Sunday, January 10, 2010

Our Goal For 2010; Disprove Corporate Personhood

(originally published at OpEdNews)

There are so many reasons why the primary goal of 2010 for all who “want to take their country back”, with the exception of racists, is to obliterate the myth of corporate personhood. This goal should be the top priority in 2010 for liberals and conservatives alike. This goal should be the top priority for those who want to elect the best candidate to any office, but realize that candidate can’t even run for office because that candidate doesn’t have and can’t raise the money to buy the office.

The Real Beginning of Fascism?

If the word fascism would have been used at the time of the American Revolution, it could very well have been used in reference to the actions of King George III as he was utilizing corporations such as the East India Company to literally fight his fights for him.

In fact, after its chartering by Queen Elizabeth of England in 1600, The East India Company became the “owner and ruler” of The Commonwealth of Virginia. Thus, as one of the definitions of fascism used in today’s world is the partnership between the government and the corporate world in ruling a state or nation, Virginia’s rule by the East India Company obviously qualifies as fascist rule. Before the end of The American Revolution, Maryland and North and South Carolina had been taken over and governed by corporations.

The American Revolution, although initiated by an elite group of White men, was fought by so called “commoners” against the Crown of England. It’s no wonder, however, that neither the elite who instigated the revolution nor the commoners who fought it detested the idea of unregulated multinational corporations. They’d seen first hand the damage and oppression that kind of power in the hands of the “private sector”, backed, of course, by the government, can wield.

Regulation Was Supported by Early Americans

Following the Revolution, Americans were diligent when allowing the existence of corporations in The United States. Corporations had to be chartered by the elected representatives of the local communities in which they planned to set up shop. The charters were strict and saw to it that no harm would come to those localities. The legislatures who chartered the corporations had the right to revoke the charters and shut down a corporation if it violated any part of the charter.

The Myth of Corporate Personhood

Myth has it that, in the 1886 Supreme Court Case of Santa Clara County v The Southern Pacific Railroad, corporations were granted the same protections based upon The Bill of Rights that natural human beings possess. Subsequent court cases have based decisions favorable to corporations upon this myth.

The truth is that the clerk of the court, J. C. Bancroft Davis, a former railroad board president, wrote “Corporations are persons” in the headnotes of the case.

Ironically, the case had nothing at all to do with whether or not corporations were persons. Furthermore, headnotes do not carry the weight of the law and are not part of the decision.

Yet, as mentioned, court cases that followed Santa Clara County v. The Southern Pacific
Railroad have been decided upon as if the 1886 case legally gave personhood to corporations.

There are many court cases which have protected corporations as though they were natural human beings. The following are three examples.

The first example is First National Bank of Boston v Bellotti, 1978. In this case, the court found that political donations by corporations are protected by the first amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees “people” free speech. It claimed, in essence, that money is speech. Obviously, some “people” are able to speak louder than others.

Two court cases protected corporations based upon their “rights” as stated in the fourth amendment to the Constitution.

In 1906, the court case Hale v Henkel decided in favor of corporations not having to present documentation showing whether they are or are not violating US Antitrust Laws.

In the 1978 case Marshall v Barlow’s Inc. it was decided that a surprise inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration violated the fourth amendment rights of corporations. It was decided that surprise inspections were “unreasonable searches”. Not only did the decision marginalize worker safety by denying OSHA the right to inspect a workplace for safe working conditions, but a chemical plant cannot be inspected without warning to ensure that it’s not blatantly polluting. Do you live anywhere near a chemical plant? Think about it.

With the stroke of a pen, corporations didn’t gain personhood, yet began to be treated by US courts as if they had.

What Opportunity did Corporations use to Pursue Personhood?

Following the Civil War, people of African descent were no longer allowed to be owned by Whites in any part of the US. Congress decided that, to solidify this law, an amendment to the Constitution was needed. That amendment was the fourteenth amendment and was passed and ratified in 1868.

Section 1. of Amendment XIV reads as follows: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Freedom would do those of African descent no good if they were not protected under the laws of The United States as full-fledged citizens. The fourteenth amendment was ratified to ensure that everyone in every state in the US realized that people of color were citizens of The United States of America and possessed all of the rights identified in the Constitution of The United States.

How Easily Was the Fourteenth Amendment Implemented?

That depended upon who or what you were.

Ironically, the fourteenth amendment did not recognize women as equal citizens as they had to wait until 1920 to gain the right to vote.

