intellectual and academic work. The focus in most of my work has been on social movements, how social movements create identity, culture, and community, how social movements change, how power is organised and changes in social movements over time, and how culture wars or how sectarianism can split social movements apart.
I have toyed with writing an academic paper on food coops as an extension of my work on the culture wars over the Woodstock Festival of 1969. The theoretical and observational centre of such a paper would be several. First, many countercultural coops have moved from bureaucratic to paternalistic to today's bureaucratic forms authority as the coop has aged and grown. Second, over the years many coops have moved from more cooperative forms of decision making to more bureaucratic or corporate forms of decision making. Third, over time once countercultural coops have seen routinisation and professionalisation increase. Fourth, as coops have gone increasingly mainstream national cooperative bodies with a corporate and professional ideology have arisen and increasingly influenced individual coops sense of self and their historical memory. The National Co+op Grocers (that's a trademark there) and the National Cooperative Business Association are prominent among such bureaucratic managerial top down profit oriented bodies. Fifth, as many coops adopted and adapted a bureaucratic model of authority a chasm opened up between the power elite, those who view themselves as bureaucratic professionals (Boards, Management Teams) with professional bureaucratic expertise and training and those bureaucratic professionals view as unprofessionals, the staff. The differentiation between management professionals and staff, in turn, creates inequalities of status that fossilise over time into status groups, classes, and castes. Sixth, as coops have grown those present in the early years of the coop have seen what they knew and treasured as the coop slip away. Lastly, most of today's coops only look countercultural in an American society in which John Birchism and Ayn Randism have gone increasingly mainstream. Perhaps one day I will write such a paper if I can get ahold of archival material that provides evidence for these transformations. Or perhaps someone out there in cyberland will take up the challenge. It is certainly a challenge well worth taking up.