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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ron. Love the blogs. The NYS DOL just sent me the Board's "secret" letter that they didn't want to go to the public for some reason. However, the DOL as I've said all along, considers this a public document. My FOIL request was granted forthwith, and I forwarded you the DOL letter and unpassword protected Board letter to the DOL. Do with it as you wish! I have also asked the hub to publish the letter. Hey, I asked the Board to take the password off. They said something to the effect that hundreds of documents at Honest Weight are "protected" with one password, the same password that "protects" the secret yet public DOL letter. They did not wish to remove it as they did not wish the document to be made public. Yet it is a public document according the the DOL. Hmmm. There's so many things wrong with this. Ask any IT person if giving a password to hundreds of people, and using the same password for years to "protect" all important documents is...well, some of us must laugh. Anyway, you have the DOL letter and yes, I sent it to the Board of Honest Weight. LOL. Jules