Working in a Corporate State [Chapter 8]

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Test Pattern for Living


Nicholas Johnson


Working in a Corporate State [Chapter 8].

[Note: Please see the 1996 Preface for an explanation of the unusual pagination.]

Copyright Notice: Copyright © 1972 by Bantam Books, Inc.; Copyright © 1996 by Nicholas Johnson.  All rights reserved.  This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any medium known now or in the future.  Provided, however, that permission is hereby granted to distribute this book under the following conditions:  (1) that it is distributed in its entirety, including this copyright notice and 1996 Preface, (2) that no charge is exacted, or revenue received, directly or indirectly, by anyone in connection with the transfer, and (3) as a matter of courtesy and information, that the author be informed, simultaneously with the distribution, of any distribution to more than one person or posting for availability on the Internet, Web, or publicly available directory.  Any other use requires the prior permission of the author:  Nicholas Johnson,, postal:  Box 1876, Iowa City IA 52244-1876, U.S.A.



# p. 118 #

The unique powers and initiative of each individual must be rediscovered, and used as a basis for work which contributes to the good of the community, rather than melted down to the collectivist pot of conformity.

-Rollo May


A society built to man’s measure will not just be one that serves him but one that gives him the opportunity to serve . . . the opportunity to do something for himself and others . . . the fulfillment that comes with the exercise of his talents.

-John Gardner


There is a new value system emerging in this country, starting with the youth but not limited to them. It is becoming one of the new facts of life for the rest of us to deal with. It challenges basic assumptions that we not only have taken for granted, but have virtually dominated our national life for most of our lives. When Calvin Coolidge in 1925 said, “The business of America is business,” a thoughtful people nodded, “Why, yes — that’s right.” Today’s young people are saying, “That’s not enough.” Some are going further and saying, “Business is ruining America. Business is destroying our natural resources — polluting our air and our water — and why? To produce garbage — things we don’t need — and must throw away to keep the economy going. It’s a garbage economy, and we don’t need it.”

The people who talk that way are not all hippies and not all young. An increasing number of older people are raising questions like that; and a few of them have been doing it for a long time.

-Louis B. Lundborg



# p. 119 #

Working in a Corporate State [Chapter 8]

A few years ago I was honored to be asked to participate in a meeting at which the Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke at Howard University Law School in Washington. It was a time of considerable unrest throughout America, but especially in the black community. Reverend Jackson spoke for about an hour. He itemized the grievances of the nation’s blacks, and he did it with feeling. And, needless to say, he endorsed some radical change and called upon the students to help. He said, “You can help with the revolution,” but then he paused, and he added, “if you know law.” He went on to emphasize the need for skills, for education, and, in this instance, for legal training.

By the mere fact of your having read this book so far, the odds are very good that you are a part of America’s privileged class. (Scarcely more than 1 percent of the people of this country regularly purchase and read serious books.) Because of the information and education you have, you possess a disproportionate share of the power to shape this country. And, as the late President Kennedy used to say, “With great power goes great responsibility.”

If you have cast your talents with America’s largest two hundred corporations, it is going to take Ralph Nader — and thousands of other Americans who are working for what are really quite modest reforms — a whole lot longer to bring them about. If you drop out, someone else is going to have to carry your load. If you can join with us, it’s going to be more effective — and more fun.

I hope you are going to be able to give your professional life to righting some of our nation’s wrongs. Because they must be righted, and they can be righted.



# p. 120 #

By giving low priority to the amount of technical talent and money to be used for the care of human beings and their participation in productive work, American society has been sacrificing future generations.

-Seymour Melman


By the time [a worker is] fifty, he’s all worn out. Someone hands him some small pension and if he ain’t half dead already from heart trouble or if he ain’t a drunk, he’s got about five years of watching TV to look forward to. That’s life, friend.

-a welder


You get to the point where you stare at the rivets and to make the job mean something you start counting them like counting sheep. When you do that, you better watch out. Some guys tell you that means you’re going crazy. So when it happens to me, I just go and watch television until I can come back and face it again. My kid looks at me and says, “Dad, what’re you doing home again?” I tell him, “Listen, kid, you’re going to college one day. You just won’t understand it.” I can never explain it to him.

-Willie Sanders, a thirty-seven-year old riveter



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We are making some progress. In fact, victory is inevitable. The very fact that we have to fight today for what the Declaration of Independence demanded two hundred years ago is itself a radicalizing phenomenon. We either win an individual skirmish, or the fact that we lose to the forces of greed and repression is so outrageous that more and more people are turned on to the need for change. The blind insensitivity of many of our nation’s institutional leaders, their preposterous reactions to the mildest of sensible suggestions, is the best guarantee of change.

You may seek out a public interest organization to work for, or you may start your own. But maybe you either can’t, or won’t. Nevertheless, you may not be prepared to sell out deliberately either, to rip off what you can, and live out the Madison Avenue-Hollywood dream.

Thus far, this book has been limited to a consideration of “life.” But most of us spend over half our waking hours at “work,” our jobs. How do you stay free as a member of a large, bureaucratized institution? How do you avoid the depersonalization of patterned jobs, of work you don’t care about, of a life style leading nowhere except to an early death of mind and spirit, if not body?

