Sunday, September 27, 2015
A Proposed New Constitution Article 6, Limiting Corporate Power
Also at http://alcarroll.com and http://www.dailykos.com/user/Al%20Carroll.
Article 6- Limiting Corporate Power
“1. All rights in this and the previous constitution, as well as under all American laws, are limited to human beings only. A person under US law is defined as a living human being only. Corporation rights and powers may be severely limited by any and all governments, whether federal, state, city, country, special district, or American Indian tribe.”
The Fourteenth Amendment may be the most misused and abused of all amendments. Intended to guarantee rights for former slaves, it has mostly been used to give corporations almost unlimited power. Two decades after the amendment passed, the courts ruled in Santa Clara v Southern Pacific that corporations were persons under the law, that as collections of individuals it was a legal useful fiction to pretend they were a person.
Corporations have rights no living person has. Corporation can be immortal, meaning they never have to worry about estate taxes. They pay a far lower income tax than most people do. There are limits to how much and when they can be sued, and corporation management are largely protected from lawsuits for their actions. Of course the greatest and most controversial right given to them is from the Citizens United ruling. Corporations can spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns, as long as it is done through a third party.
This ruling showed the class and ideological bias of the court at its worst. Condemnations of it range across the political spectrum, from Ralph Nader to John McCain. This ruling has frequently been compared to the Dred Scott or Plessy v Ferguson decisions both for the devastation it causes American society and how infamously it will be remembered in history. In opinion polls, up to three quarters of Americans want to see it overturned, across all parties and political beliefs. Two dozen states have their campaign finance laws affected by the ruling. Sixteen states have called for constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling.
But this ruling is just the final end product of a court always designed and usually working for the most elite class interests. There is some documentation that the judges in the original Southern Pacific case did not intend their ruling to go that far and set as broad a precedent. Corporations are so powerful that many people don’t realize there was ever a time when their power was limited.
Even other elites worried about corporate power. Corporate charters in British colonial and early American times were limited. They had only so many years of existence, had to serve the public interest, and were often chartered with a narrow purpose. One of the proposed amendments for the Bill of Rights was limits on corporate power. Andrew Jackson, before the civil rights era when little attention was paid to the Trail of Tears, was often held up as a popular hero for his successfully breaking one of the most powerful corporate institutions, the Bank of the US.
“2. A corporation must serve the public interest and its life span shall be limited. Any corporation shall be permanently dissolved if they break the law more than five times. No business, corporation, or individual can escape fines, punishments, or legal judgments by declaring bankruptcy, holding companies, shell companies, or any other diversion, evasion, or tactic.”
Corporate crime in America is far more serious than many realize. Corporate crime is the cause of more deaths than street crime, each year over 60,000 workplace deaths alone. Add to that one corporate scandal after another, each of them mostly or entirely unpunished, BCCI, Enron, Worldcom, subprime mortgages, underwater loans, etc., etc. The scandals are increasing in numbers, scale, and in how rarer punishment is becoming. Hundreds went to jail for the savings and loans bank scandals of the 1980s. Almost no one was jailed for the last banking scandal.
In the documentary The Corporation, the film makers followed the logic of declaring corporations to be persons. If a corporation were a person, what would its personality be? They concluded the characteristics of a corporation define it as a sociopath. It cannot have empathy for others and acts without concern for anyone else. It is deliberately amoral, and defined as such for the purpose of self- interest alone. In fact if a corporation were to act morally (for reasons other than self interest in its public image) it almost certainly would face lawsuits from shareholders for failing to pursue maximum profit.
The power of the public over any and all corporations should be absolute. If a company pollutes, force it to clean up. If a corporation makes a destructive or defective product, let it be punished the same as an individual. For a time there was a movement towards “three strikes” laws for crime. Why not five strikes laws for corporations? If corporations break the law five times, they can be dissolved.
Let there be no more legal loopholes used to escape punishment. Bankruptcy was intended to let companies and individuals fail at business but still be able to start over. It was not and should not be there to avoid punishment for crimes. Combine this Proposed Article 6 with Proposed Article 11, which requires all crimes be punished and all criminals cannot evade punishment. Corporations that kill through negligence, incompetence, or greed deserves the corporate death penalty, the end of their existence. The nation and the world will be far better off.
“3. The right to collective bargaining by unions or other workers shall not be limited more than other civic or lobbying groups, nor subject to government recognition.”
Unions are the most democratic institutions in America. They are the most representative of their membership. That is part of why are often demonized by those opposed to them and why so much effort has been expended to crush the labor movement.
It is not widely taught in public schools, but America has one of the most violent histories of class warfare anywhere in the world. Not simply “class warfare” as used today, where even bringing up class issues gets one labeled a Marxist. (Full disclosure: I am a traditional Catholic. That means I believe in social justice, and that capitalism is a sin.) From colonial times until the Great Depression, unions and strikes were often crushed with great brutality. Companies often used private armies, or had the police or US Army break a strike with violence. Two of the most notorious examples include the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, broken by killing over 100 strikers. In the West Virginia Mine Wars in the 1920s, the largest armed uprising since the Civil War saw a company army of over 5,000 kill over 20 miners with not just guns but mortars, and their own air force.
The reason why today we do not often hear of violent strikes, or many strikes at all, is that after World War II the US government learned to be a better strike breaker. During the Great Depression the Wagner Act was passed. It recognized union rights to exist, to bargain collectively, and to strike. But it also required unions to submit to being government recognized to be seen as legitimate.
The Taft Hartley Act, passed during Cold War hysteria, went much further. Any perceived radicals in a union can get it stripped of recognition. Companies can dictate when unions hold their elections, and unions have to give 60 days’ notice before striking. Company spies by law cannot be kicked out of a union, and strikebreakers' jobs are protected. A National Labor Relations Board is stacked with anti-union officials. Even were it to rule in favor of unions, it has little power, and so many workers are fired for joining unions or speaking out against abuses. Over 400 union locals are stripped of recognition each year.
Imagine how difficult organizing would be on any other issue were these same practices happening to others. How powerful would the National Rifle Association be if it lost 400 chapters a year? How well would any organization on either side of the abortion issue do if the other side could decide when it holds elections, given 60 days to prepare for campaigns, and that organization could not remove spies in its midst or people hired to break their group up?
None of these union busting practices should be legal. Let unions be treated by the same standards as any other civic, lobbying, or interest group. Anyone who joins a union should be able to. Apparently over half of Americans wish they were part of a union. But under 10% of Americans actually are. These are mostly government workers such as cops, firefighters, and teachers. Only public pressure on governments keep them from being as abusive to their workers as private companies.
Unions were what turned the US into a middle class nation. For one generation after World War II, unions helped spread prosperity to those people most responsible for it. But since the 1970s inequality has grown sharply, to where it is now as bad as before the Great Depression. Unions can reverse that, and doing so would be good for the nation as a whole and business as a whole. An economy is much more vulnerable when it depends mostly on the spending of the well off.