Why can the American public not save jobs, stop the sell-off of public property at bargain rates to private interests, protect our private records, halt the sale of Uzies for recreational purposes, or have traffic laws enforced?
We did win one fight. We managed to make General Mills, with its nearly $18 billion in annual sales, back down after it changed its coupon policies, so let’s find a way to use the power of public opinion for greater good. Please use the reply box at the bottom of this blog to provide suggestions – you won’t forego any rights if you do.
A bit of background, if necessary: General Mills established a new requirement that disputes from those using its “benefits,” including coupons, would have to be submitted to binding arbitration rather than the courts, but after four days of backlash, the company behind brands like Cheerios, Wheaties and Pillsbury, was so scared that it will allow us to sue it again, as Stephanie Strom of the N.Y. Times reported.
If the public is able to weigh in with such force to maintain its right to be litigious — a right most of us will never use — how can we use the weight of public opinion to persuade corporations, and even our problematic local, state and federal governments, to take measures more likely to be of greater worth to us, like promoting job growth and a reliable banking system?
Could we use our power to persuade Sallie Mae, the student loan firm, to bring ALL its jobs back to the U.S. and hire the students and parents who are its customers and wealth source? Could consumers target a corporation that announces job layoffs at the same time it increases executive salaries exponentially? Would our politicians and the interests that own them take note that the natives are finally restless?
Surely part of the reason why we do not recognize and claim our public clout for greater good is a lack of focus – unemployment is a more complex issue than the right to sue, and the corporate-government alliance that has decimated U.S. manufacturing is murkier and more diffuse than one corporation, even the mega-sized General Mills. As is the case with General Mills, it would have to be one corporation at a time and we would have to protest layoffs that don’t involve ourselves.
To be fair to processed food companies, they are struggling in the courts. Strom pointed out in her earlier story that General Mills has been plagued by suits – like the one it settled in late 2012 when it had to take the world “strawberry” off the label for its Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups because the product did not contain strawberries.
Even now the Supreme Court is considering arguments over whether Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid brand misled consumers when it put only traces of pomegranate and blueberry in its pomegranate-blueberry blend. Coke’s lawyer said the public was too sophisticated to be misled by its label. After Justice Anthony Kennedy told her that he himself had thought it was pomegranate juice, Justice Antonin Scalia opined that Justice Kennedy “sometimes doesn’t read closely enough.” It sounded like a rare day of fun for the justices.
Would Americans be galvanized to action if what sophisticated writers call “the hallowing out of the middle class” involved saving fifty cents off a box of cereal or provoking some laughs? As it is, thanks to General Mills’ capitulation we should be able to sue processed food companies for some time and the good will generated by Poppin’ Fresh, better known as the Pillsbury Doughboy, has been restored.