Ending Corporate Governance© 1994
by Richard L. Grossman
Today, few places on Earth are free from corporate rule.
Every day, people are bravely resisting corporations. They are standing up to the bullying, blackmail and violence corporate managers use to maintain their grip over our minds, our work and our communities.
Yet most people still concede to corporations the broad property and constitutional rights which corporate leaders over the last century have claimed as their own. These rights disadvantage us every time we petition our elected officials, regulatory agencies or courts for justice. They enable corporations to use bastardized democratic rhetoric -- and our own governments -- to keep us smartly in line.
We have been trained to accept elected legislators and judges delegating our historical and constitutional sovereign authority over corporations to faceless institutions further and further away from our communities.
Even when corporations cause blood to run, national citizen groups generally limit their goals to curbing corporate excesses, or to requesting corporate managers to please act responsibly. While such efforts are important, they do not reduce significantly the destruction of communities, nature and democracy by corporate leaders.
Resistance to corporate harms which does not challenge the legitimacy of corporate rule -- valiant as such resistance may be -- does not appreciably change corporate laws or constitutional doctrines which bestow upon giant corporations our governments' support. It does not shift back to people, communities and nature the power and authority over decisions, law making and legal proceedings which corporations have consolidated over the past hundred years.
Indeed, the abandonment of our social responsibilities as sovereign people has enabled many corporations chartered in our states to become larger in financial terms than most countries. The largest 300 corporations control about one-fourth of all the goods-producing assets in the world. The largest 100 have incomes greater than half the member countries of the United Nations. 70% of all international trade is directed by 500 corporations.
Today, giant, global corporations enter and leave communities at will, shaping the futures of people, ecosystems, and the Earth. Leaders of such corporations exercise sovereign control over vast lands (80% of all land used for export agriculture), species and minerals. They destroy local institutions of decision making, along with cultural traditions and regional self-sufficiencies. They choose which products and technologies are researched and created, and how human beings are used as workers, then discarded. They tax unilaterally and invisibly, via administered pricing, and spend huge sums to instruct us what to believe, what to buy, and how to vote.
Such concentrated corporate power that can manipulate our democratic processes is contrary to the theory of governance that is supposed to prevail in this republic. A revolution against tyrannical perpetual monarchy was waged in the name of this theory: that in the United States, all power must be constitutional -- that is, answerable to the people.
But isn't it clear that we the people have little legal or moral authority over today's giant corporations? That many of us are not even conscious that people once exercised such authority with diligence and determination?
And as Cornell West suggests, hasn't it become difficultSo what can we do? For starters, in our communities and in our states, we can begin doing our work to stop obvious corporate harms in ways whicheven to imagine what a free and democratic society (without such concentrations of corporate power) would look like (or how it would operate)?
None of this will be easy. But what alternatives do we have? Can we bring about the transitions our communities and the Earth cry out for by organizing chemical by chemical, forest by forest, dump by dump, technology by technology, product by product, outrageous act by outrageous corporate act?
- reveal today's large corporation as illegitimate for self-governing people, as contrary to community stability and ecological sanity;
- enable us -- via mass action, law and custom -- to assert local authority over corporations and over the Earth's assets which corporate managers claim;
- challenge legal doctrines which are currently in vogue -- like the ones declaring corporations to be persons protected by our Bill of Rights, and granting to corporations the sole right to manage;
- rewrite our state corporation laws to recharter corporations -- that is, rework the legal relationships between our communities and the corporate fictions we allow to operate in our communities; redesign our institutions of enterprise;
- freeze the assets and revolve the charters of harm-causing corporations whose managers and directors resist our constitutional authority over them.
We have enormous rethinking and organizing tasks ahead. But this is work which will be nurtured by struggle in communities and ecosystems where people and Nature experience corporate tyranny most keenly. And it is work which will be funded by growing realization that democracy will continue to be a delusion as long as we continue allowing corporations to rule.
Richard Grossman is co-author with Frank Adams of the 1993 pamphlet Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation. This pamphlet can be obtained for $4 from Charter, Ink/CSPP, Box 806, Cambridge, MA 02140.
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