Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Consent of the Governed

There are a few things most Americans want from the government, and the current administration withholds most of these things as a matter of principle. All kinds of “reasons” and “facts” provide rationale for withholding those things, but nothing provides an excuse.

A doctor works for an HMO for more than 10 years. At 38, she is the most senior person in her department. She is also one of the oldest. When the HMO begins to see her personal politics and her practice of medicine as being at odds with their bottom line, she is summarily fired. The HMO claims to have dismissed her because of her bad recordkeeping, but no one really believes that. She has been fired because of the combination of her age and her refusal to blow with the corporate wind.

A homemaker spends her twenties and thirties raising a family and then returns to school. Upon graduation, she discovers that 40 is too old to get an entry-level job anywhere. One employer, in its effort to avert accusations of age discrimination, interviews her for five hours before offering a terminal position outside of her field, even though they advertise openings in her field. Later, she hires on with a company that claims to be family-oriented, but which penalizes her for lateness beyond 3 minutes, has no sick time or family leave, and insists that she take her lunch “hour” promptly from 11:00 to 11:45 each day. When she chafes under the micromanagement of her time, they fire her.

A chemist with a Ph.D. and 30 years experience as a university professor and researcher fails to obtain grant support for his position. The university dissolves his position. He spends the next four years looking for work, before reaching retirement age and giving up to draw his social security.

No one believes that shiftless workers should be guaranteed jobs. By the same token, most people object to being used and discarded like so much toilet paper by corporations whose sole motive is profit. The reason corporations get away with it is simple, people do not want to see the hand writing on the wall.

Thirty years ago, at a General Electric manufacturing facility in Philadelphia, workers routinely and voluntarily took shorter hours to prevent layoffs. The company only laid workers off when the entire shop would have to drop below 32 hours per week to maintain a full crew. The same facility shut down for 2 weeks every summer, so employees could vacation with their families.

GE is not small potatoes. The company survived these worker-friendly policies and others, and continued to pay dividends to its stockholders. Now, rather than have humane policies toward workers, or pay them fairly, big business out-sources positions to other lax-lawed countries where $5 is a handsome price for a day’s work.

The neo-cons promise on a daily basis to protect us from terrorists. Perhaps it is time for us to tell them exactly which terrorists we wish protection against. If spilling oil all over Prince William Sound and taking a tax deduction for the clean-up costs is not terrorism, what is? If disenfranchising large portions of the population by creating 5-hour lines on Election Day is not terrorism, find some. If big business re-instituting the sweat-shop as standard operating procedure is not terrorism, please someone, enlighten me. These are wrongs that need to be righted.

The challenge is to get the scales to fall from the eyes of corporate serfdom. The cubicle-dwellers of this country have suffered wrongs while wrongs were sufferable, but they need someone to help them connect the dots. They must understand that they need not consent to abuse in order to feed their families. Most of all, they need to see that their employers do indeed abuse them and their families, and that the stories the employers tell about profitability and what dire straits the corporations inhabit are exactly that—fairy tales about things that go bump in the night.

For millennia, humans have carried on trade without abusing their brethren. Where do corporations get the idea that using people as “human capital” is acceptable? If the purpose of government is to protect the weak from the strong, as some believe, then government’s failure to do so is grounds for the governed to withdraw their consent.

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About Me

I love my country, that is why I criticize its absurdities; I love my freedom, that is why I do it publicly.