Over the last few months the UK Parliament has grilled senior executives from several major multinational corporations. From News International, Amazon, Google, Starbucks and poor old Mr Buckles of G4S these executives have shown themselves to be incompetent and fuelled by their own arrogance and greed. It tells us a great deal about their position in the world, how their companies run and the strength of our movement.
Over the centuries liberal democracy has fixed the law in favour of property rights alongside individual civil rights. The rich can therefore rely on laws favourable to their position in the world and they don’t mind using them. With regards to the companies above that have moved money around to avoid taxation the common cry comes up that “we haven’t broken the law!”. The question has to be whether they have acted in a morally correct way if they have contributed nothing to a country through taxation but made a shed load of cash.
Meanwhile on the competence front these doofuses seem to have no idea what is going on in the companies they control. A director from Amazon was accused by the Parliamentary Select committee investigating taxation as being ‘deliberately evasive’ yesterday during questioning. It later emerged that he couldn’t tell them who owns his company. We’ve also had the two Murdoch’s claiming not to know anything regarding phone hacking and Buckles having to admit that his organisation was shambolic in the run up to the olympics.
These organisations are massive and in that sense it’s not surprising that nobody at the top seems to know what is going on beneath them (that is if you believe them). But there is something more fundamental going on here in my opinion. From the moment we’re sent to school we’re taught that you don’t get anywhere without hard work. It is ingrained inside us as a principle to the extent that people would be forgiven for assuming that those who reach high office, either politically or corporatively, have got there by being more successful with their hard work than the rest of us. They must be the brightest of the bright and they must have risen to the top by pulling all nighters at work and doing overtime at the weekends.
The mask of capitalism has slipped. These people aren’t very bright at all and they didn’t get where they are today by working harder than the rest of us. It’s a myth to think that intelligence and social status are somehow linked. People everywhere have intelligence but it seems some at the top have stopped using it. Perhaps they’ve become so used to the fact that the law backs up their lifestyle and status at the expense of the rest of us so they’re out of habit having to form coherent arguments in answer to mildly tricky questions like “Who owns your company?”.
All of which makes me feel quite positive about the state of the trade union movement. We have major problems, yes but we have intelligence in abundance and strategies to organise workers effectively. If we learn one lesson from all of this it surely must be to trust our membership and beware of bureaucracy and hierarchy. People at the top of our organisations, whether they be unions or major corporations are only above us in hierarchical terms. When members come together they can force change at their pace and set the agenda for decades to come.