At the 43-year-old Park Slope Food Coop (PSFC), the past 7 years of the campaign for BDS have exposed issues of governance. The governing body of the 16,500-member organization is a monthly, town-hall style General Meeting (GM), normally attended by 300-500 members. The 6 member Board of Directors (5 elected, plus the paid Senior General Coordinator, who has a vote) is pledged to ratify decisions made by the GM. The Board was established to satisfy the NY State requirements for this type of not-for-profit entity.
The PSFC is one of the largest cooperative worker-run enterprises in the US. It distributes high-quality food and other products with less than a 25% mark-up over wholesale costs. All members are required to work a two and 3/4 hour shift every 4 weeks.
Except for shopping, most of the 16,500 members have little other involvement at the Coop. The staff is there every day, overseeing the operation. This structure shifts a lot of power to 50-60 paid staff, especially to the eight General Coordinators (GC’s) and in particular to the Senior General Coordinator, a founder of the coop, a voting Board member.
He has become, de facto, the political spokesperson for the GC’s. He has, from early in the BDS campaign, acted as an ally of the Zionist faction of members. In March 2012 he exhorted members to vote against having a coop-wide referendum on boycotting Israeli products . (His slogan was “Vote Coop, Vote No”) He seems to see himself as protecting the Coop by suppressing conflict over BDS. In May 2015 after Zionists had disrupted the April 2015 GM presentation about boycotting SodaStream, he proposed an “emergency” referendum to ban any discussion of “Israel, Palestine, the Middle East, SodasStream, BDS-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or boycotts thereof”.
In the present situation, the GC’s have said they cannot find a space that is affordable to . hold a vote about boycotting SodaStream, so that vote has been delayed for a year. The only way to vote for putting the SodaStream vote to a membership referendum would be through a GM vote and here again we are facing the argument that the GC’s cannot find an organization with affordable space, willing to rent to the Coop for a vote on this controversial issue.
And now the GC’s have decided, as Sarah Wellington has described, that “because of recent disputes about the content and purpose of events in the meeting room” we cannot use that room for “any event related to Sodastream, BDS, Israel or boycotts related to these subjects.”
PSFC members for BDS has asked for a meeting with the GC’s on this issue and we are waiting for it to be scheduled.