Inasmuch as the fourteenth amendment was for the benefit of the newly freed slaves, people of African descent had to spend almost 100 years after its ratification fighting and dying to actually realize the benefits of that amendment. It wasn’t until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law that people of color began to enjoy the benefits of the fourteenth amendment.

On the other hand, corporations had to wait a mere 16 years after the fourteenth amendment was signed into law to be considered “persons” with all of the rights granted by the Constitution. Adding insult to injury, no law was ever passed and no court decision ever handed down which specifically granted personhood to corporations, entities which are not only not persons, but which, but for the grace of real persons, wouldn’t even exist.

What the People Got

In the late 19th century and the early 20th century, workers in the US, especially immigrants who came to the US for a better life, fought and many actually died in attempts to organize against draconian working conditions placed upon them by American corporations and businesses.

These people fought for and gained the eight hour work day, the forty hour work week, a reasonable amount of time away from work, including vacation time and compensation for sick time. They also rid the US of the scourge of child labor. These were the early unions and, if not for their persistence and outright courage, those of us working today would not have the benefits we have today, whether our workplace is unionized or not.

However, despite all of the blood spilled in order to gain fairness for the American worker, the stronger the corporate person has become, the weaker the human worker’s rights have become. Today, there is a backlash against unions which protect workers and, unbelievably, much of the attack comes from middle class workers who happen to work in non-union environments. Many letters to the editor lambast federal, state, county, city and/or town workers for the benefits they receive as well as the pay they receive. Instead of displaying the courage shown by the early organizers and pursuing what is rightfully theirs as workers, many people, again many who belong to the disappearing middle class, want no workers to have the benefits that were painfully gained. The workers, especially in the private sector and even more especially who are employed by multinational corporations, are seeing their pay and benefits dwindle, not to mention their jobs disappear They respond to their losses by castigating those workers who’ve fought to hold on to the benefits gained long ago rather than to fight for the same benefits.

They are afraid that, if they attempt to organize, they’ll lose their jobs. They don’t have the presence of mind to realize that, if they don’t organize, the corporation can shut them out at any time without notice so that those at the top of the corporation can increase their wealth. And as it stands now, a worker who’s been wronged can take the corporation to court. However, as the corporation will be viewed as a person as much as the actual human worker who’s been wronged will be viewed as a person, the corporation will claim in its defense that it’s been wronged and, unlike the human worker, the corporation will be represented by the finest, most expensive law firm it can hire.

What People Gained and Where They are Today: An Example

The following is true. This truth was imparted by a person who works for a huge, multinational corporation. The person, who depends upon the corporation not only for a wage, but also for help toward healthcare, has asked not to be identified.

So that, in the unlikely event that a top manager of the corporation might read this article, the corporation will also not be identified. This is not to protect the heartless corporation, but to ensure that the identity of the worker is not discovered.

The operation requires that the workplace runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Consequently, the worker works a rotating shift. The shift consists of a four person rotation; that is, four people do the same job. One person is always off and the other three are working except on the weekend where two people work twelve hour shifts and two people are off.

When someone either takes vacation or calls in sick, someone else has to cover.

On the regular schedule, coverage during the week is done by those who are already at work. They work twelve hour shifts instead of eight hour shifts. Coverage on the weekend is provided by the two people who are off. One is expected to be the “primary coverage” person. This means that person has to be available to work. The primary coverage person cannot make plans to go away or just plans in general on days off unless the other person who’s off is willing to accept the primary coverage responsibility. It also means that, as the primary coverage person is expected to be available to work, that person really can’t be sick, have a few drinks or just plain not want to work.

This occurs once a month and there is no compensation for this. If the primary coverage person has to work both days off, that person will be working fourteen days in a row.

There have been a few times where the primary relief person has not answered calls from work or returned phone calls. That person is then “in trouble” for not being available. Although, to date, there haven’t been any real severe penalties handed out, like time off without pay or worse, letters documenting the unavailability of primary coverage people have been put in their files. Letters are usually placed in files so that there is documentation for the corporation to fall back on if it wants to fire a worker.

In contrast to workers having to be available on days off without compensation, management has the freedom to change the regular schedule at any point without warning. If a worker is fired, quits, undergoes an extended illness or injury, management has to cover that person’s spot.

The work rotation of management’s choice is called a six and three schedule. One works six twelve hour days and has three days off, then six twelve hour nights and has three days off. As there is one less person from which to choose, anyone who is off is expected to be the primary coverage person for all of those days off. If the primary coverage person is called in to work, that person is paid at one and one-half times the base rate in overtime. However, for all of their days off when the workplace is short one person, workers are essentially “on call” with no compensation.

