For all of the freedom loving going on with those that celebrate private industry taking over where government is supposedly falling short, an interesting conversation is happening. A challenge to libertarian thinkers to consider in reality how much freedom private enterprise allows. The simple fact is that an adult in the workplace is at the mercy of whatever governing style is in place. The invention of labor laws, stories of clandestine and overt abuse, and modern day anecdotes from our “favorite” brand name sweatshops let us know that, yes, workers are taken advantage of when no one is minding the minder. Here is the leading argument from Let it Bleed:Libertarianism in the Workplace:
1. Abridgments of freedom inside the workplace
On pain of being fired, workers in most parts of the United States can be commanded to pee or forbidden to pee. They can be watched on camera by their boss while they pee. They can be forbidden to wear what they want, say what they want (and at what decibel), and associate with whom they want. They can be punished for doing or not doing any of these things—punished legally or illegally (as many as 1 in 17 workers who try to join a union is illegally fired or suspended). But what’s remarkable is just how many of these punishments are legal, and even when they’re illegal, how toothless the law can be. Outside the usual protections (against race and gender discrimination, for example), employees can be fired for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. They can be fired for donating a kidney to their boss (fired by the same boss, that is), refusing to have their person and effects searched, calling the boss a “cheapskate” in a personal letter, and more. They have few rights on the job—certainly none of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendment liberties that constitute the bare minimum of a free society; thus, no free speech or assembly, no due process, no right to a fair hearing before a panel of their peers—and what rights they do have employers will fight tooth and nail to make sure aren’t made known to them or will simply require them to waive as a condition of employment. Outside the prison or the military—which actually provide, at least on paper, some guarantee of due process—it’s difficult to conceive of a less free institution for adults than the average workplace.
2. Abridgements of freedom outside the workplace
In addition to abridging freedoms on the job, employers abridge their employees’ freedoms off the job. Employers invade employees’ privacy, demanding that they hand over passwords to their Facebook accounts, and fire them for resisting such invasions. Employers secretly film their employees at home. Workers are fired for supporting the wrong political candidates (“work for John Kerry or work for me”), failing to donate to employer-approved candidates, challenging government officials, writing critiques of religion on their personal blogs (IBM instructs employees to “show proper consideration…for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion”), carrying on extramarital affairs, participating in group sex at home, cross-dressing, and more. Workers are punished for smoking or drinking in the privacy of their own homes. (How many nanny states have tried that?) They can be fired for merely thinking about having an abortion, for reporting information that might have averted the Challenger disaster, for being raped by an estranged husband. Again, this is all legal in many states, and in the states where it is illegal, the laws are often weak.
3. Use of sanctions inside the workplace as a supplement to—or substitute for—political repression by the state
While employers often abridge workers’ liberty off the job, at certain moments, those abridgments assume a larger function for the state. Particularly in a liberal state constrained by constitutional protections such as the First Amendment, the instruments of coercion can be outsourced to—or shared with—the private sector. During the McCarthy period, for example, fewer than 200 men and women went to jail for their political beliefs, but as many as 40% of American workers—in both the public and private sectors—were investigated (and a smaller percentage punished) for their beliefs…
What makes the private sector, especially the workplace, such an attractive instrument of repression is precisely that it can administer punishments without being subject to the constraints of the Bill of Rights. It is an archipelago of private governments, in which employers are free to do precisely what the state is forbidden to do: punish without process.
The typical libertarian argument to this is, “the worker chose to work there”. In tough economic times, multiple choices of different flavored oppression don’t actually constitute an exercise of free will or consent to that oppression.
Employees are often hired and fired for no reason apparent to the employee – the employer holds all of the cards (in a non-unionized work place). The work we do – more often than not – goes beyond our original job description. Are we expected to take our work home? Call in during vacation? Wear restrictive/provacative/or specialized clothing? Can we talk to our co-workers? Can we call our spouses? Do we actually get the breaks mandated by law? Are we doing illegal things and supposed to stay quiet? Are we allowed to ask questions? Can we demand to be paid on time? Do we have to buy special equipment? Do we have to complete tasks that are unsafe? Will someone spy on us? Are we allowed to display our religious beliefs? Must we tolerate sexual advances? Can we get the promotion without sleeping around? Can we go to the bathroom when we want to? Are we allowed to sit down? Will we be fired if we have a sickly kid? Can we keep our jobs if we decide to quit drinking?
Boss says “jump”, we say how high. Check your freedom at the door when you punch in.