Thursday, March 22, 2007

Corporate Conduct, De-coded

We pay a lot of attention here to the exposure of fundementalist religion and corporate greed because, under a fascist tyranny such as we have now in the White House, these two demons tend to march in lockstep (just check out the salaries that the godly pull down). The motivation that fuels both is the compulsion for control and conformity, which is in turn powered by a cynical fear of natural human freedom. Call it, if you will, the Dick Cheney syndrome.

We had a glimpse of this yesterday when our rightful, elected President appeared in Congress to speak about global warming. He told his former colleagues, “There is a sense of hope in this country that this United States Congress will rise to the occasion and present meaningful solutions to this crisis.”

Naive? Maybe, but I think we can forgive the man: after all, he's been out of politics for awhile. He was reminded of the myopic reality of Capitol Hill soon enough, when the Republicans were allowed to take their potshots. Rep. Barton of Texas told Gore, “You’re not just off a little, you’re totally wrong,”

Congressman Barton will be dead and gone (though not for long) by the time the cosmic bill for greenhouse gas emissions comes due. His attitude is a typically corporate one: let's keep the profits going strong now, and if there are long-term consequences, that's why we have children. They'll deal with all that. Meanwhile, let us tell ourselves and the people some comforting lies. (Our friend Tom over at Current Era has more on the delusion being received and perpetuated by people like Barton).

In corporate America, the impulse for profit and conformity today and the hell with whatever comes of it tomorrow has never been more ascendant than it is now. I was recently reminded of this myself, when I had to go and pee in a cup for my next job. It's a requirement: no urine drug screen, no job. No job, no rent for April. No rent for April, I'm out on the street by May, June at the latest.

So I consented to what is truly, at best, a practice of questionable ethics, and in reality, a form of tyranny in itself. The issue is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, since I'm working on a new book about maintaining one's human integrity amid a corporate culture. The following is to appear somewhere in that book; it's a reflection on the Bill of Rights and its absence in those places where most of us spend a third of our lives—the workplaces of America.


Many of us wonder and lament, "where has our democracy gone?" It is, to be sure, a legitimate question in an era of abusive, profit-drunk, deceit-driven government. Yet perhaps we might be further asking, "where else have we lost democracy?" For example, at work. Have you ever seen a Bill of Rights—or anything like it—at your workplace? We have mission statements, employee handbooks, codes of conduct, corporate vision documents, and security manuals in our corporate workplaces; but we have no such thing as a Bill of Rights.

Let's review a few of the Constitution's principal articles and see how or whether they are followed in a typical corporate American workplace.

  • Article [I.] Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • Well, do you feel free to speak your mind at work? Is there a free press at your company, where people are allowed to write critically of management or its policies? The proverbial watercooler aside, is there anytime or place where you are free to gather with others on company time to evaluate and discuss corporate leadership, strategies, or employment practices? Are those compulsory staff meetings a forum for debate and free expression?

    So much for Article I.

  • Article [IV.] The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  • In corporate America today, we have thought police, speech police, email police, and click police. Every movement you make on the Internet, every email you write, every word you say, is monitored and recorded. Your identity is captured in a laminated badge; your movements tracked; your communications watched and heard. I was once fired from a company over an email containing a fairly bland criticism of management—an email that I presumed at the time was confidential to the person I'd sent it to. Perhaps you have your own stories in this vein. In short, there is no such thing as being "secure in your person" in corporate America. Once you walk through those revolving doors and swipe your badge at the gate, you are owned; you are a property of the corporation; and everything you do, say, write, and even think can be monitored.

  • Article [V.]...nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself...

  • This is the language of the famous Fifth Amendment, which protects individuals from providing testimony against themselves. Even when you are arrested for a crime in this nation, you must be informed by the police or other arresting officer that you have a right to remain silent. The law compels no one to deliver information against himself, no matter the circumstances.

    But does this apply at the workplace? Well, it all depends on who you are, what you do, what position you hold, and who you know. Article V, in fact, is probably the most blatantly abused item from the Bill of Rights in the American workplace.

    We could go on (how about the 13th Amendment—you know, the one that says, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude...shall exist within the United States..."?); but the point, I think has been made. The foundation of our democracy, the Bill of Rights, is arrogantly ignored or blatantly violated in the corporate American workplace, every single day. Why, then, should it be such a shock to see a definitively corporate government, the Bush administration, consistently violating both the letter and spirit of the Bill of Rights? After all, it happens every day at the workplace—why not make it official?

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