Newsweek devoted a special report to what it called the “Blue Collar Blues” — the alienation of blue-collar workers. I think we are going to see more of that alienation and not just among so-called blue-collar workers. I don’t think college by itself is the answer. There are a lot of college graduates who are doing the equivalent of staring at rivets. No, we have to learn to fight back, to find some tactics for survival in the corporate state.



# p. 122 #

MRS. GRASKE:  I’d say most of the girls get an upset stomach. I know I did as a telephone operator. So I take Rolaids. It’s a very nerve-wracking job. And when things get hectic — acid goes up. There’s heartburn. And pretty soon gas causes such pressure. It makes you feel bad. So I take Rolaids. For me it’s an instant worker. They give my stomach a cool feeling. I don’t know what Rolaids has, whatever it is — it works.

-a television commercial


The aim of ever-increasing consumption creates, even before the optimal consumption level is reached, an attitude of greed in which one wishes not only to have one’s legitimate needs fulfilled but dreams of a never-ending increase in desires and satisfactions. In other words, the idea of the limitless rise of the production and consumption curve greatly contributes to the development of passivity and greed in the individual, even before peak consumption is reached.

-Erich Fromm



# p. 123 #

One tactic is simply to ignore your job. For many people, work is an empty, more or less painless means to the end of material resources. Life is built out of the time that is left — whether it is activities with the family, or a hobby, or even a second job, like farming, that may be more satisfying. The ethic of work for its own sake is rejected by such people. Work is like a dentist’s appointment: something no one looks forward to, but that you can tolerate and is worth the trouble because it is a necessary preliminary to doing the other things you want to do. This is not a particularly appealing tactic, but without some fundamental changes it may be all that many people can look forward to. And it is surely to be preferred to the process of self-deception in which a worthless value structure and the approval of others commandeers your life through a job that is not worth doing.

Another tactic requires the resolve that you are not going to be a willing pawn for the life style that fuels the factories and, at the same time, fills the streams and air and earth with the discards of last year’s products that no one needed or really wanted. Once you really feel the reasons why you don’t want all that material fluff junking up your life, you find that you can get along on a lot less income, which in turn opens up many more alternatives for employment. You don’t have to join a traditional institutional organization when you take a job. For example, the large law firms that represent mostly large corporations are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and hold the best that law schools have to offer, despite rising salaries and the worsening job situation in a recession economy. Graduates prefer a job at half or one-third the pay to



# p. 124 #

If there is one thing that is clear as we enter the 1970’s, it is that the new generation of educated men and women will make sweeping demands of the institutions they come in contact with. The fashion and entertainment industries were revolutionized by their tastes; the colleges, the graduate schools, law firms and businesses have learned in turn that they must adjust to the values and beliefs of this new generation.

-David Broder


The easiest thing would have been to stay, [but] I couldn’t create anything. The trade of one minute is forgotten the next. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life being unable to see anything I had done.

-a former New York stockbroker


Doing the same thing every day for decades is deadening. . . . Fifty acres of land can’t stand up to the harassment of being planted in nothing but wheat, and people can’t take that kind of harassment either.

-a former insurance man



# p. 125 #

do something worthwhile, rather than a job that pays a lot but does little or nothing for the country or themselves. The same is true in every discipline, as employees begin to ask not “How much do you pay?” but “What do you do, and why?”

Another tactic for those who find themselves inside a corporate or institutional setting, where change is reasonably possible, is to work for that change. It may be a small thing: how you wear your hair. It may be a bigger thing: day-care centers for children or a new minorities hiring policy. It may strike at the corporate heart: altering advertising claims or even a product line, reducing pollution, or adding safety devices. You can at least try to humanize the place: let employees have more choice about when they work; increase training opportunities and job rotation; give employees more responsibility for whole projects; encourage dissent, art on the walls, pets in the halls, athletic facilities, bicycle racks, and showers.

“Okay,” you say, “neat idea; but how do I go about it?” The tactics probably aren’t much different from what you may have already experienced in student or political action. You may well know a lot more about it than I do. And, in any event, your technique will have to vary from one institution and time to another. But these would seem to be useful fundamentals.

First of all, you have to have a sense of self, of your own individuality and worth, of what it is you are trying to accomplish and why. That is essential. If you are not sure who you are, if you think you would like to combine a life of maximizing material possessions with a little do-goodism from time to time, you are going to be too malleable. Arguments that you are “jeopardizing



# p. 126 #

Organizations oppress you. . . . They hold you down. I felt as if industry were consuming me. It took what it wanted but didn’t put anything back. It doesn’t allow you to grow as a person. You can grow in its image, but that’s the only way. I don’t admire the guy who’s president of a company anymore. In fact, I feel pretty sorry for him.

-a former corporate engineer


Job vulnerability is obviously a critical psychological factor in the mind of a potential whistle blower, and it will probably become more so as large organizations come to dominate an increasing portion of the nation’s employment. The modern jilted employee cannot return to Monticello or become a self-made husbandman with ease. If he becomes a damaged good, tainted by a reputation as an organizational squealer, he may find so many doors locked that a drop in station or a change in profession will be required for grocery money.

