Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Free the Corporate Slaves

Under the US Supreme Court's 1886 decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad and subsequent cases, the recent Citizens United v. FCC included, corporations are considered persons in terms of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, with all the rights stemming from that definition. Thus, a corporation is legally separate from its owners, the shareholders, with the right to sue, be sued, own property, and spend money the same way as any person on their behalf.

Yet that very concept-of a legal person being owned-is itself unconstitutional. The 13th Amendment, which preceded the 14th interpreted as giving corporations the rights of persons, states as follows: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction." Only when the corporation is convicted of a crime, therefore, can it be legally placed in servitude. Yet this is not the case. A corporation is "born" a slave, just as those of old.

Now, corporations are different from human slaves in that they are mostly owned by multiple people, but this does not change their status. In many societies, slaves could have very high status, owning property and even transacting on their master's behalf. Yet they were nonetheless slaves, and their children would be born in servitude as well. This is true of corporations as well, when they "give birth" to a subsidiary, or "marry" by merging with another. However, as with natural slaves, creating subsidiaries (having children) serves owners, giving them property to use, while marriage (a merger) happens only with the permission of their owner. 

Also like corporations, slaves were considered legally agents of their masters-unless accused of a crime. Then a slave was treated as a free person, to bear the punishment alone. Only if the master had ordered the offense were they also responsible, just as by "piercing the corporate veil" now. There is thus an incentive for shareholders, the corporate owners, to not be aware of their agent's details, or at least claim ignorance. The corporations act as one with their owners, until they must pay debts or bear punishment. Then they stand alone to face punishment and pay debts their owners had them acquire. 

Much like slavery of old, when slave families were split up, their members sold off, pieces of corporations may be sold, perhaps entirely. This may be more akin to selling organs as the corporation is a different sort of person from human beings, but in any case the result is the same-grotesque violation of a person's rights. 

Most tellingly of all, while corporations have been granted rights natural persons have, such as contributing to political campaigns etc. they are denied those means to participate fully-the right to vote and hold public office. If corporations were free citizens of the United States, they could not only cast a ballot but run themselves. Why should not Exxon Mobile be elected to the Senate, rather than going the more indirect and costly route of buying a Senator's vote through campaign contributions, promises of jobs in the private sector, or other such means? Yet they, like natural persons held as slaves, exist only to serve their owners, and cannot do this. 

Such a gross denial of the most basic political rights is a base contradiction with those granted by the courts, and we can only imagine why they have failed to point it out. This only shows that, as stated before, corporations' owners advocate their rights only as it serves them, and of course the most clear contradiction is between a person having rights when at the same time they are owned by another. It cannot stand even the most bare scrutiny before this is plainly revealed. Let us abolish this last bastion of legal slavery.

Free the Corporate Slaves!

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