Friday, December 30, 2016
Further Musings on Bureaucratic Power: The Case of the Coop
I have not been privy to why the present Board did what previous the previous Board and the "Coop" powers wanted to do but didn't or couldn't. I can offer hypotheses, however, hypotheses grounded in how powers that be in bureaucracies generally behave.
Hypothesis 1: the Board was concerned about potential conflicts of interest whatever those potential conflicts of interest might be or are. The problem with this argument is that one has to wonder what those potential conflicts of interest might be since the Board does not evaluate the vast majority of staff at Honest Weight. Additionally, those the Board hires do not evaluate the majority of staff at Honest Weight. All of this rhetoric about conflicts of interest, by the way, raises or should raise questions about other potential or real conflicts of interest such as whether a conformity of opinion among the ruling elite constitutes a conflict of interest, whether close relations serving on the governing bodies of the "Coop" constitutes a conflict of interest, whether too many lawyers in the governing bodies of the "Coop" constitutes a conflict of ideological interest, whether the culture of conformity (see the Asch and Millgram studies) that develops among groups particularly ruling groups constitutes a conflict of interest, whether a conformity of interest among some on the Board constitutes a conflict of interest, and whether too close a relationship between members of the Board and those they hire constitutes a conflict of interest.
Hypothesis Two: Some members of the Board have a fear that too many staff on the ruling bodies of the "Coop" might propose and pass a living wage for "Coop" staff and/or return the "Coop" to what it once was, a worker owned Coop in which only those who worked could shop at the Coop for quality and healthful food. This hypothesis is interesting because it is based on the notion that most staff, presumably non managerial and administrative staff, don't have the ability to comprehend the economic realities of the "Coop" and act rationally on that knowledge. If true, it also reveals just what the Board and their allies at the "Coop" think of most of the staff and that is, if this hypotheses can be confirmed or not found faulty, not much. It is also interesting because it assumes that it is considered perfectly acceptable for "professionals" to act on their interests but not for non-professionals to do so. Personally, I think this hypothesis has a lot of merit because it jibes with the social science literature on how bureaucracies really function, how a culture of conformity is created in corporations, how power really works, and on how ideologies of professionalism develop and influence the operations of bureaucracies.
Putting aside, for the moment, the rationale of the Board in making the decision to exclude staff from having more than two seats on the Board, the main governing body of Honest Weight, this decision, empirically speaking, creates a two tiered membership system at the fauxop. It creates a system in which there are members who are not staff and who can serve on the Board with no restrictions and members who are staff and who are limited to only two seats on the Board. Such a two-tiered system is not in any way, shape, or form, democratic and puts the lie to the notion proclaimed by Honest Weight that it is democratic.
In a related matter I have heard form several sources that the Board is considering or has already decided to force paid member staff, staff who work sometimes between 20 to 40 hours a week at the "Coop", to do, in addition to this, member hours in order to be able to vote at member meetings. Never mind that volunteer hours for the some 200 staff will be limited because of volunteer job limitations at the "Coop", something I am sure that the Board is aware of. This, along with the caricaturing and stereotyping of the staff by the Board, a staff that hasn't collectively unionised and whose few pro-union members can't agree on what union they want to be members of, this paranoia the Board and their fellow travellers have about the staff, and this scapegoating of the staff by the Board and their fellow travellers of the staff is beginning to assume McCarthyesque proportions. All of this, of course, is not new among powers that be. In fact, it is far too common. Just look at the history of stereotyping, caricaturing, paranoia, and scapegoating in nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries America. History ever repeats.