It looked like a photo of the pope blessing a crowd of worshipers but was in fact a photo of a Demoulas employee with arms extended rallying fellow protesters. The photo conveyed much of the same passion that you might expect from a crowd in St. Peter’s Square — both were gatherings of true believers.
There is a visually stunning painting by artist Diego Rivera that depicts factory workers in a very detached, mechanistic manner -- essentially as nothing more than cogs in a machine. It is devoid of any sense of humanness. It’s also, I believe, how many in the corporate world look upon those in their employ. They prefer a class of worker bees who, like Sisyphus, just keep pushing the rock up the hill oblivious to the absurdity of their existential grind. The corporate culture also prefers that, like the Jack Nicholson character in “A Few Good Men”, those workers, “Just say thank you and not question ...”
The raison d’être of corporations is making money for shareholders. It’s quite simple — the less workers are paid and the more that can be extracted from consumers the greater the profits for corporate pockets. It’s the operative dynamic — the tautological algorithm of success in the corporate world. This absolutist’s devotion to the bottom line is not benign. It’s a factor in the obscene disparity of wealth, with 40 to 50 percent of the country’s wealth being controlled by 2 percent of the population. To question it is to invite a seismic rupture in the corporate structure with those who dare challenge it essentially offering themselves as sacrificial lambs on the altar of corporate greed. This corporate meme encapsulates the current plight of Arthur T. Demoulas
This is the context in which the battle for control of the Demoulas corporation needs to be seen. It’s a microcosm of corporate culture. It raises the question as to when enough is enough for those how inhabit the world of the 2 percent. It further raises the question of a critical mass of wealth disparity and the causal role of corporations.
The open letter to Demoulas customers published recently was dripping with hypocrisy. Referring to protesting workers, the new co-CEOs stated: “Some have lost sight of our top priority — taking care of you.” The board seems to be proponents of Reagan’s trickle down theory and its illusionary promise. They would have workers believe that if the 2 percent continue to stuff their pockets it will eventually get to them. Romney’s 47 percent are still waiting for the trickle.
Exclusive adoration of the bottom line becomes self defeating. Arthur S. Demoulas and the board appear about to turn away from a business model — profit sharing for employees and low prices for consumers — that was responsible for their success. While the new co-CEOs deny this, what appears to be a pending sale would likely render any promises meaningless.
While they probably exist, it is hard to find anyone not in his circle of family supporters who will defend Arthur S. publicly. Any defense seems transparently anti-populist and, as Mitt Romney once whispered to his circle of supporters concerning the disparity of wealth, “it’s OK to talk about it in quiet rooms.”
Defenders of Arthur S. are left with ad hominem attacks on Arthur T. such as suggesting that he is not a selfless individual but simply a man with an obsessive, almost pathological, need to be loved. Based on this pejorative assumption they view his benevolence as simply working in the service of his ego to the detriment of shareholders.
Some in the GOP defend the status quo and the disparity in wealth as not only inevitable but necessary. They see unions as the source of all evil and responsible for all economic problems. They’re still giddy over Reagan’s busting of the air traffic controllers union. Democrats generally fall on the other side of the discussion and see unions, or the threat of unions, as the only effective way to bring about some degree of equity for workers. The alternative is to keep pushing the rock up the hill, stand alone passively and hope to be treated fairly.
Arthur T. has a foot on both sides of the line. He is a man, who by the way he treats people, has made a union unnecessary. Union organizers would be talking to themselves in a Market Basket store. It’s hard to understand why Arthur S. and his supporters don’t simply embrace Arthur T. and his philosophy that has bequeathed a comfortable life to them. How much more can their pockets hold? Perhaps the Arthur S. side of the family should consider just saying “thank you and not question.”
The board voted to oust Arthur T. I’m hopeful that consumers will continue to vote with their grocery buying decisions and remind those obsessed with simply accumulating wealth why Market Basket has been so successful while other grocery chains struggle. The essential elements were Arthur T., the sense of family he cultivates and a commitment to treating workers and the consuming public fairly -- a novel idea in corporate America. If the new management remains tone deaf, everyone will continue to feel the pain.
If corporations are, as the Supreme Court keeps insisting, truly people, perhaps they might show some empathy for real people. They might demonstrate this by reaffirming the foundational beliefs of the Demoulas corporation. They can start by bringing back Arthur T.
Jim Cain writes from North Andover.