Is the Next Political Battleground the Workplace?
In a June conference call with the National Federation of Independent Business, Mitt Romney advised business owners to talk to their employees about the election and what the stakes are for the business.
Romney: “I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.”
At the time, this video did not make many headlines, however, it has recently been getting more attention due to the fact that several CEOs have been doing exactly this. In These Times, Gawker, and MSNBC have all reported about businesses that sent their employees memos about the election. These memos usually amount to slightly veiled threats of layoffs if Obama is re-elected. This type of campaigning is now being encouraged and the National Federation of Independent Business now offers advice on how to do so: 5 ways to talk to your employees about politics.
According to the Yale Law Journal, it used to be prohibited for employers to use their workplace as a forum for campaigning to their employees. Now, because of Citizens United, there are no such restrictions.
"Under Citizens United’s robust conception of corporate political speech, employers may now be able to compel their employees to listen to their political views at such meetings on pain of termination.”
Prior to Citizens United corporations could not directly campaign to, or solicit money from rank and file employees. Such behavior could only have been conducted through a PAC, and only through the mail. Additionally, any solicitations for money had be done in a way that allowed employees to remain anonymous, so management would not know who did or did not contribute.
Again, according to the Yale Law Journal, Citizens United permits “corporations to freely use their treasury funds to advocate for candidates and political parties to their rank-and-file employees.” This advocacy could include: requiring employees to attend one-sided partisan speeches, rallies, watch videos, or attend other events that advocate in favor of a candidate or party. Employees who do not comply could be fired.
How long will it be before contracts and terms of employment include an obligation for employees to actively campaign for the interests of the company? Are we headed down a path where employees could be required to volunteer for or donate money to the candidate or party of their bosses choosing? Is this the type of society we want? Do we want to give employers and corporate executives yet another tool that they can use to influence our political system?
It seems, to me, that as a society we are headed down a slippery path. One that gives employers more and more control over the lives of their employees (and this is to say nothing about the demand that bosses have more control over their employees’ health care). Our entire society is becoming more and more undemocratic both economically and politically. Wealth and power have been increasingly concentrated into the hands of the few. Now, it appears that some want to use the workplace as another tool to control politics, society, and the lives of people.
China and Workers’ Rights
About a week or so ago I posted a link to the State Department’s “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011: China.” I was reading through the report and a couple of passages stood out. These were taken from the section on workers’ rights:
"The law does not provide for freedom of association, as workers are not free to organize or join unions of their own choosing. Independent unions are illegal, and the right to strike is not protected in law." (Pg. 66)
"There is no legal obligation for employers to negotiate, and some employers refused to do so." (Pg. 66)
"Government officials took a more prominent role in resolving some labor disputes, although not necessarily in the favor of striking workers. For example, a four-day strike by 4,000 workers at a South Korean-owned handbag factory in Guangzhou’s Panyu District ended on June 23, when police arrested at least six workers, according to foreign press reports. The strike ended without workers winning any concessions on wages and conditions on which the walk-out was based." (Pg. 69)
I find this more than a little ironic that the US would include a lack of union rights in a report detailing China’s human rights abuses.
OK, so the US may not be as bad as China on this, but after recent events (Wisconsin) it seems that we may be moving in their direction. Over the last thirty years the power of unions has been systematically reduced, and now there are people on the right (Mitch Daniels) saying that public sector unions should go all together.