The purpose of days off, as proclaimed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, is to afford the worker sufficient time to recuperate and return to his work thoroughly refreshed. Nowhere in The US Constitution is it written that the purpose of workers’ days off is for them to sit around, wondering if their employer will contact them to come to work. Furthermore, with some possible exceptions, there has never been a law passed by Congress which states that workers have an obligation to their employers during such time that their employers are not required to compensate them for that obligation.

There are rules concerning when and how workers should proceed in requesting vacation time. The main thread of these rules acts as a courtesy to those workers who have to cover the vacancy. The main rule is that a person who is planning to take vacation time is required to give ten day’s notice.

On the other hand, this particular workplace has changed workers’ schedules from day to day with minimum or no notice.

The worker who was willing to share these specifics also explained that a more worker friendly schedule had been suggested. This worker headed up that effort. The suggested schedule is a schedule that doesn’t require one to work fourteen days in a row. The proposed schedule was rejected by corporate management because it said that state law would not allow it.

The truth of the matter is that the state in question requires employers to pay overtime to a worker after the worker has worked eight hours in one day. Other states don’t require employers to pay overtime until a worker has worked forty hours in one week.

Ironically enough, another site belonging to this very same corporate behemoth and located in the same state works the very schedule suggested by the employee whose idea was rejected.

One last fact in this very specific instance which proves that workers are losing any semblance of democracy in the workplace is that people who work the day shift work what is called a 9/80 schedule. Under the 9/80 schedule, a day worker works four nine hour days and one eight hour day in one week and the next week works four nine hour days and has Friday off. Each and every one of those days is paid at straight time. There’s no overtime paid for the daily hour worked after the first eight hours. As the pay is distributed every two weeks, this adds up to eighty hours or forty hours a week.

The obvious question, of course, is how does the corporation manage to circumvent the state law which requires employers to pay overtime to workers who work over eight hours a day so that day workers can work the 9/80 schedule?

Ultimately

The answer to the above question is pretty easy. Corporations have gotten to a place where they no longer worry about their workers, the communities in which they locate or even the nation which allows them to exist. It is an understatement that corporations have a “hand” in governing the United States. They are, after all, “persons”, are they not?

That answer is also easy. No, corporations are no more persons than are the rocks one digs up when planting a garden or the tires on one’s car or the chairs one sits in or the shoes one wears. Corporations are entities created by human beings. Human beings should and do have the right to shut down corporations when they harm communities and people who live in those communities.

Open Up the Floodgates

There is a case before The Supreme Court which should be decided very soon. The case is Citizens United (a corporation) v The Federal Elections Commission.

Citizens United decided to screen a documentary injurious to Hillary Clinton during the last sixty days of the 2008 presidential campaign. Citizens United claims that, by ruling against their showing this so called documentary, the lower courts infringed upon its first amendment rights.

It cost Barack Obama $700 million to become president of The United States in 2008. If The Supreme Court decides in favor of Citizens United, that $700 million will look like pocket change.
Not only that, but those who want to see the Democratic and Republican parties disappear may get their way, albeit not how they envisioned that happening. It’s possible that, if Citizens United wins this court case, the names of the political parties, like the names of our great sports stadiums, will be changed. There will be the Monsanto Party or the Hewlett Packard Party or The Dow Chemical Party. The candidates could possibly be chosen from a group of CEOs who already rake in more money in a year that most Americans will earn in a life time.

If one was to do a root cause failure analysis on why the American political system is broken, one would find a tiny seed which was planted in 1886 and has grown to break that system. That seed has spawned corporate personhood.

Ultimately, the answer is for us, the real human citizens of the US, to not fear the corporations, but to remind them that they should fear us. Without us, they couldn’t exist.

How do we do this?

If we’re workers, we organize. If we’re consumers, we buy and/or bank locally whenever possible. If we keep our money away from the large multinational corporations, we will be able to keep it in our local communities. That could possibly initiate a need for workers and, also, possibly help local economies. If local economies begin to thrive again, it’s possible that the national economy will look better from what has been referred to as Main Street.

Courage does not manifest itself in flags, bombs dropped from miles above a target or tea bags. Courage manifests itself in actions, actions that may not be comfortable at first or may never be comfortable. But those actions can make this a better world for our children and our childrens’ children, the real humans who will be inhabiting this world in the future.

To friendship,
Michael

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” - Mark Twain


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