Act 1: Scene 1: An average living room in suburban America. Two men, Bob and Tom, are watching television.
Bob: Hand me a beer out of the fridge, will ya?
Tom: Okay, here. What’s on the t.v.?
Bob: Let’s see here (turns on t.v. to a 24 hour news channel that promises to deliver all the facts and pull no punches). It appears to be the debate show “Boisterous Wind”.
Tom: I love this show. Last week they had Hollywood actors debating foreign dignitaries over human rights violations in Norway.
Tom: Yes… have you ever had Romergrod?
Bob: No, what is that, Reindeer sausage?
Tom: No, it is some sort of porridge dish that reminds me of when I had the flu.
(Bob makes a barfing sound)
Bob: It probably has Reindeer in it.
(television show begins)
Ringling: Good evening and welcome to another installment of “Boisterous Wind”. I have with me in the studio tonight, from Worthinghitham University, Professor Right Said Fred, author of “If you don’t love this country, then move to France”.
Right Said Fred: Good evening, thanks for having me on the program.
Ringling: Joining us is Doctor Zhimbald Leftwich, Professor Emeritus, from State University, author of the book “I’d love this country more if it were like France.”
(nods head while clasping fingers in steeple pattern)
Gentlemen. Let us talk, tonight, of a trend in America today, called Nike Revolution.
Zhimbald Leftwich: Yes, the revolution is a broad social movement cutting across all boundaries and classes in which…
Right Said Fred: You’ve got to be kidding me. This isn’t a grand social movement as it’s a deterioration of the values of hard work that built this…
Ringling: (interrupting both) This movement is called Nike Revolution because it began at a Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon and members of the group play an old Nike commercial that has the Beatle’s song “Revolution” playing.
(graphic in background plays video of commercial)
Bob: Yeah, I remember that commercial.
Ringling: The loudest voices from within those at Nike that are responsible for the revolution cite an article written by Michael Walzer titled “Town Meetings and Workers’ Control” as influential in their thinking.
Zhimbald Leftwich: Yes, I’ve read that piece and it is an accurate assessment of taking the principles and ideas that founded this country and made it a superpower and…
Right Said Fred: Are you telling me that you are talking about traditional beliefs?
Zhimbald Leftwich: I am talking about the principles and…
Right Said Fred: You are talking about socialism, that’s what you’re talking about. I hate to break it to you but this country was founded on entrepreurship and taking risk.
Zhimbald Leftwich: You need to update your history books. If one follows the progression of ideas from the enlightenment, the separation of church and state, and the…
Ringling: Gentleman. Please. We are here to discuss the Walzer article and why it had any impact at all.
Right Said Fred: First, it doesn’t have any impact. It is purely media biased reporting, latching onto any liberal agenda, no matter how small, in their efforts to inoculate the American People into New England Liberals.
Ringling: I’m sure our audience in Boston will appreciate that.
Zhimbald Leftwich: Quite.
Right Said Fred: The article in discussion is a magazine called Dissent. Here, I’ll read you from their own website… “Founded in 1954 by a group of New York Intellectuals, notably Irving Howe, Dissent set a lofty and radical goal for itself. In the first issue, “A Word to our Readers” announced, “The purpose of this new magazine is suggested by its name: to dissent from the bleak atmosphere of conformism that pervades the political and intellectual life in the United States…” Dissent has not wavered from that goal and continues, more than fifty years later, to publish thoughtful, incisive articles on politics and culture, in the hope of challenging the status quo.”
Zhimbald Leftwich: Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
Tom: Dude, I’ve got that bumper-sticker on my car.
Bob: Man, you’ve got to get out more. All dissent? Even the non-constructive dissent?
Tom: You can’t conform… government is too strong.
Bob: What? Are you speaking with thought or are you just blabbering. What is so wrong with conforming? You dress the same as your coffee shop buddies. And who runs the social programs if not government? Wouldn’t that make the strong government stronger?
