Editor, The Progressive
Dear Matthew Rothschild,
The first six-and-a-half paragraphs of your April Editor's Note are clear, apt, elegant and exciting. Thank you.
I wonder, though, when you come to what the left should do, why limit yourself to a shorter work week at higher pay, and guaranteed jobs/income?
You encourage readers to be utopian, to dream. Why not to be logical as well? If we were utopian and logical, we would seek to end corporate rule, and strive to govern ourselves.
- MAY 1995 Progressive
The first 6 1/2 paragraphs of your April Editor's Note are clear, apt, elegant and exciting. Thank you.
I wonder, though: when you come to what the left should do, why limit yourself to a shorter work week at higher pay, and guaranteed jobs/ income? While such changes are overdue and would be welcome, they do not flow logically from your precise words a few lines above:. . . the left needs to do more than carry liberalism's portfolio because part of the crisis of liberal politics today has been brought on by the limits of liberalism itself. Liberalism accepts the free market as the ruling principle of our society. It assumes that corporations, with only a modest restraint here or there, will operate in the best interests of society. And it presumes that the selling of one's labor is the most rational way to organize work.You encourage readers to be utopian, to dream. Why not to be logical as well? If we were utopian and logical, we would seek to end corporate rule, and strive to govern ourselves.
How? We can begin by taking away the sources of corporations' powers over us: withdraw the corporation's sole right to manage, its legal personhood and other special privileges; prohibit corporations from interfering in our elections and in our lawmaking; prohibit any corporation from owning another corporation; ban corporate meddling in policy debates and discussions; ban corporate front corporations; withdraw liability protections from directors, managers and shareholders; revoke the charters of corporations which exceed their authority.
Why shouldn't we employ the usable assets these corporations have taken from people and the Earth over the past hundred years and start the many investment, work and organizational transitions our communities demand?
In your April issue, three articles provide examples/ analyses of corporate rule and corporate power. Ron Carey says "If labor is weak, it's because of the corporate agenda . . . Corporations don't permit fair elections . . . Even where we win elections, companies just ignore it . . . " Cary points to specific corporations, such as Merrill Lynch, "which owns part of Borg Warner, which owns Pony Express."
What is the Teamsters' strategic response? Corporate campaigns, strikes, educating the public after corporations hired scabs. OK, but toward what goals? Toward getting workers back their jobs, and organizing new shops. That's essential, of course.
But where is the strategy to return corporations to their proper role as legal fictions subordinate to the people? To replace corporations? Where is the education necessary to unmask corporate privileges and immunities? To change property and corporate law?
Ken Silverstein writes that "With lightning speed, big corporations -- often working through benignly named front groups --- have been pushing a pro-business agenda more extreme than anything floated during the halcyon days of the Reagan Administration." He mentions giants such as W. R. Grace Corporation, Amoco Corporation, Bell Atlantic Corporation, Citibank Corporation, General Electric Corporation, General Motors Corporation, along with powerhouse front corporations like the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Edison Electric Company [he means Institute but the slip is understandable], the American Petroleum Institute.
He concludes: " . . . with the Republicans in charge of Congress for at least the next two years, the pay-off for business will likely come at the expense of consumers and taxpayers." Does Silverstein mean to suggest that with Democrats in charge, the people will govern?
Jane Slaughter writes that "As corporations look for ways to get more work out of fewer workers, they are turning both to overtime and to harsh work schedules." She quotes Dave Yettaw, president of UAW Local 599, saying that "We're all dealing with the broken promises that the corporations have made and with this race for competitiveness . . . all of organized labor across this country is going to have to join in solidarity and demonstrate like they do in Europe, uith a one-day general strike . . . You'll see a new social contract demanded in this country . . . "
Broken promises? Social contract?
Before its meaning was perverted, the social contract did not represent a deal between the sovereign people and corporations, or between the sovereign people and government.
The social contract was an agreement among the people regarding what kind of governance they desired. WE THE PEOPLE were to confer and to decide, and then devise institutions and mechanisms to help do the work which needed doing.
Defining THE PEOPLE was a basic political and organizing challenge -- as it still is today. But in revolutionary times, it was well-understood that sovereign people do not negotiate with subordinate agencies like corporations or regulatory bodies.
After the American Revolution, a struggle took place between those who sought popular self-governance with equal protection of the laws, and those who sought minority rule, with some classes possessing special privileges. Minority rule won out: native peoples, slaves, women and men without property were denied political rights.
Notwithstanding, few people wanted corporations. When the first few corporations were chartered, the people did not seek corporate promises. Instead, they wielded total authority over every aspect of corporate form and function. This was reflected in legal theory, laws and customs, and popular culture.
Charters of incorporation were considered privileges, granted by the sovereign people one at a time, and for a set number of years. Legislators limited capitalization, held both managers and shareholders liable for harms their corporations caused and debts they accumulated, defined internal corporate governance and readily dissolved corporations which acted beyond the authority of the people.
Alas, by the end of the 19th Century, the men running railroad, banking, oil, mineral, agribusiness and other corporations had forged a counter-revolution. Having gained political rights before many classes of natural persons did, they turned the corporate form into a powerful shield, rewrote law and history, made governnent a barrier between corporations and the people, and fashioned a corporate colonial culture.
What had once been mere assertions of rights and powers by corporate lawyers becane doctrines and laws, custon and habit.
Centuries ago, Thomas Hobbes described corporations as "worms in the body politic." Today's large corporations are devouring people and the Earth, leaving poison and destruction in their wake.
Today, deep within our corporate culture, people fulminate and valiantly resist. But we limit ourselves to limited, defensive -- and exhausting -- struggle. We celebrate victory when corporate managers poison us a little less, when they negotiate collective bargaining agreements or voluntary codes of conduct, or when they merely talk nicely to us.
We let aimless, undemocratic institutions -- remnants of once-vibrant social movements -- police our thoughts and actions, set our agendas.
We pattern our resistance organizations on the corporate model.
We've been colonized by corporations. Who even notices uhen our political, educational and cultural leaders refer to corporations as citizens . . . to our land as corporate America? So many people believe that global corporations were inevitable, and are irreplaceable.
Why do we censor ourselves so? We are the ones who actually do the work which make this country run. We outnumber corporate leaders, their lawyers and their politicians.
We are the governors, as well as the governed. We are the sovereign people.
We have authority and tools to take giant corporations apart. We can stop giving away our rights, our labor, our resources, our communities, and our children to corporations. We can organize to stop corporate harms in ways which reveal the nature of the global corporation, which expose the sources of its power, and which begin shifting legal authority and assets from corporations to people and communities.
Enclosed are sone materials you may find relevant. Perhaps The Progressive would like to report on the ideas they explore, and on the efforts by growing numbers of people around the country -- and around the world -- to end corporate rule.
Richard L. Grossman