Free Speech for Whom?
A most glaring example of the power imbalance on the job concerns the freedom of speech. Often celebrated as the most cherished right of a free citizen, most Americans are astonished to learn that freedom of speech does not extend to the workplace, or at least not to workers. It is literally true that free speech exists for bosses, but not workers.
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights applies only to the encroachment by government on citizens’ speech. It does not protect workers’ speech, nor does it forbid the “private” denial of freedom of speech. Moreover, in a ruling that further tilted the balance of power (against workers) in the workplace, the Supreme Court held that corporations are “persons” and therefore must be afforded the protection of the Bill of Rights.
So, any legislation (e.g. the National Labor Relations Act) or agency (e.g. the National Labor Relations Board) that seek to restrict a corporate “person’s” freedom of speech, is unacceptable. Employers’ First Amendment rights mean that they are entitled to hold “captive audience meetings” – compulsory sessions in which management lectures employees on the employers’ views of unions. Neither employees nor their unions have the right of response.
It’s almost as if the worksite is not a part of the United States. Workers “voluntarily” relinquish their rights when they enter into an employment relationship. So, workers can be disciplined by management (with no presumption of innocence) and they can be denied freedom of speech by their employer. The First Amendment only protects persons (including transnational corporations designated as persons) against the infringement of their rights by government – but not the infringement of rights of real persons (workers) by the private concentration of power and wealth, known as corporations.
Such limitations on workers’ rights are incompatible with the requirements of a genuine democracy. In comparison to European countries, the legal rights of workers in the US are remarkably limited. For a country that prides itself on individual rights, how can we permit the wholesale denial of those rights for tens of millions of American workers?
Think about it.