Fascists in the Machine


There is a delicious irony in the rapid fall from grace and power of Harry Stonecipher, CEO at scandal-plagued Boeing Corp., who was fired by the board of directors after his affair with a junior executive was exposed.

What brought the company’s chief executive low was the company’s invasive email monitoring program, which allowed security personnel to keep tabs on every employee’s email messages. Of course, that monitoring was supposed only to nail low-level workers, but someone got hold of some love notes being exchanged between Stonechipher and his paramour, Debra Peabody, a manager of office operations, and spilled the beans.

Apparently such intra-office liaisons are considered taboo under the company’s official “Code of Conduct,” and are considered “embarrassing” to the corporation. This was apparently viewed as a much more serious transgression (he was gone in 10 days!), than the overseeing of a massive government contract fraud by Stonecipher’s predecessor, Boeing CEO Phil Condit, who hung on for months of truly embarrassing investigation and bad press until finally being forced out in 2003. (One must assume that the company’s vaunted Code doesn’t say much about defrauding the taxpayer.)

What this latest little incident highlights is the degree to which all American workers have come under the jackboot of a fascist-like corporate culture that wants absolute control over what we say, do and think on, and even off, the job.

The very notion that a relationship between two people who work at the same institution could be “embarrassing” and grounds for dismissal is an outrage. The idea that their harmless private communications on the company’s email system would be monitored and then made public is equally outrageous.

And let’s face it, this is the environment in which at least 25 percent of American workers reportedly now labor (a percentage that is rising every year). Some 17 percent of American companies report that they dismissed workers last year for “improper” use of the company’s internet and email system. Most of these victims were caught by automated spy systems installed to monitor employee email. Even universities are now monitoring employee email–including the mail of professors who are supposed to have academic freedom.

Phones too, are subject to monitoring.

We grow up hearing about the glories of America’s Bill of Rights and especially of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and association, but the ugly truth is that those freedoms only apply to that narrow sliver of waking time when we are at home or commuting to or from work. During the most important part of the average person’s day–those eight or nine hours when she or he is at work–there is no such freedom at all. What you say, wear, or maybe even think, and whom you choose to hang with, can mean the end of job or career. On most jobs, you have to wear certain things and at some even say certain things (like a company cheer!) on pain of losing your job.

And it gets worse. A new trend in which companies are telling employees that if they smoke, even at home, they can be terminated, heralds a brave new world where corporations will begin setting all kinds of behavioral rules for employees to follow off the job if they want to keep it. How far off are we from a time when going to a demonstration on one’s free time can be grounds for firing?

Wait a minute, the San Francisco Chronicle did just that last year to one of its columnists. We’re there already!

My question is, why aren’t we freedom-loving Americans raising holy hell about this trampling of our rights? Where’s the outrage at our being treated like the citizens of China, Saudi Arabia or Burma on the job?

Forget Jesus. What would Thomas Jefferson say about the new corporate rules of behavior and the new monitoring of workers’ private communications and private lives?

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com



CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.