Commoning the Company

Mathew Lawrence, Adrienne Buller, Joseph Baines & Sandy Hager over at Common Wealth:

A devastating public health crisis, Covid-19 has also triggered a profound crisis of the company: from vast multinational corporations to the small firms that are the lifeblood of local economies. The unprecedented economic fallout from the virus has exposed the inefficiencies and injustices embedded in the company’s operation – limitations that stretch back decades. Our response to this crisis cannot ignore these limitations when we emerge from the period of economic hibernation. Instead, it must reimagine the company so that it is democratic, resilient, and sustainable by design – and rebuild a new economy centred on meeting the needs of society and the environment.

Since the 1970s, the company has transformed from an institution focused on production – even if still one laced through with hierarchy and injustices – into an engine of increasing wealth extraction and growing financialisation, funnelling cash to shareholders and executive management in the form of dividends, share buybacks and share-based pay awards. This has been driven by key shifts in the legal, managerial, and ownership structures of the corporation, with an increasing share of corporate earnings redirected to investors and management over workers or re-investment. Shareholding has concentrated and corporate debt has soared, with UK listed company debt reaching record levels by 2018; mergers and acquisitions have created dominant oligopolies in key sectors; managerial power has grown; and labour has been subject to a relentless squeeze on wages, autonomy, and security in order to boost short-term profit.

More here.