-Taylor Branch



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your future here,” or that you should “go a little easier,” or that “we are working these things out gradually,” will sway you.

Second, you have to get a sense of the lay of the land. Who has the power in the organization? How is it exercised? Where are the pressure points? Is there a grievance machinery, a union or other organization of employees? Read everything you can get your hands on: employee manuals, annual reports, bulletin boards, newsletters, and press releases. Walk the halls to find out how the place is laid out physically, and what facilities, functions, and people it contains.

Third, you have to put together a program of demands. What, precisely, do you want? This is not an easy task.

Fourth, if there’s not an employee organization, start one. Institutions prefer to deal with other institutions rather than human beings. Seek out people of like mind — at the water cooler, in the snack bar, at the next desk, after hours. Get it together — even if there are only a few of you.

Fifth, it’s generally useful to process your suggestions or demands through channels. This is not because the established bureaucratic machinery will work — it’s generally operated to encourage harassment, delay, and tokenism — but because it is very useful to be able to show that it doesn’t work.

Sixth, it’s then a good idea to lay your grievances on whomever is at the top. Sometimes these guys respond to common sense because they are more broadly educated and experienced; at other times they are cowardly, frightened of losing their jobs, and can’t say no. In either event, you may get results.



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People are encouraged to stay in the same job by pension plans and seniority systems, and actively discouraged from leaving by the knowledge that with age their desirability elsewhere diminishes. Yet it seems self-evident that after working incessantly for 10 years at the same job a person’s enthusiasm for work becomes stale, his imagination stagnant, and that the only way to counteract this process of diminishing returns would be to take a long breather involving education or rest and possibly a decision to change fields or at least direction.

-Suzannah Lessard


Tell me, my patient friends, awaiters of messages, 
From what other shore; from what stranger, 
Whence, was the word to come? 
Who was to lesson you? 
. . . 
Open your eyes! There is only earth and the man! 
There is only you. . . .

-Archibald MacLeish


It is possible to remain human in an inhuman society . . . though one may have the best reasons in the world to destroy that world . . . one may choose not only not to destroy it, but to go on working, speaking and rebelling on its behalf.

-Elie Wiesel



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Seventh, from here on out, if all else has failed, I’ll leave it to your imagination. “Different strokes for different folks.” There are countless examples of individual action and individual responsibility. Taylor Branch has written an article in the Washington Monthly in which he catalogues actions of conscience by “whistle blowers” — men and women who expose the crimes and failings of their own institutions. The expose may take the form of a resignation, with an explanatory press conference, a letter to Ralph Nader or Jack Anderson, or may even be the basis for a full-dress congressional investigation. The article describes numerous examples, including the C5-A airplane excess costs and the cyclamate peril.

I do not offer my advice lightly, or with the assumption that things will go easily. Whistle blowing can be a very expensive occupation. You will need to expect and accept that life, especially your work life, will be unpredictable.

Above all, this is a time when individuals are needed. We have seen what individuals, acting in full understanding of their abilities and the claims of their conscience, can do. There was Martin Luther King and the countless individuals he inspired to fight racism in their daily lives. There was Robert Kennedy and the students who believed that the interests of the blacks, and the poor, and farmers, and workingmen could override deep-seated and irrational antagonisms to a better America. There is Ralph Nader, who has worked from within the system to show us how, one at a time, each of us can help to tame the corporate tiger that is ravishing our land and people.

In the end, we are each individually responsible for



# p. 130 #

The extraordinary thing about this new consciousness is that it has emerged out of the wasteland of the Corporate State, like flowers pushing up through the concrete pavement. . . . For one who thought the world was irretrievably encased in metal and plastic and sterile stone, it seems a veritable greening of America.

-Charles A. Reich


If there’s something called a revolution in the U S. it will not be a quick palace revolution but a long-term one, a deep-going one, not in a city like Washington but all over the country at once — in revolutionizing the way people live day to day and the way they relate to one another.

-Howard Zlnn



# p. 131 #

what we do, what happens in our lives and the lives of the people we touch, and the events in which we participate. There is no “silent majority.” As the bumper sticker says, “The majority isn’t silent, the government is deaf.” There is no “mass” television audience. There are no bloc votes. There are only individuals who have considered and decided where they wish to be counted on the great issues of the day, and how they wish to live their lives.

When many individuals alter their lives, it begins to have social, economic and political consequences. Annual sales of bicycles appear now to be surpassing those for automobiles. Whether the bicycle becomes a meaningful form of urban transportation is affected to some degree by whether you ride one to work — and demand bicycle streets and parking facilities. The population explosion is a matter of how many children you decide to have. The social responsibility of the institutions you work for will be affected by the protests you lodge. The products manufactured by American corporations will be affected by your personal buying habits. (Levi’s sales are still doubling every five years.) And — by no means of least importance — the future political course of this country will be affected by your willingness to register and vote, to work for, and contribute money to, the candidates of your choice.



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