Right Said Fred: That is a bumper-sticker that I saw on someone’s Volvo in the parking lot of the studio.
(Zhimbald Leftwich fidgets in seat)
What car do you drive? Is that your car I saw in the parking lot?
Ringling: Ahem, Gentlemen. For those viewers not familiar with the Walzer article, it tells the story of a fictional town called J-Town.
Tom: What an odd name for a town.
Ringling: In this story, J.J., a young man of daring, talent, and skill, strikes out west beyond civilization. He then, using his own capital, purchases land on one side of a river and begins a ferry company. It prospers, he buys another piece of land across the river, and over time accumulates enough wealth to purchase land sufficient in size for a town. He donates land for a cemetery, for a park, builds schools, and charges those that live on his land rent, and taxes them to pay the salary of those supportive personnel in the “town”, such as teachers and doctors. He is written to be an intelligent man who is not unsympathetic to the needs of those under his employ, and all is well in the town until J.J. is of old age. He decides to bring his son into the things and wants to make him chief of police. The townsfolk are not interested, as they have another person in mind to take over as mayor. The story goes that they did indeed choose a new mayor and the town became it’s own entity, no longer under the rule of J.J. any longer. Thoughts?
Tom: Dude, man. That’s a cool story, how the people came together and decided their own fate and…
Bob: What… overthrew a dictator?
Tom: Created a system of government. I wonder what sort it was, how many taxes they paid, did they pay for school first or did they give tax breaks to the local horse dealer.
Zhimbald Leftwich: The story has a number of metaphors in it that we should draw attention to, such as the creation of the town in a wilderness. You see, we live in a wilderness today, where interest are pitted against interest, and no one is truly free to exercise their liberty…
Right Said Fred: You get loonier every time we come on this program. The wilderness, if it could mean anything, means the spirit of the businessman in taking risks in starting a company.
Zhimbald Leftwich: Walzer illustrates how J.J. took risks. Why would he need to use the metaphor of wilderness to do the same.
Ringling: Gentlemen. Walzer makes the point in his story that in the town the people have a right to do so, yet when it comes to labor organizations in companies today, they do not.
Right Said Fred: Don’t what, have a voice?
Ringling: Have a means of enacting control over the running of the company for which they work.
Zhimbald Leftwich: We see it over and over again, the rich CEO of a corporation will lay off a thousand workers, creating a better bottom line, making him eligible for a bonus that is tied to profit margin.
Bob: Not that line again.
Tom: Yeah man, did you see on the news today that Ford announced the layoff of thousands of workers? That CEO sure acted like he was concerned about those workers he laid off. Kept talking about making the company stronger.
Bob: Yes, but did you also see that they also enacted a policy at the plant where workers are not allowed to drive anything but a Ford to the plant and no other makes will be allowed to park on company property?
Tom: Sounds like fascism to me man.
Bob: Fascism? What, the Nation of Ford?
Tom: The way the man is trying to control their lives.
Bob: You should spend less time in glass artwork galleries and more time in a library. Besides, if the workers were so worried about their jobs and the state of the company, wouldn’t they have all been driving Ford vehicles already?
Right Said Fred: I’ve got a story. There was a man named Tim who built a house out on the east side of town. It was a pretty big house, and since he was just one guy, he decided to rent some of the rooms to others. He chose college students because he thought they could use a cheap place to live. He does this for years and many students pass through his doors. Over time, however, Tim realizes that the college students are more interested in partying than studying, and he’s become distressed over the use of drugs and alcohol. He has a grand-daughter who visits often and he doesn’t want her influenced by the behavior of the college students. So he decides to close his home to renters and gives notice in advance.
Tom: I’ve got the munchies. Got any chips around here?
Right Said Fred: The students are angry and form a protest. They wave banners and cycle petitions and appeal to the city, businesses, the college, everywhere, to get the man to change his mind. They contend that the house has been a residence of students for decades and that to deprive them of the housing would be unjust.
Zhimbald Leftwich: This is a house, not a town.
