Goliath Corporation, Giant Food Inc, and the Unions

In the alternative history presented in Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” series of novels, the monolithic Goliath Corporation is in control of almost every institution in England. It runs the country under a virtual police state, despatching mysterious henchmen to silence any dissidents, its operations enigmatically veiled from the general public.

Likewise, in the hub of the Empire, in Washington D.C., a company by the name of Giant Food Inc controls the local supermarkets. Recently, Giant Food Inc announced its plans to terminate up to 700 local union jobs at its plant in Jessup, Maryland, transferring the work to “a  low-wage non-union facility in Pennsylvania”. Union plans to protest the planned job losses coincide with attempts in other states to make union action a basis for the intervention of the police state. Giant Food Inc is itself owned by Dutch company Ahold, which “owns close to 3,000 stores throughout the U.S. and Europe which generate over $38 billion in annual revenue” (Brian Tierney, “Fighting for Justice at Giant”).

“This company – on a global basis – is attempting to destroy the economic standing of workers wherever they do business with no consideration whatsoever to the workers or the communities they live in.”
– Tim McNutt

This might be explained as another case of life imitating art, if it weren’t for the twist that, in the face of poverty, most of the victims of the Giant Food Inc deny that they are victims. The real-life giant corporation is, to them, as fictional as Fforde’s Goliath Corporation.

When it comes to class, Americans have long seen themselves as potentially rich and perpetually middling. A Pew survey in 2008 revealed that 91% believe they are either middle class, upper-middle class or lower-middle class. Relatively few claim to be working class or upper class, intimating more of a cultural aspiration than an economic relationship. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll in 2005 showed that while only 2% of Americans described themselves as “rich”, 31% thought it very likely or somewhat likely they would “ever be rich”.

But trends and ongoing events are forcing a reappraisal of that self-image. Social mobility has stalled; wages have been stagnant for a generation. It is in this light that the growing resistance to events in Wisconsin must be understood. The hardline Republican governor, Scott Walker, has pledged to remove collective bargaining rights from public sector unions and cut local government workers’ health benefits and pension entitlements.

– Gary Younge, “Wisconsin is making the battle lines clear in America’s hidden class war”

An article in Mother Jones for March-April 2011 explores the rise of plutocracy in the United States – “government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations”, as Rep. Dennis Kucinich recently put it – and the denial of this development by the majority of Americans. So too, in New Zealand, we’ve had about three decades worth of denial, fed by a steady flow of neo-liberal economic ideology. But we’re fine, mate…

There is no depression in New Zealand;
there are no sheep on our farms,
There is no depression in New Zealand;
we can all keep perfectly calm,

Everybody’s talking about World War Three;
everybody’s talking about World War Three,
But we’re as safe as safe can be,
there’s no unrest in this country
We have no dole queues,
we have no drug addicts,
we have no racism,
we have no sexism, sexism, no, no…

But, I wonder – if the neo-liberal attempt to make unions illegal is successful, if unions are placed outside the law, are they not finally being offered true power, the power to act for themselves against the system?

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