As I was trying to kill some time waiting for my car to be repaired I happened on to BBC News on my cell phone. One of the leading stories had to do with Market Basket and how its employees are supporting an ex-CEO. Remember, I am on an international web site that had this story sandwiched between the Ukrainian conflict and a massive explosion in China.
This took me by surprise. How could a local story about a grocery store I've been shopping at for the past three decades have any interest around the world? The answer is obvious because the world is full of middle class people who are trying to survive. There is also a very small majority of wealthy people who were lucky to be at the right place at the right time. The problem is the wealthy people want more wealth in their lives while the middle class simply want a life.
The controversy surrounds an individual. His name is Arthur T. Demoulas. If you ask any Market Basket employee they will tell you Artie T. is the type of person they've always wanted to work for because he actually cares about the people that work for him and the customers he serves. Rumor is Artie T. has been to every wedding and funeral in the Boston area for the past 15 years.
This is an odd type of work stoppage because the employees aren't asking for more money or bonuses. They are not looking for health care or more sick leaves. They have all this because Market Basket has always been known for treating their employees with respect and honesty. Led by Artie T. the company has this strange philosophy that a good days work deserves a good days pay.
The employees walked out on their jobs in defense of not just Artie T. who was ousted on June 25, 2014, they are protesting a leadership change that is defined by an erosion of the company's commitment to middle class workers and shoppers.
Market Basket, during the leadership of Artie T. was very profitable. It made an estimated $217 million in profit on $4.6 billion in revenues last year. But, Artie T's cousin Arthur S reportedly wanted to pay the shareholders more money and thus lower the profit sharing of the employees and eventually raise the prices for the customers. In other words, there was a struggle between the shareholders who wanted more profits and Artie T. who wanted to reinvest the profits into his employees and the business. We all know Artie T. lost and the shareholders won.
Who are these shareholders and just how powerful is this corporation. During the last Presidential Election in 2012, Romney had a bit of a debate with people who were listening to his campaign:
"Corporations!" a protester shouted, apparently urging Romney to raise taxes on corporations that have benefited from loopholes in the tax code.
"Corporations! "Corporations are people, my friend," Romney said.
Some people in the front of the audience shouted, "No, they're not!"
"Of course they are," Romney said. "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?"
This exchange seems to be brought back to light in that it represents what is going on between Artie T. and the employees of Market Basket with the corporate "people" of Arthur S. The facts are that Arthur S has both the power and the law on his side. Even though three New England States have stated the corporation can't fire its protesting employees and hire new ones. The corporation snubbed its nose to elected officials and as far as I know is still building job fairs so they can replace the people who support Artie T.
The protest of grocery store workers versus the giant corporation who simply wants to make more money clearly demonstrates what is going on in our nation. If the corporations win people will lose their jobs and the people taking the jobs over will make less money and receive fewer benefits. The corporations will receive these profits. Across our nation whole cities are experiencing this now with the bankruptcy of Detroit and other smaller cities throughout our nation. Most economists admit that more will follow.
The concept that corporations are people is simply a lie. This lie has been proven over and over throughout our nation's and the world's history. The Market Basket story supporting their white knight, Artie T. will simply be another chapter of this ongoing history. But, can you imagine the shock on all the non- faces of corporations if Artie T. could actually win.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer living in York, Maine