Thursday, February 19, 2015

To Coop or To Corporate, That is the Real Question...

Sometime in the mid or late 1970s I joined my first coop, Bloomingfoods Coop in Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomingfoods was like many other cooperatives that had arisen out of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture, only those who worked at the coop could be members and it was these worker/members who actually ran the coop. Bloomingfoods was, in other words, exactly the type of coop that some members of Honest Weight apparently believe never existed. As a social scientist I continue to find it fascinating how ideology and propaganda create and recreate unanalytical mindsets.

I bring all of this up because I think it is important that we coopers remember what coops were like before so many to them morphed into that hybrid that Honest Weight is now, the corporate coop. I also think it is important to remember that once upon a time coops in the age before managerial teams became dominant at so may coops across the United States that coops were run by its workers. I bring this up because once again we have choice before us. Either we can become more like the Willy Street Coop in Madison, Wisconsin whose website notes that they are not a workers collective or coop and that they have a management structure much like that of other corporations or we can maintain at least some of the member run democracy that our version of the ten commandments that is on our wall as you enter our store says we are. If you choose the former vote yes on the resolution giving the board and wink wink nudge nudge the managerial team greater ability to make quick unilateral decisions. If you choose the latter vote no on the resolution.

If this coop votes to give the managerial team greater power to make unilateral decisions with no limits (it would have been nice to see a sunset clause in the proposal; this would have made it possible for me to vote for the referendum) then they already have I think it is incumbent on us to eliminate the first commandment from our store wall, the commandment that stresses that Honest Weight is a member run cooperative. If we choose the latter than we must make sure to elect Board members and Membership Committee members who will act as a check and balance on the management team. It is your choice coopers, choose to let others run the store for you or choose to get involved with the running of the coop.

By the way, if I could ask a question of the management team at the upcoming membership meeting on Sunday, 22 February I would ask this: Why, given that you already have informal fast tracking and have used it on several occasions--to wit the satellite store at the Plaza--should we give you the formal ability to fast track certain policies when one of the items you fast tracked--the satellite cafe--is not making us much money and is actually draining resources that could be used at the 100 Watervliet store? Additionally, I would ask why we should give the management team further power in the wake of recommendations on their part to build a new store, a new store that has put us in debt to financial institutions and as a result may threaten our very existence?

In the rest of this brief essay want to return again to the early days of coops. Bloomingfoods, the first coop I joined, like most other countercultural coops that I know of, didn't have meat in the store whatsoever. Neither did Honest Weight when I visited its Quail Street store for the first time in the 1980s. The reasons were various. Some opposed an industrial system of farming that turned cattle, pigs, sheep, chicken, turkeys, and fish into commodities to be fed foodstuff they weren't evolutionary fit to eat and who were treated in the most inhumane of ways because they were seen solely as commodities. Others noted that meat eating on the scale of that in the contemporary US was not sustainable in the long term. Both of these concerns, by the way, were then and are even more now more than factual.

Over time those forces advocating no meat in coop stores were pushed back by the forces of meat eaters and their allies once coops went corporate and opened the coop to non-members as meat eaters joined coops in significant numbers. Eventually, however, a compromise was achieved: only locally raised meat and meat from humanely treated animals would be sold in coop stores.

As time has gone by and money has become a major if not the major central motivating impulse of corporate coops transformed into corpops and the national corpoperative organization that guides them, that compromise came under assault. At Honest Weight Corpop, for instance, three votes have been held in which management urged members to give them the ability to bring meat from further afield into the store. They have claimed each time, I am told by reputable sources, that meat is essential to the financial stability of the store, a store which, by the way, has been around since the 1970s.

Yet another vote on the meat issue is on tap for Sunday. Once again management is claiming that if we don't allow them to obtain meat from further afield, including Applegate, a national corporation that reputedly offers humanely treated organic meat for sale, I say reputedly because we don't know whether this is fact or propaganda since such facts are not easy to ascertain when it comes to corporations, in times of a local meat drought, the corpop will fail. Once again this vote has become symbolic for those who remember the good old countercultural days of the original coop.

My question for the management about the meat issue is this: How is meat, and particularly a meat product sold by Target and other corporate natural food stores all of whom have economies of scale we simply cannot match--and let's not forget that most customers in Albany go where the bargains are--going to save Honest Weight Corpop from destruction? Here's another: since Whole Foods in Albany isn't living up to corporate expectations and they have the meat we wish to supplement our store with on occasion doesn't that suggest some other factors are at play in putting us in the red?

And now for something not entirely different: It has been brought to my attention by Honest Weight gossip girl Jasmine Paisley that a rumour, rumour has it that it originated from a member of the Board, is floating around the Coop that I am involved in a conspiracy with 99% Ned to defeat both the fast track and meat proposals at the Sunday meeting. If that means I have asked a number of other members about their position on both policy changes and I have listened to their replies and debated them on occasion from both sides of the issue I plead guilty. Let me simply add that it has been interesting to hear how other members view the upcoming vote. I would suggest to Board members and the management team that they do the same. As for me I still have not decided how I am going to vote on the issues before the membership though I know how I am leaning.

As a social scientist I am very fascinated by labelling, scapegoating, and conspiracy theories however. I guess I would see the rumour that I am part of a Coop Thrush or Spectre or ZOG as very much like most other conspiracy theories I am familiar with, as having little basis in empirical reality. I tend to see most conspiracy theories as the product of fears and paranoias rather than empirical analysis. As for how conspiracy theories almost always set up straw scapegoats one can pin the blame on should things not go your way, that is a very long standing human trait one we can sadly hear right hear in are own coop store when some demonise those who are going to vote no on the meat policy as vegan fascists and nazis.

One final question: if Coopers opposed to the meat plan are planning strategy to fight the proposals so what? Is there any Coop by-law that prohibits coopers from acting in cooperative ways?

Are you ready for the Sunday showdown?

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