From “Fired for Wearing the Wrong Color Shirt: The Scary Truth About Our Lack of Workplace Protections,”

On March 16, at least 14 employees of the Elizabeth R. Wellborn law firm, located in Deerfield Beach, Florida, wore orange shirts to work. For this style choice, they were marched into a conference room and summarily fired. Wellborn’s husband declared that the shirts were a protest against working conditions at the 275-worker law firm, and that management would not stand for such behavior.

****

The First Amendment and many of the Constitution’s other protections only extend to the government, not to private employers. Freedom of speech and expression are not protected in the private-sector, nonunion workplace. You could be fired for, say, wearing a pin advocating a particular political party. You could also be fired for sporting a smiley face pin.

“People assume they have a lot more protection at work than they actually do,” says Judith M. Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Center (NELP). “People also assume they have some right to be treated decently, and fairly, and respectfully at the workplace. They have the right to freedom from discrimination based on certain immutable characteristics like sex, race and age, but as long as treatment at work isn’t related to one of those characteristics you can be treated badly with no legal recourse. It’s kind of a free-for-all.”

Perhaps you were unaware at how little you are protected in your role as labor.  We have discovered that we are as little protected in our role as citizens (is there such a role any longer?) when we can be summarily executed at the pleasure of our Chief Executive Officer.

Kafka’s Josef K’s got nothing on us; neither does Orwell’s Winston Smith–heck, the state has always treated subjects this way–even in the days of Socrates.  What does he say in the Apology that Kafka appropriates to his “fable” of reality, The Trial?

But far more dangerous are these, who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause. These are the accusers whom I dread; for they are the circulators of this rumor, and their hearers are too apt to fancy that speculators of this sort do not believe in the gods. And they are many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they made them in days when you were impressible – in childhood, or perhaps in youth – and the cause when heard went by default, for there was none to answer. And, hardest of all, their names I do not know and cannot tell; unless in the chance of a comic poet. But the main body of these slanderers who from envy and malice have wrought upon you – and there are some of them who are convinced themselves, and impart their convictions to others – all these, I say, are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have them up here, and examine them, and therefore I must simply fight with shadows in my own defence, and examine when there is no one who answers.

Kafka begins The Trial this way: “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.”

And you recall, what seems like many moons ago, Ari Fleischer, then press secretary to W but now front shill for a liar’s club marketing partisanship (see Komen and others), saying, in effect, when you speak out against the leader and his policies you should be prepared for the consequences; and further you recall how all your good conservative friends will ask you that if you haven’t done anything wrong why are you so afraid?  Socrates, again,

I dare say, Athenians, that someone among you will reply, “Why is this, Socrates, and what is the origin of these accusations of you: for there must have been something strange which you have been doing?

Have you been wearing an orange shirt in protest against working conditions? Have you even been thinking about it?  (Good gravy, I hope you didn’t tweet your support!)

The drive to reduce and eliminate employment in the public sector must also be seen as part of this situation.

We are seeing an extremely aggressive and concerted effort to turn the country into a “business” corporation, not a government limited by “founding” rules (outdated and quaint like the Geneva Convention), where there are almost no protections for labor.

The same in our schools–no protections for teachers when education is privatized–say something the corporation doesn’t like (and likely all classrooms will be recorded in the future) and you will be fired summarily (as you will be an “at-will” employee).  But further, the same lack of protection will fall on your children in these schools as well.  If your child stands as a barrier to profit in any way they will be dismissed from the corporate school.

But really, the truth is that you don’t need to do or say anything at all–someone can tell lies about you, don’t you know?

Seems to me the only defense against this is to actually say and do the things of which you are accused.

It’s been quite an eye-opening last decade for so many of us.  But though so many of us have “fallen” down the class stairway we are still believing the lies of recovery.  Perhaps when we land in league with the “lumpen” among us we will stand united in our exceptional paucity.

1848:

The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the [owners of the means of production], to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.

The “dangerous class”, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.

In the condition of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped. The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations; modern industry labour, modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.

The lie being told is our reality already.

1948:

The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp. Winston fitted a nib into the penholder and sucked it to get the grease off. The pen was an archaic instrument, seldom used even for signatures, and he had procured one, furtively and with some difficulty, simply because of a feeling that the beautiful creamy paper deserved to be written on with a real nib instead of being scratched with an ink-pencil. Actually he was not used to writing by hand. Apart from very short notes, it was usual to dictate everything into the speak-write which was of course impossible for his present purpose. He dipped the pen into the ink and then faltered for just a second. A tremor had gone through his bowels. To mark the paper was the decisive act. In small clumsy letters he wrote:

April 4th, 1984.

2048:

?

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Douglas Storm is a host and producer for Interchange on Bloomington, Indiana's community radio station WFHB. "Why then do you try to 'enlarge' your mind? Subtilize it..."

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