Slaves To The Corporates

Consider the case of 84-year-old, British war veteran, Walter Bargate, who attempted suicide by swallowing a hundred sleeping pills and pain killers, after spending three winter days and nights in the freezing cold after a power company broke into his house and disconnected his supply.[1]

It turned out the power company had been grossly overcharging him for years, but when Walter tried to contact their customer service he was kept on hold for three hours, until he eventually gave up.

Much was written and spoken in 2007 (the bi-centenary of slavery abolition), celebrating its abolition and bemoaning the part played by various nations in its evil perpetration. Yes, the subject is slavery, and all of us are happy it is is a thing of the past, at least in western civilizations.

But, is it?

Certainly, the simple process of buying or acquiring a human being as property, to be used and misused at whim, is no longer acceptable, at least on the surface of any modern, sophisticated, society. As Agnes Repplier so aptly put it, to be civilized is: “to have some quality of consideration for all who cross our path.” Yet, two hundred and one years after the abolition of slavery in the US and UK, a new, pernicious, form of slavery is spreading relentlessly throughout the modern world.

Walter Bargate survived. His is a sad story, but what, you may ask, has it to do with modern day slavery?

Let’s first examine the definition of a “slave”.

According to Webster’s it’s:

“a person held in servitude as the chattel of another” or “one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence”

Just to be absolutely clear, let’s define “servitude”:

“a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one’s course of action or way of life”

With those definitions in mind, let us consider the case of Walter Bargate.

The power company at the center of this story was E.ON. Originally a German company, E.ON is now multinational with offices throughout Europe and the United States.[2] There’s nothing special about E.ON, it’s just another vast multinational corporation. Yet, it’s exactly because of that description that E.ON has become the villain, the slavemaster, in the story of Walter Bargate.

Once upon a time we lived in a world of competition. Numerous small businesses vied for our custom. Customer service was the highest topic on the agenda of every board meeting. That old adage, “The customer’s always right”, rang true throughout the business world.

Then, in stepped the evil witch, “Big Business”, crushing all the little businesses. Suddenly, the customer had nowhere to go. “Big Business” controlled the retail outlets, energy suppliers, healthcare (in the case of America) and every other consumer-orientated business on the planet.

It didn’t stop there, however. “Big Business” is a parasite that preys on itself. Gradually, “Big Business” metamorphosed into “the Corporates”, as monsters slew each other, gobbled up the competition, until just one gi-normous entity survived in any field of business.

Suddenly, consumers had no choice. They only had one supplier to choose from. If they weren’t satisfied, they couldn’t take their custom elsewhere, because there was nowhere else to go.

Slowly it dawned on “the Corporates” that customer service was no longer vital to their business. If the punter had no choice, he also had no control. The customer was at the mercy of the supplier, both for services and goods. This opened up immense opportunities for corporate profit. No longer was the consumer in charge of quality, variety, or pricing. The customer had to take what was on offer, regardless of those three criteria.

Suddenly, the people had lost control. No longer could a consumer say, “I’m not satisfied with your service, I’m taking my custom elsewhere.” “Elsewhere” no longer existed. The people had become the slaves of “the Corporates”.

Corporate bosses soon realized this didn’t only apply to the customer, but to corporate employees. If a power company employee felt unfairly treated, he couldn’t move to another power company, for there wasn’t one. His union effectively lost its bargaining rights.

The corporate bosses held total control.

The advent of computer technology allowed “the Corporates” to dispense with large numbers of their workforce. ‘Customer service’ became an automated voice offering options that steered the customer away from human contact. The obstinate consumer, demanding a live voice, soon found the hours of brain-deadening, piped music, interspersed with recorded automatons informing, “Your custom is important to us. Please hold. Our representative will be with you shortly. You are only number 1,252 in the queue”, just too much to bear and hung up in frustration and disgust.

The consumer today finds himself totally subservient to the dominating influence of “the Corporates”. He lacks the liberty to determine his course of action or way of life.

He is a slave, in the true meaning of the word.

When Walter Bargate discovered his power bills were way too high, he tried to contact the corporate multinational, “E.ON”, and solve the problem. E.ON’s sophisticated computer-controlled, automated service effectively prevented him from doing that. It didn’t matter that E.ON had overcharged him by $13,000. The Corporate is always right, and if it isn’t, your right of redress is severely limited by an inability to contact anyone who can rectify the mistake.

The local business on the High Street, which relied on satisfying its customers, has become the multi-national in Texas, or Dusseldorf, or Nor’ Nor’ West Bohemia, that doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of its customers, because you have nowhere else to go. You have no control. You are subservient to a dominating influence. You lack the liberty to determine your course of action or your way of life.

And if you still believe you do, then hold fire, because it won’t be long before you change your mind.

Just like the slavemasters of old, “the Corporates” are out to ensure that what they decide is right for them, is exactly what you’ll get.

[1] “War veteran, 84, in suicide bid……” Daily Mail, July 4th, 2008

[2] ‘E.ON’ Website

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8 Replies to “Slaves To The Corporates”

  1. I’d never heard of E.ON – must be new on the scene since I left British shores – what a disgraceful tale though!

    You’re quite right, RJ – the corporations have us caught in a form of slavery – well those of us beneath the multi-millionaire sector anyway.

    Nationalisation of services such as water, electricity, public transport was harshly criticised, but I can see no fairer system. I know that, taken to extremes, nationalisation can be as big a menace as corporatism. I wonder why it is that humans don’t seem able to strike, and hold, a happy medium – in anything.

  2. You missed out the best bit of the story (I read in the Independent, but can’t find on their website) – he is disabled, both with poor vision, and with problems in his hands. Even if he had been shown how to top up his prepayment meter, he physically *couldn’t* do it. E.On said that they “weren’t” aware of his disabilities, implying that, had he been able bodied, this would have been an acceptable way to behave.

    I’ve just had a big fight with them, as they wanted to take (from the direct debit I was paying) double what I was using “just in case” the amount I used went up over the winter…

  3. Jo – I didn’t go into too great detail as readers had access to the full story from the link at the bottom of the page, but you’re right that E.ON’s actions were appalling and unacceptable. Sadly, as your own experience witnesses, these corporates are dictating terms to the customer more and more.

  4. You just did a great job of highlighting the curse of corporatism. R.J..

    And you’re so right about the West’s ‘culture’ of greed. And to think that the West sees itself as so superior.

    Without going too far off topic, here’s a little story I brought back from Turkey.

    Sitting outside a street corner cafe that had several orange trees growing naturally on it’s ‘patch’, was an ‘amazed’ Brit tourist.

    Anyone could could pinch those oranges, the way they’re just left out in the open” he (knowingly) warned the cafe owner.

    The owner smiled. “But they are oranges,” he replied. “Oranges are for eating. Would you like one?”

  5. If you haven’t seen it, RJA, I highly recommend “The Corporation”, a marvellous documentary (long- I should warn you!)which concludes corporations are psychopathic by nature. QED your point above.

  6. TOB – Great story! It highlight’s the mindset created by obsessive capitalism. And I found you an editor. Only thing was, in the first sentence, he had to guess at ‘job’. Reckoned it could as easily been ‘cock-up’ or ‘pig’s arse’.

    WWW – I haven’t yet seen it, but I note it’s on YouTube, so will probably try and catch it a bit at a time. I would certainly concur with its conclusions.

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