Sunday, September 13, 2015

False Consciousness as a Pollyannaish Way of Life

You’ve got to love human beings. They think they are special. Human clans think they special. Human tribes think they are special. Human kingdoms think they are special. Human nations think they are special. Human cliques think they are special. Human corporations think they are special. Of course, humans, human clans, human tribes, human kingdoms, human cliques, and human corporations are not special, not peculiar, not unique, an not exceptional. Humans everywhere are simply human with all that entails.

Many at the Honest Weight Food Corporation think they are special. Many at Honest Weight, for example, think that the corporation of which they are shareholders is “democratic”, whatever that means since “democracy” like “freedom” and ‘liberty” is a symbol that means different things to different people. If your idea of democracy is a bureaucratic organisation with inequalities of power and control, only around 200 of its 10,000 members voting regularly, with a Board elected by those few members, incumbents elected over and over again, and a Board which can change its policies of appointing members to the Board by whim, than Honest Weight Corporation is, like General Electric, “democratic.

Many at Honest Weight think that the food the Corporations sells is special. Honest Weight does sell some local apples and a few other local goods. It also sells Green Giant Brussels Sprouts, Dole bananas, DelMonte bananas, and host of goods from China and other places across the globe including avocados from Mexico. If this makes Honest Weight special than Price Chopper and HEB are special too. If every grocery store is special than none are special.

Many at Honest Weight think that the Corporation is local. It is and it isn’t. Honest Weight is a member of the National Cooperative Business Association, a bureaucratic organisation that “suggests” policies to its member corporations, one of which is that member corporations should rid themselves of working members or volunteer members. Honest Weight works with other corporations to buy in volume so they can offer goods for sale on a regular basis. Honest Weight, in other words, is not that different from Wal-mart, Price Chopper, or HEB with its policy of buying in bulk and selling “low”. The Honest Weight Corporation is simply following a corporate model that goes back to the Gilded Age with its monopolies and cartels and vertical and horizontal integrations.

Many at Honest Weight think their membership programme is special. It isn’t. Most corporations like Honest Weight began as member only institutions that were closed to non-members. Over the years they have become something quite different, something that looks like a lot like the corporate old boss that cooperatives at one time did not want to be. There are a number of reasons that most corporate “coops” today look a lot different than they once did. The takeover of cooperative boards by corporate types who think only they and they alone have the secret knowledge of how to obtain profitability, the initiation of a management system that is inherently anti-democratic and bureaucratic, and the tendency among humans to let others do what they should be doing, amongst them.

If these ethnocentric corporate and bureaucratic powers that be at Honest Weight get their way little of the membership programme as it exists today will remain in a few months. Apparently, the powers that be with their lawyerly and corporate mentalities now believe that the membership programme at Honest Weight and which once dominates cooperatives is illegal. Such a programme, they claim, violates US labour law. Do they have any evidence, hard empirical evidence that this is the case? Of course not. They can give you their mantra that a cooperative in New Mexico some twenty years ago was told to cease and desist its membership programme by the government, though which government is unclear. Since this case never went to court, however, there was no case law that developed out of it. They can tell you over and over again that it is illegal but they can produce no empirical evidence that that is the case. Moreover, the lawyers at Park Slope, a traditional cooperative in Brooklyn, have apparently told that Coop that the notion that they are breaking labour law is simply false.

What is a person to do in the face of such contradictory information? Some might be willing to trust Honest Weight's lawyers and powers that be but not me. I am no Pollyanna. I am going to go with Park Slope. Honest Weight’s lawyers have produced no evidence that their claims are empirically true. Until Honest Weight’s lawyers show me the money, show me the empirical evidence that the Corporation is in violation of labour law, I am going to go with New York City lawyers since Albany, unlike New York City, is not at the heart of the legal world. Additionally, I am going to go with Park Slope and its legal advisers because I know that the National Cooperative Business Association has long preached the gospel that Corporations should not have member workers and, I know, that several members of the Board and of the management team at the Honest Weight Food Corporation have wanted, for a variety of reasons, to rid themselves of the member worker programme for years. It is not an accident that they now think they have now found the legal reasons to justify their most treasured wish.

Humans, of course, believe a lot of things. The Westboro Baptist Church, for example, believes that it is god’s prophetic instrument warning Americans that they are doomed for their collective iniquities against the most high. Many of Honest Weight Food Corporation’s members believe the propaganda that it is a democratic “cooperative”. Honest Weight’s lawyers believe that the Corporation violates labour law. Before I can assent to the truth of any of these assertions, however, I want to see the money. I want to see the empirical evidence. But hey, I’m weird, I prefer facts to smiley faced don't worry be happy everything will be OK apologetic and demagogic rhetoric.

Postscript: A Note on the Park Slope Communication to Honest Weight
Some members at Honest Weight Food Corp have been pointing out that Park Slope Food Coop and the Honest Weight Food Corporation are different. This is true. Park Slope, despite a handful of paid staff, is an old style cooperative. It is member run. Only members can shop at it. Members have to work at the Coop in order to shop at it. Honest Weight Food Corporation and Bloomingfoods used to operate just like Park Slope until they decided to become corporations and allow non-members to shop and work at it.

How does this affect the issue of whether member workers are illegal under federal or state law? Got me. It affects this issue only in so far as what Park Slope said in a communication with a member of the Honest Weight Board about whether member workers are a violation of labour law. My understanding from talking to the Board Member who received the communication is that the communication DOES NOT say that a worker coop like Park Slope does not violate the law while a consumer corporate faux coop like Honest Weight Food Corporation does. My understanding is that the communication says that this discourse about member workers violating labour law in general is a red herring, is a total fiction. So, dear readers, if you want to know what the communication from Park Slope really says why not ask those who have actually read it?

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