The continued packing of federal courts at all levels with judges who have a pinched view of civil liberties-particularly First Amendment freedoms-is getting considerable public and media attention, but a perhaps even more serous attack on basic freedom is going largely unnoticed: the growing tyranny of the workplace.
Just this past June, the National Labor Relations Board, a federal body which oversees and regulates the relationship between employers and employees, and which after five years of Republican rule in Washington is now stacked with conservative pro-management Bush appointees, voted 2-1 to uphold a private company’s policy barring its workers from “fraternizing” even off duty, whether during coffee breaks or after hours at home.
The company, a security firm called Guardsmark, had established a rule barring its employees from fraternizing “on duty or off dutyor becoming overly friendly with the client’s employees or with co-employees.”
The union, a local of the Service Employees International Union (one of the four big unions to recently split off from the AFL-CIO), had filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the company with the NLRB, claiming the new rule threatened workers’ right under the National Labor Relations Act to “self-organization, to form, join or assist labor organizationsand to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”
As the organization American Rights at Work (www.americanrightsatwork.org) notes in a report on this ruling, such a ban “inevitably chills collective action of any sort.”
Since most employees can be fired from their jobs with no reason given, American Rights at Work says the new rule “gives employers the green light to invade our privacy and chip away at our most basic rights in the workplace.”
It has long been the case that America’s much-touted freedoms of speech, assembly, press, privacy and from warrantless search and seizure largely end at the factory gate or the office lobby, this new ruling extends corporate power over the individual to areas where it had largely been absent before: workers’ off-time.
Now the serfdom of the workplace has expanded to cast its dark pall over the behavior of workers who have already punched out for the day.
No more ranting about the boss at the bar after work. Maybe even no more blowing off steam to a spouse back home, if the spouse should happen to work for the same employer.
You have to wonder when American workers will finally just get fed up with this corporate Big Brotherism.
It used to be that the problem was Americans only had free speech for the eight hours a day they were asleep and the eight hours they were commuting or at home. Now it may be that freedom is reserved for just the eight hours that they’re asleep.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org