The Company Board
by Chris Norris
The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power, and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated; this means that they cease to exist in estrangement. It sees its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence.
- Karl Marx
Co-opting an individual usually involves giving him or her a desirable role in the design or implementation of the change. Co-opting a group involves giving one of its leaders, or someone it respects, a key role in the design or implementation of a change. This is not a form of participation, however, because the initiators do not want the advice of the co-opted, merely his or her endorsement.
- Harvard Business Review
Wherever co-determination brings members of works councils still more closely together with management, a new stratum of industrial functionaries to some extent sharing management prerogatives makes its appearance... a privileged upper stratum of the working class.
- Labour Party NEC Report, 1967
They asked me to sit on the company board,
To 'make sure that our voices were heard',
Since the rumblings had grown
And we'd hardened the tone
When our overtime pay-and-a-third
Was withdrawn overnight
And they told us outright
Any strike-threats would just be ignored.
It's an old trick you bosses have always preferred
When forced out of your comfort-zone:
If the plebs feel ignored
And your plans are shop-floored
Then just nobble a few of their own
Trusty mates and you'll see.
How the fuss will soon be
Laid to rest and their leaders deterred.
That’s your ruse: tea and biscuits, advise we postpone
The planned walk-out, then say you've explored
Our main points word-for-word
And all present concurred
That there should be some token award,
Some one-off cash bribe
To the rancorous tribe,
Not in justice but goodwill alone.
For we've learned our best lessons at nobody's knee
Except comrades who taught us to fight
By close-watching our bosses,
Discounting our losses
And hoping that things would go right
Should old lessons apply
And they not satisfy
Our demands with a flat guarantee.
So my answer's the same, now as always: 'nice try,
But remember, I'm wise to your wiles.
If you think we'll be stopped
By your plan to co-opt
Me and others with hand-outs and smiles,
Then you've got us wrong-typed
And the smiles may be wiped
Off your corporate face by and by.
You’ll go wrong if you think the way you made your piles –
Like old partners sold out on the sly,
Or some rival waylaid
By a trick of the trade –
Makes an accurate guide to how I
And my mates will respond
If you think we'll be conned
And go down in your 'Problem Solved' files.
For there's nothing we hate like a loyalty betrayed,
Or a union pledge quietly dropped,
Or a management wed
To Old Nick found in bed
With ex-comrades cash-bribed to adopt
The self-same tune you piped,
You smooth-talking, pin-striped
Boss-class sods who thought you had it made.
If I told you there might be inducements beyond
Getting rich or just keeping ahead
Of the next boss in line,
Then you'd tell me that mine
Was some high-minded tosh I'd been fed,
Or some half-witted stuff
For those not bright enough
To make good on their first stock or bond.
So when us lot combine it's to toughen our spine
In ways other than your kind of tough,
To affirm a just cause,
To tear down Tory laws
That give you lot free rein to play rough,
But also to show
Just how well things might go
If you bosses weren’t such bloody swine.
So, my comrades, please know that we needn't kowtow
To the pinstripes or seek their applause
If our attitude's not
Or if there’s a humanity-clause
That declines to equate
Our own optimal state
With a high rate of capital flow.
For if they get their paws on the rights that are yours,
Rights hard-won against devil knows what
Boss-class tactics to throw
Us on Poverty Row,
Then we might as well take what we’ve got,
What we’ve managed to stash
Of small hand-outs in cash,
And have blacklegs patrol the shop-floors.
Cartoon by Bob Starrett, official cartoonist for the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-In, 1972. Chris Norris's most recent collection, The Trouble with Monsters, is available here.
Christopher Norris is Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. He is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, politics, literature, the history of ideas, and music.