Ever since the 19th century, one of the points of convergence between the free-market right and the socialist left has been that the most important freedom under capitalism is the freedom of contract.
…For the free-market right, that’s the end of the discussion: Workers are free. No one’s forcing them to work. If they don’t like a job, they can leave it.
For the socialist left, it’s more complicated. Workers are not in fact free, the left argues, but the source of their unfreedom is not to be found in the usual guise. The most important constraint upon the freedom of contract is not the discrete or formal acts of coercion by power-holders (what political scientists sometimes call the first face of power), which are embodied in law and enforced by the state. Rather, it is systemic inequality and disparities of power between labor and capital: people with few resources are not in much of a position to say no to a job that they don’t like. Formally, workers are free; in practice, they are not.
I’m not a socialist, but you do not have to be one to know what he means. You only have to be a worker, even in management, where there is someone who has the authority to end your employment at will. The rerun of Mad Men I watched this morning, where Don throws a wad of money in Peggy’s face is a good example of the power dynamics at work and the alleged freedom workers have to walk away from a job. It flashed through my mind that if that was me Don would have been eating that wad of money. Yet the reality is that I was humiliated in a similar way once and did not get up in my bosses face or even walk out because I had made some financial commitments. I did learn from that incident. I learned to say f*ck it and tell bosses off. Though when you do that you have to be willing to pay the price. What is your financial situation, how fast can you get another job. Your old boss probably will not gossip about you because they know that employees have sued employers for that. On the other hand you’re not going to get a glowing reference either. This construct of power is deeply embedded in American and European culture. The way it should work, the ideal that conservatives and libertarians say exists, should exist, but it does not. If you see work as an exchange of labor/skills for money that is great, but in practice employers or bosses see it as a power arrangement. They have the power and you’re to do as you’re told. To some extent capitalism, the way we practice it anyway, has infantilized the majority of the work force. People come to work knowing on some level their employer has bought into this power arrangement or employees know that they are thought of as disposable, so other than some very grudging economic necessity, they are not particularly motivated to work or have their employer’s best interest in mind. Though one big exception. That small percentage of people who do their jobs well out of a sense of personal pride.
Emboldened by a series of Supreme Court decisions and an employers’ job market, many companies are starting to require workers to sign away their rights in return for a job. It is a trend that experts worry could further wear away employees’ power in the workplace. The contracts make it harder for employees to join class-action lawsuits, take their employers to court, or leave to go work somewhere else.
Mazhar Saleem is bound to his employer by a number of contracts that made it hard to earn enough money to live, but also hard to go work anywhere else. He drives a town car for a company in New York as an independent contractor, rather than as a full-time employee. That means he doesn’t get benefits, never gets overtime, and isn’t guaranteed set hours.
I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. The issue of the conservative movement and libertarians seeing freedom in terms of property rights. Who owns the most property ends up having the most rights. Anyone think they have the same rights as the Koch brothers or Mitt Romney. On paer you have some, but even those are not the same in pratice. Rush Limbaugh is a multimillionaire. When he was busted for illegal drug possession and doctor shopping, he had some high priced attorneys get him off on charges that have and still do gets hundreds of low income Americans put in prison every year. How is that possible when we’re all “equal” under the law.
she done him wrong – nice of them to give a very young cary grant a mention.
The Chilean dictator presided over the torture and murder of thousands, yet still the free-market right revers his name.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial entitled “After the Coup in Cairo”. Its final paragraph contained these words:
Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took over power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.
Presumably, this means that those who speak for the Wall Street Journal – the editorial was unsigned – think Egypt should think itself lucky if its ruling generals now preside over a 17-year reign of terror.
I also take it the WSJ means us to associate two governments removed by generals – the one led by Salvador Allende in Chile and the one led by Mohamed Morsi in Egypt. Islamist, socialist … elected, legitimate … who cares?Presumably, the WSJ thinks the Egyptians now have 17 years in which to think themselves lucky when any who dissent are tortured with electricity, raped, thrown from planes or – if they’re really lucky – just shot. That’s what happened in Chile after 1973, causing the deaths of between 1,000 and 3,000 people. Around 30,000 were tortured.
Another good example of how conservatives do not see rights as something political and part of a moral philosophy, but mostly a byproduct of property rights. Obviously you can have tons of property rights and still live under a thuggish regime.