Friday, January 30, 2015

An Open Letter to an Unelected Board Member at the Honest Weight Corpop

I must say, I was disappointed and frankly annoyed during our recent discussion of happenings at the "Coop" when you voiced your admiration of Ned DePew after things I said. Why disappointed and annoyed? Because I am not Ned. I may share some things with Ned, I may express some similar ideas to Ned, but I am not Ned. So please don't patronise me.

I am me, myself, and I. Me, myself, and I are 60 years old. We have bachelors', masters', and doctoral degrees. We were a member of a Coop in Bloomington, Indiana in the 1970s when it, as is the case with "Honest Weight Coop" in Albany, was a real coop in more than name only. The moral of this tale: I know the actual history of coops and I know how "coops" have been corporatised over the years thanks to a variety of economic, political, demographic, and cultural/ideological forces. Shades of Max Weber.

As a student of human action I am very familiar with how power works. It is quite clear to anyone with empirical eyes that the LT is acquiring more and more power and using it to steer the Corp in their direction with the help of their allies (some might call them cronies), on the Board (not to mention the Membership Committee). Shades of Niccolo Machiavelli and Michel Foucault. One instance of this increasing control of the store by the LT is the sudden unwillingness of the LT to be evaluated by "staff". They did not, as far as I know, express this discontent several years ago when Ned was part of the evaluation team. Let me add that as far as I am concerned Ned knows more about the actual empirical real workings of the store than an ad hoc committee made up of members who are only briefly in the store on a weekly basis. By the way, compare the evaluation of the LT with that of staff who are evaluated by people who actually have seen us work quite extensively.

While I do not share Ned's point of view about everything one thing I do share with Ned is a revulsion that the Board Meeting to which Ned, a duly elected member of the Board (so much for the notion that HWCorp is membership run democracy), was excluded in an act of what looks very much like ideological apartheid. Shame. Fascinating here is that you, a member of the Board who was not elected, presumably attended this secret meeting. And did you express qualms about this action? Ethicists and moralists want to know.

It is long past time for the Corpop to decide what it wants to be: an institution that is member run as it says on our entrance wall or a corporation run by an elite hierarchy that calls secret meetings to do an end around member democracy. It is time to be honest. Either coop or corporation is fine with me. What isn't fine with me is the what we have now, coop/corporate hybrid Honest Weight that invariably breeds hypocrisy. And it is for this reason that I may be turning in my membership card.

In other displays of power news Indiana Republican lawmakers are vowing to strip the power of the democratically elected Democratic State Superintendent of Education. Apparently they prefer intellectual apartheid and political correctness, Republican and hence corporate political correctness. Ah, the old I'm OK, you are not OK, if you want to be OK, you need to think just like me, OK.

In other Corpop news, a new human resources bureaucratic has been hired by the Corpop. If the blushing release from the LT is exhaustive, the new human resources bureaucrat has no coop experience. According to the same document he does have a lot of corporate grocery store experience, however. It is always nice when tea leaves like these right are so easy to interpret.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Life Lived Amidst Lies and Ironies...

I love lies. I was brought up on them. I was there when American politicians lied about a North Vietnamese attack on an American warship in the Gulf of Tonkin off the Vietnamese coast. I was there when an American president and his toadies said that if we let Vietnam fall then further dominoes would fall until the United States itself was overrun by Reds. I was there when an American president's men broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee and an American president claimed he knew nothing about it. I was there when an American president and his men ran guns to Nicaragua and Iran while claiming they knew nothing about it. I was there when an American president said he did not have sex with that woman. I was there when an American president and his men claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when many in his administration knew they didn't.

Lies have been central to human life ever since man and woman settled down and created "civilisations" predicated on agriculture and the expropriation of agricultural wealth by the powers that be, in the case of agricultural societies monarchs and their running dog lackeys, priests. Lies surround and encompass us every single day. Since I have been a participant and observer at HWFC, the Honest Weight Food Corporation I have seen and heard many things that are less than accurate. I read, for instance, on the wall of HWFC entranceway that Honest Weight was a democracy run by its members. What I found, however, was that decisions at Honest Weight are made by the Leadership Team, the trinitarian body that really runs Honest Weight, often unilaterally. They along with their corporate minded supporters on the Board, the elected body that is supposed to represent the membership and its decisions to the LT, overturn decisions taken by the membership when they want, all in the name of Mammon and "progress". And they, practising a type sophistry that would make even hardened undergraduate college students proud, do it all while proclaiming their innocence. We are just, they claim, following the dictates of the law regarding national advertising bulletins or, the letter of the membership law is unclear.

Life is not only full of fictions and half-truths. It is also full of ironies and I love ironies just as much as I love lies. At Honest Weight, for instance, ironies abound. There is the irony that what was once upon a time a oountercultural institution that opted out of mainstream capitalist practises has become the spitting image of those capitalist institutions it once upon a time did not want to be. As it has grown larger Honest Weight has seen a growth in membership, a membership which is characterised more and more by a mainstream capitalist thinking that sees growth and Mammon worship as as natural as the air they breath. They aren't of course.

Social liberal neoliberalism isn't the only thing prevalent at the Corpop. Controversies surrounding staff on the Board are once again raising their heads among the Board and the LT. It all began when outgoing Board member Liz Leukakis rhapsodised about the dangers of too many staff on HWFC's governing Board in April of last year. Concerns about staff on the Corpop's Board has continued into this year. According to sources the LT has requested that staff on the Board not be allowed to serve on committees evaluating the LT. It is unclear why this is the case. One of the staff members who is serving on the Board for a second time was one of those responsible for the development of criteria by which the LT's work record were measured three or four years ago. This evaluation procedure was apparently put on ice by a later and much more LT friendly Board.

So why is the LT whinging wolf now about staff on the Board? Are they concerned that staff on the Board, even when they were able to do evaluate the LT in the past, can no longer do it again? Does the LT not want to be evaluated by lowly staff members? Does the LT have a rational or irrational fear of the one Board member now serving who was elected and who was instrumental in devising the measurement instruments? Is this the LT's first step in cleansing all staff members who are, by the way, member-shareholders just like them, from the Board? ?

One thing I find truly fascinating about all of this is that the LT for whatever reason--paternalism, power, fear--feel the staff, are incapable of doing what they themselves do, playing different roles at the Corporation including that of dispassionate professional. In the end, their attitude toward the staff seems to me just another expression of the power hierarchy at the Corporation, one that divides and distinguishes professional management from another class at the Corporation, staff members. Whatever the reason this is just another very good reason, in my opinion, why staff should once again begin the unionisation process.

Let me close this essay by noting that while I am annoyed by lies and am kept alive by ironies, I really dislike hypocrisy. Isn't it time that Honest Weight came clean and tell it like it is? Isn't it time that Honest Weight follow the Willy Street Coop Corporation in Madison, Wisconsin, and note on their webpage just as Willy's does that it is not a workers collective and that it has a hierarchical structure much like other American corporations? Isn't it time that other Coops who have followed what has become a well trod path (I am thinking of you Bloomingfoods) from countercultural cooperative with consensus decision making to corporation with established hierarchies and inequalities of power to do the same? Personally I would like to see such honesty at Honest Weight (and beyond). Since this honesty doesn't seem forthcoming anytime soon I have to wonder why the powers that be at Honest Weight and at other coops that have become corporations can't be this honest because it seems to me that with such honesty coops become corporations could offer a more humane alternative, basically the only viable alternative these days, to the profit centred inhumane narcissistic corporations that dominate significant parts of the Western world today.