Posts Tagged ‘organizing’

Slavery, Women’s Rights, and Employment Contracts

     Slavery represented a contract of sorts. The slave owner provided for food, shelter, and clothing for his slaves and in turn, they worked for him. The social structure treated this relationship between the owner and the slave as a form of a contract. The slave was a form of property whose work product belonged not to the slave, but to the owner who invested his capital in the slave, either by the purchase of an able bodied worker or the nurturing of a new born slave until he or she could provide productive value to the owner. Society recognized this form of contract which prevented the slave from being able to seek either a termination or fulfillment of the contract so as to gain the ability to be the owner of his or her own productive labor. The contract was one-sided in this respect.

     Today, it is almost universally true that slavery violates the laws and traditions of the various cultures and societies throughout the world with few exceptions. So much has this been outlawed that one who might seek to sell themselves into slavery for any of a number of reasons may not do so, even as a limited indenture contract. Of course, there is still illegal slavery in the form of human trafficking. There is also a form of slavery in the fee for sex industry.

     In a similar way, at least most of written history, marriage represented a similar kind of contract. A woman was considered property, her labor owned by the contract of marriage. While today, in many Western cultures, secular law recognizes a woman’s right to her own person, her own rights to make decisions independently from her husband. Still, a number of religious institutions advocate for the subjugation of a woman to her husband. In other parts of the world, the contractual rights of a husband to the “ownership” of the wife or wives still reigns. Honor culture forms a kind of contract in some societies so effectively as to give men life and death rights over wives as well as female children. For the world, there is still some progress to be made in a woman’s right to be an agent in all aspects of their life affairs, to be able to make decisions independently of, even in contradiction to. the will of their spouses.

     As in the case of slavery, the world has made and continues to make progress in eliminating this concept that one person can own any aspect of another person. In Western society, recognition of property rights allows people to claim ownership of themselves and to be considered their own agent with regard to the sale and trade of their property or work effort. Yet, there is still a frontier of one person owning another person’s work that society has not addressed. The problematic nature of this ownership issue is complicated by the treatment of corporations as though there were a person with regard to their ability to own living peoples work products. This is imbedded in the nature of the actual and implied employment contracts.

     What we have is an instance where a “thing” (organized capital, usually in the form of a corporation) can own the “work product” of a person visa via an employment contract that both enter into supposedly freely. However, the contract is one sided. A worker rarely owns the results of their work, that is share in both the risks and rewards of the enterprise in which they are employed. The risks they encounter involve the obligation to obey instructions, directions which take the form of the same kinds of commands given to a slave. They must endure the treatment of “superiors” or be insubordinate. Their risk is the loss of employment, loss of wages, of the ability to survive. In many cases, they are not “hired” to think, but to do as their “master” demands.

     Inventions (or any creative products, are fundamentally the creation of human ingenuity but the ownership of the invention by a person working under an actual or implied work contract belongs to the “thing” that paid the person. It goes so far as to imply that if a person makes an invention at home, in their garage, off of the hours they are employed to work, that too can be claimed by the company. The ownership belongs to the owner of the capital invested in the company, not in the work that was invested by the worker. The worker is sold short, but the culture surrounding employment contracts offers few alternatives.

     This modern form of “slave labor” is well rooted in tradition and culture and is not even recognized by people who see their productive capacity as something to sell in the form of a “job.” Work is devalued while those capable of accumulating and investing capital are rewarded with the immediate and ongoing profit from the work paid for only once. Capital, a thing, becomes the slave holder taking care of the worker in return for the work product in perpetuity, accepted as a kind of interest on the capital investment.

     An alternative to this situation is a reformulation of the corporation. First, it must become its rightful non-person. The corporation must become a cooperative association of people who are not external stock holders, but whose capital is both the financial support of the people who work in the corporation as well as the work products of the people who work in the corporation. The workers will be the ones who take the risks of their capital and work as well as the rewards of the same. The only role of external capital in the corporation should be that of loans made to individual workers in the corporation, not even to the corporation as an entity. These worker-owners of their own productive structure take the risk of its success as well as benefit from the rewards of its success. Using this model and expanding it so that these multiples of cooperative formulated corporations can work together stands as the greatest hope of addressing this third form of slavery, the employment contract between a “corporation as person” and a living person for a wage. Instead, people join together to protect their own creative capacity and its rewards.

Why Organize?

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Organizing
Tags: , ,

Most of us are familiar with the Tug of War game played with a big rope. Two teams are set at either end. A flag on the rope between them and either a line on the ground or perhaps a body of water or mud puddle below the flag, in the middle. Can you picture that in your mind? Have you ever played in this game? Lots of fun and a good metaphor to understand why we organize.

So imagine life as a kind of multiple Tug of War games. On one side are all of the market forces pulling on the other end of the rope. The referee is the government who establishes the rules, what is allowed, how it is enforced, and who declares the winner of each game. And why do you play the game at all? Because the market provides you with messages and goods you want and need, you have no choice but to play.

Here is the problem. The market players are giants. They have no moral compass that wants to play fare. The market forces are principally interested in profit, something necessary to keep them providing us with the things we want and need. They have no reservations in getting the rules of the game set up to favor their objective of pulling you and your resources to meet their need for profit. The more the better. They are big. You are just one person. If it is you against them, you have little chance of winning the game.

However, there are more people than there are marketers. The only way to achieve a balance in this game is to enlist more people to pull on your end. Since you can vote, but the market can’t, you can change the rule makers to make the game more balanced. But you can do this only if you are part of a organized effort to have organizations you belong helping to pull and educate people about fairness. The pulling in this metaphor represents the constant tension that exists between your organized efforts and those of the market. You don’t have a chance alone. You don’t have a chance with drop-in and drop-out partners. Your only chance is with continuing organized effort.


Posted: January 31, 2012 in psychology
Tags: ,

Its part of the human condition, a preference for immediate gratification over postponed gratification.  The ability of children to postpone immediate gratification correlates with academic success.  For most of us, healthy habits fail due to our desire for gratification now rather than insuring good health later.  No doubt, this tendency for immediate gratification has evolutionary roots when food and other life necessities were unpredictable.

In my memory, it used to be that financial rewards were the result of saving for the long term. Today you are rewarded by quick windfalls in the market or by manipulating the system rather than by honest work.  Elections are won by the decisions of people who only pay attention at the last moments before voting, not by long term investments in knowing what their vote means.  Most of us are deciding what to do based on the short term rewards, financial and otherwise.  And, groups who understand this tendency are able to take advantage in finances, elections, and social justice issues.

Churches find satisfaction in their service projects because they provide immediate gratification in helping.  They can be so involved in meeting short time needs that they don’t have time to consider root causes.  It is difficult to get people to think in terms of what can be done to prevent floods when the water is seeping under the door or to prepare for an earthquake that just might not happen in the next 10 or 50 years.

Here’s the thing.  Now that I am older and have a grandson, I am beginning to think about what the world will be like in the next 100 years, long after I am gone. [I think this also has to do with age.  see Time Compression blog.]  I have done a lot of service, but what have I done to deal with root causes, looking out for the common good down the road?  At least, I am glad to participate in some community organizing that is concerned for more than the most immediate gratification issue, the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good.