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Business Ownership & Labor Day

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Traditionally, supporters mark Labor Day in the context of labor versus corporations, as working people versus big business. But, now that labor has become so involved in business ownership through contributions to pension funds and mutual funds, is it time to think again, to celebrate something new?

Over roughly the past half century, working people have bought up a huge chunk of big business. And union-sponsored pension plans rank among the biggest institutional investors. Working people, both union and non-union, now own a piece – and often a big piece – of just about everything in business, from multinational corporations to mini-malls down the street.

If you’re a working person who contributes to a pension fund, mutual fund, or life insurance policy with a savings component, you’re one of the new owners of big business (and many small businesses), too.

That may come as a surprise, since most working people contribute only modest amounts to their retirement plans. But they more than make up for that in the number of active contributors. If you’re still not sure, try this on your calculator: Multiply a contribution of $1,000 per person per year by one million working people. Answer: $1 billion dollars per year. Now note the existence of literally hundreds of millions of working people here and in other countries. And they’re contributing new money every year.

This shift of business ownership from rich people to working people may be the greatest economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution. Management guru Peter Drucker has called it “The Pension Fund Revolution;” however, now that mutual funds and insurance companies have also become major investors on behalf of working people, I prefer to call it the “Ownership Revolution.”

So what does all this mean? Well, for starters, it should lead to an end of complaints about the profits of corporations and allegations about ‘greedy corporations.’ After all, much of that profit now goes toward the current and future retirement incomes of working people.

What’s more complicated, though, is the relationship between working people who own a big company and other working people employed by that same company. How to share corporate profits — through continuing employment and higher wages, or through higher returns to shareholders — remains a difficult issue. Especially for those working people who lose their jobs.

On the other side of the coin, working people have bought enough stocks and shares to become bosses of the bosses. And some pension funds have begun making that clear. CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, has led the way in telling Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and boards of directors that they’d better manage effectively or else. And, CEOs and directors listen; after all CalPERS runs the country’s biggest pension fund, with assets of $189 billion on June 30th, 2005.

What’s this all mean? Well, if you go shopping for Labor Day weekend sales, there’s a chance you’ll buy from a business owned by yourself, your friends, or your neighbors. What’s more, the clerks who take your credit card with a smile may work for you. Or, maybe the clerks own the company for which you work. Smile at them, too, just to be on the safe side!

Download three free chapters from Robert Abbott’s book, A Manager’s Guide to Newsletters: Communicating for Results; it\s the first step toward creating a powerful and sustainable newsletter: http://www.managersguide.com/free-sample.html (and it will help you develop a strong newsletter name, too!)

Business Ownership & Labor Day
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