Paul Cienfuegos spoke in Portland on redefining corporations
This is one person's notes from the conference, "Another World is Possible" that coincided with the international event with the same name, held in South America, widely publicized all over the world, except in North America.
Paul Cienfuegos, Director of Democracy Unlimited in Humboldt would like to come back in the future to lead workshops to help people learn what they can do to challenge corporations and government. Most of the usurpation of peoples' power in this country was done thru Supreme Court decisions. Corporations were given powers that were never agreed to by the people or voted on by the public. These Federal legal decisions granting authority to coroporations were made this centry and a half in specific progresions, and so it isn't as monolithic as we might believe.
History of corporations:
-Once, to "invorporate" was considered a priviledge, not a right.
-And a charter was given for a specific purpose and time limit and that if violated or time was up, this charter was revoked.
-And a charter could berevoked at any time, for any reason
-No limited liability--shareholders were completely liable for actions of corporations.
-Corporations coulnd't own stock in oir merge with other corporations. This was illegal in every state, because these corporations "must be legally subordinate to the people' and accountability had to be able to be easily achieved.
-Corporations were only allowed to own physical real estate necessary to fulfill the mission for which they were granted their charter. No special property was allowed to be owned by corporations.
-No political contributions were to be made by corporations. This was still in the Wisconsin Constitution as of 1953. The pnalty was a fine of $100-$5,000 and 1-5 yrs imprisonment.
-No contributions to charities-- this was a felony.
-Illegal to have records kept private-- they had to be open to at least be seen by legislatures. These records had to show that the corporations represent a clear benefit to the public in order to be allowed to turn a profit!
Early 1400's The English King was chartering crown corporations to take over the world trade markets, by establishing dependence. The more powerful corporations include: East India Company, Turkey Company, East Africa Company. Originally the 13 colonies either WERE crown Corporations or were owned by crown corporations. The revolution was about being against these crown corporations. The corporations eventually became commonwealths of each state. Very few peops wer "legally" people--> Women were property, Blacks were chattel, Native Americans were non-existent. But even these founding fathers understood that sovereignty needed to not invest in gov't but in people, keeping corporate power down. But as oppressed races/classes/sex got stronger, white property owners/rulers thought that corporations might serve them better, and in 1886, started trying to put corporation status up as a place to hide property behind. S. Pacific RR Co. for 2 decades sought to be defined as a legal entity, not accountable to the people, instead of a corporations w/ no legal status. Corporations now have switched over from subordinate structures accountable to people to a legal entity, not a person, but a "superperson".
In the 1880's and 1890's RR Corporate leaders were getting heat from the public... People understood the status corporations should have so corporate leaders working w/ gov't restructured law to activism in the back-- created "Regulatory Agencies". This is a smokescreen that actually removes power from the people, by forcing people to deal with agencies, not the laws that are governing our system. We are under the misguided impression that regulatory law is possible to be strengthened, that we only need to strengthen regulatory law, in order to effect real change. But in reality this corporate law has set "legal harm limits" and in so doing, is allowing the "harm" to happen in the first place, so changing things like the clean water and clean air acts really do no good. What is needed is to remove allowance to create these harms at all.
1700's to present -- how corporations were granted constitutional rights designed to be enjoyed by sentient beings
-1st am, "commercial free speech"-- constitutional right to speak, is granted to corporations by the Supreme Court, pushed through by ACLU.
(speech is for sentient beings)
-4th am; "protection agains search & Siezure" --OSHA precedent, enabling corporations to enjoy for the first time, private property rights... No unnanounced OSHA visits! (this limits labor from exposing corporate wrongdoing regarding health & safety)
- th am; "takings" -- compensation for "property takings" !! (private property is tangible; corporate property is intangible)
-----"right to unhindered flow of free labor thru property gate (so secondary pickets are illegal)
-----" right to future profits" (embodiment of the basis for NAFTA, GATT, MAI, WTO--these concepts are spreading globally)
-----" corporate directors responsibility is to maximize profit/returns to shareholders" precedent was set when in the 1920's Ford was sued successfully by his shareholders for trying to raise the wages of his factory employees.
SO, Bill of Rights was origninally protecting people from concentrations of power. It is NOW written to protect corporations from concentrations of PEOPLE!!
And the talk goes on to mention the book, " The Populist Movement, " by Lawrence Goodwin, decribing Grangers, the Working Man's Party, etc...
SO, we have little power, but we assume we never did. Actually, only 10% of this nation were the sovereign people. SO where do we have power under law? NOT in regulatory agencies, where we are defining, and therefor accepting corporate power. The power is in defining corporations' rold for the people, using state constitution amanedments using ballot initiative, and by defining ourselves as the sovereign people & by seeing this democracy as being unfinished. "Who are We the People"? and how is Rule defined? What institutions yield real democracy?
"Radical Democracy", by Douglas Loomis (Lummis?) is a recommended book.
Now the hard part: Putting the knowledge that we do NOT have a democracy here in the US into creating positive Political and Social and Economic Change... Most of the anti-corporation movements assume/concede coporate authority. There have been some successful social movements, for example: The "abolitionists"--the whole thing had to go. And those fighting for "National Sovereignty"-- occupation of S. Africa had to go. There is a constitutional Am 11-D that is a labor rights law saying that worker deserve "personhood" recognition at work. Now this violates corporate free speech and property rights somehow.. But in California, there is now in some places, a "3 strikes you're out" rule for corporations, including in SF. In PA, Community Environmental Defense Fund has found a way to amend the constitution to prhibit non-family owned corporations from faming. They are also drafting legislation doing the same thing around timber production in PA. People's League for Peace & Freedom in PA are working to take corps out of person-hood.
Corporations are fictitious-- they do not exist! It's time to take that power away!
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