Right Said Fred: It is the same! Walzer uses a poor analogy to describe why it would be okay for members of a company to do the same as the members of J-Town, appealing it seems, on our American tendencies to strike out on our own and do it our own way.
Zhimbald Leftwich: And why wouldn’t it be different? We formed a nation out of a bunch of colonists that complained about how things were run over here. Instead of calling it the British Colonies we could have called it G-Town, for King George. Yet we hold this as sacred history!
Ringer: We must take a quick break, but when we return we’ll go into the reasons why Walzer writes that there is no difference between the town and the company in his story.
Bob: What are you doing?
Tom: Making a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiche. Want one?
Bob: Sure. Have you read the Walzer piece? You’re always reading those anarchists and radical rags.
Tom: I’ve read pieces about it. The actual article was written a while back.
Tom: Well, it makes sense to me. I mean, if a big company is run by it’s workers, wouldn’t they in turn make decisions that will be better for that company.
Bob: Doesn’t the board and the CEO do just that?
Tom: But they do so that concerns itself more with the profit of the company than the health and welfare of the workers.
Bob: I understand your point. I am studying Organizational Psychology and there was a trend a few years back of bringing in day-care centers to many of the larger business campuses. It improved morale and lowered the turnover of the workforce. But this had an impact on the bottom-line. I’m sure that the company, no matter how nice it’s mission statement sounds, was doing so to affect it’s bottom line. But how could the workers run the company better than the CEO, or the board?
Tom: It doesn’t have to be the workers themselves that run the company. They could vote on a leader, or leaders.
Bob: You mean, vote at a meeting?
Tom: Yes… and they could make changes to the company’s structure, or opt to stop growth in one area, or expand in another.
Bob: Pardon me, but this sounds a lot like the way that shareholders in a company act today.
Tom: Not really…
Bob: Sure it is. I send $20 a month to Sharebuilder, a financial company started by Wells Fargo. They invest it for me in the stocks I choose. As you know, I choose Starbucks because I love their coffee…
Tom: Starbucks is evil.
Bob: Puh-leeze. They started out as a one store operation that treated it’s workers with respect and paid them benefits. Howard Shultz, the founder, said that his workers were his greatest asset. They were ahead of the industry in benefits available to it’s labor force. That sort of commitment, with a quality product and good performance, is why I chose them over other companies to invest in.
Tom: Still evil.
Bob: Anyway, as I was saying… I got a packet in the mail today. Now my share is pretty small, I only own about 40 shares or so, but still, I got a letter like this when I had only one share.
Tom: You got a letter from Starbucks? What was it, plans to the Death Star?
Bob: No. It was a vote asking me to vote yes or no to switching to more shade-tree grown coffee, and another vote asking for my yes or no on fair trade.
Tom: Starbucks did that? That’s the sort of stuff that I am concerned about.
Bob: Yeah, I know. Here, look at the vote form.
Tom: Wow, right here, vote for or against fair trade guidelines. Yeah, but this is still the same.
Bob: How so?
Tom: Well, you have only forty shares here. How many shares are there total?
Bob: I don’t know… millions.
Tom: Ah, so your little vote isn’t going to matter any one way or the other.
Bob: You just didn’t go there.
Tom: Go where?
Bob: To the “my one little vote doesn’t matter so I don’t vote” whine.
Tom: er, uhmm.
Bob: Weren’t you just ranting last election cycle about how more people needed to get together and vote for Nader? If everyone in Oregon who believed Nader would actually vote for him, he’d carry the state?
Tom: Yes, but..
Bob: But nothing. It obviously wasn’t worth that much to most of those who believe Nader but didn’t vote. It was worth a lot to the local Baptist church to mobilize and vote for Bush, I tell you that. They had people up and down the street on election day waving banners for people to vote.
(commercial over. Hair gel product sales increase world-wide)
Ringling: We’re back. Again, with me are professors, Zhimbald Leftwich and Right Said Fred and we are discussing Walzer’s “Town Meetings and Worker’s Control”.
