The UK’s Pro-Brexit Asset Sale of the Century: Everything Must Go. People Optional

Unilever’s recent escape from Kraft-Heinz’ (£115 bn) predatory bid inaugurates the Takeover – Leviathan’s latest asset – steeple-chasing season. Unilever’s salivating shareholders are already up-in-arms about a killing missed, and demanding bigger and better others.

Paul Myners, ex City Minister and M&S Chairman at the time it fought off the bid of the egregious Sir Philip Green (of BHS notoriety) has sensed the threat and urged the prime minister to wake up and protect UK prime assets from the depredations of a potential ‘garage sale’. Five or six more Footsie 100 companies are forecast to be likely objects of foreign predatory bids this year; but her ears seem deaf to all but the seductive siren calls of her hard-Brexit gung-ho tendency, luring her unheeding on to the rocks.

As ever, you can be sure that the employees of the corporations concerned will not be amongst those invited to the consultations.

A corporate entity, which starts
As just an aggregate of parts,
Evolves in time, within its whole
An idiosyncratic soul.

This personality defeats
Analysis by balance sheets,
The way your character eludes
The X-ray and the cathode tubes.

Yet what we are, on this strange earth,
Defines our value and our worth;
Not, for a man, his ears or throat,
Nor, for a company, its quote.

From “Death by Merger” – Bertie Ramsbottom, 1985

One of the most persistent and horrifying features of human history is the extent to which so many of our forebears around the world lost their freedoms and were brought, often with their families and for many generations, into the ownership of others. Even the relative benign-ness of an owner could not lift the burden on the human spirit of being stripped of the exercise of choice, respect and self-determination which human freedom demands.

Yet slavery, we have recently re-discovered, is by no means dead, and today’s serfdoms have become highly innovative in their search for new routes as punitive neoliberal regimes have sought to dismantle workers’ rights, job security and rewards for labour. So, while our hyper-active stock-exchanges are by no means re-treads of a pre-Wilberforce slave-market, some anachronistic attitudinal throw-backs linger on.

The involuntary ‘selling-on’ of its employees with the non-human ‘assets’ of an acquired company is one of these; attitudinally much too short a step away from our now-growing child, domestic, sex-worker, agricultural and other debt-induced slavery markets – involving (on UN estimates) 27-30 million humans world-wide!

Yet analysts are prone to make
This odd but seminal mistake,
And think the rules of purchase hold
When companies are bought and sold.

But what the buying company gets
So often, to its great regrets,
May be a useless bag of parts,
Like buying men without their hearts.

Financial analysts are, then.
The very worst of corporate men
To make so subtle a decision
As merger or as acquisition.


On any attempted map of a likely route towards slavery, stations on the way (poverty, indebtedness, income loss, conquest, war, disease and many others) would probably – post Thomas Piketty and others – converge on pervasive inequality as penultimate stop before journey’s sad, final end. So it is chastening to remember that Inequality is recognised to be endemic, if in differing degrees, in most OECD and westernised countries; and certainly so in the UK and USA.

Still, we are consummately adept at wrapping fact in impenetrable language – and the so-called financialisation phase in which we are now said to be – en route to the ultimate market mecca? – is already working its magic. In the USA, the financial sector over recent years has contributed 20% of GDP and taken 40% of corporate profits; nicely correlated with equivalent falls in the labour share across the OECD as “production capitalism” yields to its slick “financial capitalism” successor.

This is the day, maybe, to remind ourselves and our leaders that there are real people behind these ideological “isms”; as it is also the day on which we learn that the slave-markets have re-opened in Libya where exhausted migrants, in sight of dreamed of lands across the seas, are on sale at absolutely rock-bottom market prices.

Above all, it’s the people presence
That permeates this corporate essence,
And catalyses , through the whole,
Its special chemistry and soul.

So synergies from mergers fail
Because the soul is not for sale;
Just as, when plants and factories close,
More dies than most of us suppose.

“Death by Merger” – Bertie Ramsbottom, 1985