back to corporations | rat haus | Index | Search

the OTHER paper
Box 11376
Eugene, OR 97440
April, 1996

What about the corporate "good guys?"

by Wanda Ballentine

Corporations aren't all bad. Good people work for corporations and want to do good things -- what about them?

"They're irrelevant," says Richard Grossman, co-founder of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD). Good people with good intentions do work for corporations -- but they're still trapped in the corporate culture, in a system where profit is the bottom line, the only value.

If a CEO puts environmental protection ahead of maximizing profits, shareholders can sue. Maximizing profit by any means is his/her job. Corporate anthropolgist, Jane Ann Morris reports that the "I'd like to but" argument is endemic. Corporations hire dozens of experts to prove to their employees and the community that the best methods are the profit-making methods.

In the 1980s, 40 states passed "constituency statutes" that allowed management to consider factors besides profit maximization in decision-making -- factors such as the needs of workers, the community, and the environment. But the purpose was not to serve these interests, but to combat hostile takeovers. Since the realization that they could be used for such salutory purposes, they are being repealed.

Corporations are dictatorships. There is nothing democratic about them -- people don't learn about living in a democratic society in a corporation. All orders go from the top down. No employee has any legal standing or role in decision-making. The top officials have no accountability to employees, consumers, or communities, and even the stockholders are losing ground.

Vicious competition can be created as everyone scrambles up the ladder of success. Sometimes there are factions; sometimes coups; sometimes purges. "This," said attorney Greg Kafoury, "is a Stalinist model, a totalitarian model -- what does it do to people who work there?"

Kafoury learned what it does from his 15 years working to get the Trojan nuclear power plant shut down. Trojan was built on seismic cracks that had never been measured. When technology was developed to take the measurements, Kafoury asked why the engineer to take the measurements and find out how risky they were. "That's a good idea!" responded the engineer. . . . "But on the other hand -- why should we? We already have our license."

A lawyer who went to work for a law firm representing big corporations reported back to Kafoury dumbfounded. "These guys are all macho. They sit around saying things like, `Listen, this next project is to put this plant in a small community that spews poisons that'll make the kids sick, and goddamit, we need to know if you've got what it takes, or are you going to wimp out on us!' They pump each other up about how tough they are, how willing `to do what's necessary'." This is corporate culture.

Furthermore, Kafoury noted, CEOs and board members are part of interlocking directorates -- they don't just care about what their company is doing, but what they're all doing. "If you work for them, you have no political life -- you can't write a letter to the editor to say `We don't need Hyundai here.' You're a political eunuch." And corporation employees who join community groups can quash any movement that might threaten corporate activities.

But corporations donate to many good causes in the community that couldn't get along without them. Morris drew what she called a "sloppy parallel" between the European colonization of native peoples and the corporate colonization of our minds.

The early contacts between Europeans and indigenous peoples, usually involved an exchange of goods -- a reciprocal trade. Both sides got something of value and were happy. The trade continued on an optional basis.

Then, the colonizers picked a native trading agent -- ignoring and thus undermining tribal lines of authority -- and set him up in a trading post, making it easier to get the exotic goods.

Finally, when dependency on those goods was established and the tribes' sustainable skills and habits eroded, prices for native goods dropped and/or import prices went up.

This is also a description of the addictive process.

Corporate donations, Morris said, follow this pattern. Early corporate charters were spelled out on a quid pro quo basis -- what the corporation would do for the state, what the state would do in reciprocity.

It was not until 1953, when a certain company wanted to make a donation to Princeton, that a clear-cut right for corporations to make donations to social, civic, religious, organizations was established. "This," said Morris, "was similar to appointing a trading agent." It gives a company huge influence in community decision-making -- influence "far more powerful than a bribe, which is a clear one-time reciprocity."

"Everyone should read business management texts to learn how precisely prospective managers are coached to make connections in communities so that no one will be untouched, uninfluenced." Nearly every organization receives corporate money -- citizens must think about this in terms of the colonization experience.

Kafoury knows the "killing with kindness" method well. A political ally of the Stop Trojan campaign was silenced when PG&E kindly offered to pay off his campaign debt. Even the Solar Energy Association of Oregon, a natural ally, was bought off for $500.

Then there's the problem of the "experts," said Kafoury. "We are spending huge amounts of money in universities and `think tanks' to develop expertise, but it's not used for the public good -- its for sale." The big money for "experts" is in consulting for corporations. When news broke regarding a potential 9-9.5 quake in the Northwest, the Stop Trojan committee couldn't find any earthquake experts to talk about it. Anyone talking about the real risk would be dead as a consultant "even in a situation as compelling as an accident that could destroy the Northwest -- that's how bad it is." said Kafoury. "Carry that through everywhere with all the experts."

Locally, Weyerhaeuser, Georgia Pacific, the Register Guard, among others, have pledged to help Food for Lane County with big food donations this year. But what are they doing to help develop family wage jobs so people don't need hand-outs? What's the spread between their CEOs' salaries and those of the average worker? Certainly none of them has supported any local labor struggles to improve salaries and working conditions, and some have done their share of automating and "downsizing."

From the OTHER paper, April, 1996, pg. 7, POB 11376, Eugene, OR 97440.
Subscriptions $15/yr. Reprint permission granted; please cite source.

back to corporations | rat haus | Index | Search