Right Said Fred: During the break you spoke of ability of the workers to exercise their control over the governance of their company. Don’t we have this in corporations now?
Zhimbald Leftwich: Not quiet. For one, not all companies are corporations and the votes are not all the same. Meaning, your ten shares in stock does not equal the four million shares of the Board.
Tom: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to say. The votes aren’t equal.
Bob: Valid point.
Ringling: Walzer is trying to get us to the conclusion that if it is okay for the members of J-Town to do as they did, then there is no difference for the workers of a corporation to do the same. He makes this case by taking apart what we would deem to be the differences between the two situations and marking them as illusory.
Zhimbald Leftwich: Yes. Good points all. There is energy and risk involved in creating a new business, the same as there is in creating a new society, state, or community. You cannot view a company as different because the founder spent his own capital and risked failure in setting it up. Such risks were on the heads of the founders of this country “we pledge our fortunes, our lives, and our sacred honor…”
Right Said Fred: Yes, I’ve got the phrase on a plaque on my office wall. It is related to Franklin’s comments that they all fight together, or be hanged separately.
Zhimbald Leftwich: Yes, and the workers of the company will either grow together, or perish separately.
Tom: This Leftwich guy is pretty smart.
Bob: Seems to me like the Ford Motor Company having it’s workers all drive Fords.
Tom: I fail to see the connection. That is top-down behavior. I’m talking about bottom-up grassroots action here.
Bob: And what happens if they, the grass seeds, become the power?
Tom: Then they’ll make better laws.
Bob: Ah, so it’ll then be top-down, except it’ll be acceptable.
Tom: Yes, because it’ll be the workers themselves in control instead of those disconnected to the workers.
Bob: The proletariat?
Tom: YES! You’ll come around to socialism someday.
Bob: When it shows me something of merit, perhaps.
Ringler: When you say perish together, what do you mean?
Right Said Fred: He means that the company will be run as a mediocrity of averages. Since you can’t fire anyone, nor cut the fat from time to time, you’ll never venture out into risks. The company will be mediocre.
Zhimbald Leftwich: You are putting words in my mouth. I never said such a thing.
Right Said Fred: I don’t need to, read between the lines. If the workers are the ones that make the decisions, they’ll want to protect themselves first and foremost.
Zhimbald Leftwich: Not at all. Should they appoint a governor to run the company as a CEO, that person could makes changes to affect the company.
Right Said Fred: Including laying off workers?
Zhimbald Leftwich: Decisions would have to be made that would allow the company to compete in the market with other companies.
Right Said Fred: Yes or no question. Including layoffs?
Zhimbald Leftwich: It’s not that simple, there are other factors,
Right Said Fred: You don’t want to answer because you know that the answer is yes and it’ll be the same as the CEO.
Bob: That’s a good point. In the J-Town story there was no competition with a B-Town across the river.
Tom: So? Walzer talks about risk? What does competition with another town have to do with anything?
Bob: Everything. Competition is what business is all about. In J-town they were merely surviving, but in a 9 to 5 sort of feeling. Sure he wrote about a flood and Indian attacks, but these are singular events.
Tom: Whoopty Do.
Bob: Well, if it is just an attack of Indians, then sure, we can pretty much figure out how to handle it okay. But if it is competition from another town, then there is constant, subversive, unseen agency at work that threatens to undermine your survival. Walzer didn’t address this concern enough for me.
Tom: You read the piece?
Tom: I though you only read Sports Illustrated.
Bob: Just because I don’t read the local edition of “overthrow the government” doesn’t mean I do not read.
Tom: You had to do it for a class, huh.
Right Said Fred: So it may be possible that in order to compete with other companies the elected governor would have to layoff some workers.
Zhimbald Leftwich: I’m not saying that.
Right Said Fred: Do you deny it?
Zhimbald Leftwich: It would have to be decided by the workers. It is not for me to speculate on what a future government of workers in regard to their company might do in a hypothetical situation.
Right Said Fred: Got you!
