I’m tired of those who argue that it’s only in the last forty years or so that American corporations have become too greedy and have acquired too much power, resulting in a huge income and wealth disparity and denying the “American dream” to the vast majority of people who “work hard and play by the rules”, but remain poor, or at best, struggling from paycheck to paycheck. This is what George Packer seems to argue in 434 pages of his new book, “Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America”. His publisher’s introduction says about the book: “seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers”. Apparently the “unwinding” refers to the unraveling of the “American way of life” which apparently was just fine before under the same capitalist system which was kinder and gentler before but turned ruthless and uncaring “during a single generation”. Mr. Packer argues that “leaders abandoned their posts,” with “the default force in American life, organized money” taking their place, as if those leaders had a legitimate role to play and “organized money” was not the “default force”, to begin with.
What’s even more amusing is New York Time’s critique of the book written by David Brooks who says: “When John Dos Passos wrote the “U.S.A.” trilogy [which was written in 1930’s during the Great Depression – Sako], the left had Marxism. It had a rigorous intellectual structure that provided an undergirding theory of society — how social change happens, which forces matter and which don’t, how society works and who causes it not to work. Dos Passos’ literary approach could rely on that structure, fleshing it out with story and prose”. Get it people? We had Marxism before. Now, we don’t. Marxism as a way of understanding the society and social and economic forces is no more, says Mr. Brooks of New York Times.
Going Back to Mr. Packer and his “Unwinding”, such writers forget that it took bloody and long battle by working people to achieve collective bargaining, 40 hour work week, sick leave, industrial health and safety laws, an end to child labor, etc., which helped improve their and their families’ lives. Corporations of those good old days would work people 12-16 hours a day, including underage children, in unsafe working conditions, for very low wages and with no healthcare, no sick leave or vacation. They would fire workers if they got sick or injured on the job with no laws to protect them against the company and no recourse. So, I don’t know what such authors who say corporations were more responsible before and bottom line wasn’t their only concern are talking about.
If there were unions which enabled collective bargaining and improved the lives of millions of people, it was only thanks to the struggle of the workers who battled the police on the streets for those rights and benefits, none of which were given, but had to be taken, through a long and bloody battle, and which bosses did everything they could to prevent from materializing. That included using riot police to beat, shoot, arrest and even kill protesting workers.
Furthermore, corporations have been on a dogged and determined mission to undo and dismantle workers’ unions, and succeeding to a great extent, reducing union membership from over 40%, four decades ago, to about 7%, today. CEO’s always considered only their bottom line and nothing else. Their allegiance has always been to the share holders, only. That’s nothing new. That’s what corporations are for. That’s what they get created for and are organized around. Expecting anything different is like expecting a tick not to suck the blood of its host animal. It wouldn’t be a tick if it didn’t do that.
Those who argue this is something new and an aberration, in effect, are trying to absolve the capitalist system which is based and predicated upon the existence of such independent and free corporations, engaged in “free enterprise”. “Free” here means they’re free to hire, fire, produce what and how they deem profitable for themselves, regardless of its effects on people’s lives, well being, food, water, air, the climate, etc., and amass astronomical wealth as a result, giving them the power to dictate their agenda and policies on the society, widening the chasm even more.
What’s needed is not admonishing the CEO’s and asking them to be more empathic, responsible or sensitive to people and their needs and well being. What’s needed is organizations that aren’t privately owned and aren’t organized around maximizing profits for a few super rich, but are owned by the people, are accountable to the people, and are organized around meeting people’s needs. Thus, they become controlled by the people and for the people, rather than controlling people and their lives which is the case now.
History is there for us to learn from. Those who wound have us forget and disregard history have an agenda and intend to deceive us. And, those who reduce the critique of the system to a soft and friendly admonishment of the corporations and their CEO’s and call for more sensitivity and empathy on their part, want us to lose sight of what’s really happening and what the real culprit is. They are thus apologists for this sick, corrupt and abusive system which keeps making the rich richer and the poor poorer and driving humanity towards ever more wars and potential annihilation. Only a systemic and fundamental overhaul of the system can put an end to it.