Socialism, PA

by Steven Hill
This article was published in The Fishwrapper, December 1990
About six or seven months ago I read an article in Business Week, about an effort by the Pennsylvania State legislature to curb the power of corporations and wealthy stockholders in their state. Pennsylvania is a state whose industries have been particul arly hard hit by corporate capital flight and management decisions to relocate to the Third World in search of lower wages and higher profits. So what they tried to do was restrict the voting power of any one particular stockholder within a corporation. Under this plan, any individual could buy as much stock in a company as she or he wanted, but after a certain percentage they would simply not receive any more stockholder voting rights. In addition, the Pennsylvania legislation would giving voting righ ts in the corporate board rooms to the stakeholders of the businesses-- the employees of the company, and the inhabitants of the community where the corporation was situated.

Needless to say, the corporations and wealthy stockholders got all up in arms over this proposal. The called it-- rightfully so-- an "attack on private property." And just in case that didn't sink in and fluster or upset enough people, the business in terests were quick to remind everyone that "private property is the fundamental principle upon which our great country was founded." There, that should settle it. Patriotism and private property, democracy and capitalism are as inseparable as the apples , flour, butter, and refined sugar in Mom's apple pie. Having said that, the patriotic capitalists proceeded to pour massive amounts of their private property, i.e. cash, to defeat this seeming attack on the greatness of our country by those seeming Marx ists in the Pennsylvania State legislature. And they threatened to pull all their businesses out of the state and launch a corporate boycott.

I like the Pennsylvania plan. Judging from the corporate response, it sure struck a wealthy nerve and that's a sign that the Pennsylvania plan should be closely studied. It's an attempt to rectify the inequities caused by wealth, particularly corporate wealth, and the tremendous influence such wealth wields in our communities. The economic might of corporations has made them political powerhouses at the local and national levels. Their corporate behaviors and decisions affect the welfare of millions o f people, yet in the eyes of the law they are still treated as private property, indeed even as a private individual.

What's wrong with balancing the rights of stockholders in a corporation with the rights of the stakeholders? What's wrong with taking some of the control of the corporations away from the stockholders and board of directors-- the profiteers who often do not even live in the community where the corporation is located-- and giving some of this control to the stakeholders-- those people who work for the corporations and who live in the communities where the corporations operate?

I haven't heard anything more about this innovative attempt by the Pennsylvania State legislature to deal on a local and regional level with the problems created by corporate power and irresponsibility. It's not hard to guess the end result, since corpor ate bucks usually buy what they want. Yet I like to think that some creative people in the Pennsylvania legislature planted a seed that will continue to grow. I know they planted a seed in my mind.

What if some of the residents of Valdez, Alaska-- the stakeholders-- sat alongside the stockholders and directors of Exxon in their corporate board room? How might that have changed history?

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