Zhimbald Leftwich: No you haven’t. We envision such political rights to members of a town, instead of workers of a company, though both have the founders that had vision and risked all to start it, and both have, or can have, members that choose to join or leave the town or company. In the town, the members live within the confines of that town, in the other, the workers live someplace else.
Ringling: Good point. That is the main thrust of Walzer’s argument, that there are no differences between the two, save that we have a nostalgic desire for private property, residences in the town, and no such thing in the factory. It seems that either her is doing away with the Lockean reason for the rights to self-government, or he is trying to bring in the worth of the individual as a reason on par with the ownership of property.
Tom: Dude, what did he just say?
Bob: He said that the cameras should stop covering Paris Hilton’s escapades.
Tom: True that.
Zhimbald Leftwich: I agree with your second point. Locke, well, others like him, contended that those with property be the ones to vote as they had more in stake in the society. The notion that everyone, property owner or not, has equal rights, is a recent event and its taken this country long enough to realize this.
Right Said Fred: I agree that individuals have inherent rights, but the having a stake in the society view, or Locke’s property holding voters, sounds to me like shareholders in a company.
Zhimbald Leftwich: Yes, but again, one vote from Rosie the Riveter doesn’t equal the same as a vote from Bill Gates.
Right Said Fred: So what you’re really saying is that equality of voices in the decision making process?
Zhimbald Leftwich? I am saying that liberty ought to be distributed evenly among those within the company.
Right Said Fred: Yes, and I asked if they would ever vote to lay themselves off? Seems unlikely to me that the workers would allow such a thing to occur. If it did occur, it would be the same tyranny you speak of, but from a different master.
Zhimbald Leftwich: You do not think a democracy could not make sacrifices?
Right Said Fred: I am saying it is unlikely in Walzer’s company.
Zhimbald Leftwich: What then of war? Our country has gone to war.
Right Said Fred: And if that is your Volvo out in the parking lot, it also has an “impeach Bush” and “Bush Lied People Died” sticker on it. Don’t pretend you support the war or move away from your conspiracy theories of how the war started.
Ringling: Gentlemen, we are moving off topic. The war in Iraq is next week’s program and I invite you both to come on the air.
Tom: Fascist war mongers.
Ringling: We don’t have much time left. Wrap it up. Professor Fred, you first.
Right Said Fred: The arguments made by Walzer are straw man arguments made to be knocked down easily. The same thing can be said of the military, it took leaders to create, took risks, you join it voluntarily and get out after a contract, and yet it cannot work by electing the leaders. This would make it a popularity contest among the generals, supposing rank is kept at all, and in reality, harsh conditions is sometimes needed, harsh training, harsh battle plans. Patton would likely to never have been elected, yet he was a primary force in winning the war.
Ringling: Time’s up. Professor Leftwich, you have the last word.
Zhimbald Leftwich: Yes. It is true that the military might not be a good venue for such a system. However, I would not that companies are not in the business of killing each other…
Tom: He forgot about the sweat shops.
Zhimbald Leftwich: … and the military would still be controlled by the government of the people. That the same political rights are not extended to workers simply because they do not live in the factory, is preposterous. The impact on the lives of the workers is no less than the impact a city council has by instigating taxes or zoning restrictions. Because of this, there should be representation from the those impacted.
Right Said Fred: Yes, it’s called a shareholder’s meeting. The workers can buy shares and act collectively. And the companies today are under a limited control by the popularly elected government.
Ringling: I still give the last word to Professor Leftwich:
Zhimbald LEftwich: Ah, so you are not advocating a Liaise Faire economy? I shall mark the calendar for this special event!
Ringling: That is all the time we have for today. We hope you join us next week when we discuss the War in Iraq, until then, thanks for tuning into “Boisterous Wind”.
Bob: What do you think?
Tom: I think that after watching Paris Hilton sell Carl’s Jr hamburgers, I want to go out for pizza instead.
Bob: We are in agreement over something, then, at last.