How Could Mere Toil Align Thy Choiring Strings? A Breviary of Worker Intimidation

20 Oct

In the past few weeks, there’s been a flurry of articles about employers coercing or intimidating workers to vote for their preferred candidates (usually Republican). This is not a new topic on this blog, but the brazenness of these efforts is beginning to get a fair amount of traction elsewhere (in part because of the election).

Anyway, here’s a quick roundup:

1.  Alec McGillis kicked off the most recent round of stories with this report in The New Republic on Murray Energy’s forcing its workers to support Romney. (Though I had already commented on this story back in August, McGillis has a lot of new details.)

2. Mike Elk then broke the story, in In These Times, of the Koch brothers trying to get their workers to vote for the right candidate. (In case you missed Gordon Lafer’s followup on the hypocrisy of the Kochs, check this out.)

3. Mike then followed up—again, in In These Times—his piece with a report on Romney’s own role in encouraging this kind of behavior.

4. George Zornick contributed to the Nation some additional reporting on Herman Cain’s role in all this. (The Nation also ran an additional piece summarizing some of these stories.)

Then there was a bunch of thoughtful analyses of what all of this means…

5. In Salon, Josh Eidelson placed it in some historical context (with some quotes from me).

6. In The New Republic, McGillis speculated that it reveals how vulnerable employers now feel.

7. At Gawker, the inimitable Mobuto Seko Seko—no, not that one—did what only he can do, which includes, in what may be a first, citing a Crooked Timber post at Gawker (the one I wrote with Chris Bertram and Alex Gourevitch last summer.)

8. And last weekend, Chris Hayes had a lengthy roundtable on the issue (though I think most of the panelists, especially Josh Barro, got the free speech implications of the issue almost completely backward.)

But if you really want to understand what this all means, and why it happens, you should buy my first book Fear: The History of a Political Idea. Part II—”Fear, American Style”—explains not only how it is that a liberal democracy can tolerate all this employer intimidation and coercion, but why and how it actually encourages, even requires, it. You also get to see one my favorite lines from Hart Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bridge” —”How could mere toil align thy choiring strings?”—put in the service of political analysis: to suggest how central work and the workplace are to the organization, coordination, and execution of political repression in America.

Update (11 pm)

For some idiotic reason, I forgot this excellent piece from Mark Ames on the same topic. I can’t think of anyone in the media who has devoted as much attention to this issue, throughout the years, both as a reporter and as an analyst. Mark was also one of the very few, from the very beginning, to take notice of my work on this issue, and he’s continually made sure to keep it right there in the spotlight.

Update (11:05 pm)

Steven Sherman, a FB friend, reminds me of this piece in Business Week, just one of several, on David Siegel’s instructions to his employees.

Update (11:07 pm)

Bill Moyers is on it!

11 Responses to “How Could Mere Toil Align Thy Choiring Strings? A Breviary of Worker Intimidation”

  1. Aliothemage October 21, 2012 at 4:55 am #

    Ehy,I have a big news for you : the fucking BALLOT BOXES are secret…nobody can exert undue influence(no matter if they are employers or employees) on the election process…..except the government of course,see what happened to Venezuela

    • easytolo October 21, 2012 at 10:26 am #

      wait so you’re implying the people who tried to pull off a coup 10 years ago and were thrown out by the masses are the real democrats?

      • Aliothemage October 21, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

        capitalism IS required for democracy,actually economic freedom is the most important form of freedom because you vote with your wallet unlike “democracy” that is basically “mob rule”

        Milton Friedman proved this long ago

      • easytolo October 22, 2012 at 5:52 am #

        me and the 5th century Athenians are laughing at you

    • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg October 25, 2012 at 10:31 am #

      Why isn’t this guy banned yet? He’s spewing misinformation here.

      The articles talk about donations to PACs that are deducted from paychecks and tracked by the employer. Nothing secret there.

      (As if being forced to keep your true vote secret was in any way acceptable… Welcome to the USSR. You don’t have to *really* love Stalin, just don’t tell anyone you don’t.)

  2. Chris Bonner October 22, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    “Milton Friedman proved this long ago.”

    Friedman said it, I beleive it, that settles it.

    • Jeremy October 22, 2012 at 2:14 am #

      I’m pretty sure that Hans-Hermann Hoppe proved that democracy is incompatible with Milton Friedman’s type of capitalism, anyways:

      Sure, he was arguing that it was democracy that has to go, but I have to give him credit for recognizing the implications of libertarianism if you take it all the way.


  1. The Political Economy of Work: Election Edition « thecurrentmoment - November 2, 2012

    […] Numerous commentators have warned that these communications are threatening to the political liberty of workers. The threat that they might lose their job if they vote the wrong way, or if their political opinions are discovered, makes each of these cases something more than mere casual political communication by employer to employee. In a democracy, citizens should be free not only to vote as they like, but to express their views and participate in various political activities, without fearing that they might lose their job, be demoted, or be in some other way economically punished. These are compelling and valid arguments, but critics should not stop there. […]

  2. State of the Left: Election edition | The Neoprogressive - November 6, 2012

    […] HOW COULD MERE TOIL ALIGN ALIGN THY CHOIRING STRINGS? Corey Robin provides a fantastic round-up of articles about employers coercing or intimidating workers to vote for their preferred candidates (usually Republican). He includes a link to Mike Elk’s story on how the Koch brothers sent a pro-Romney mailing to nearly 50,000 employees, part of a larger trend of corporations exercising new freedoms under Citizens United. Read. […]

  3. Rights of Labor v. Tyranny of Capital | Corey Robin - June 17, 2013

    […] liberty. Employers requiring employees to attend a rally in support of Mitt Romney—or otherwise instructing employees how to vote in an election—is an exercise of the employer’s […]

  4. Labor Day Readings | Corey Robin - September 1, 2014

    […] were actually forcing their employees to speak with a particular opinion. What also came to light: employers trying to force workers to vote for one candidate, as employers do in some countries the US disapproves […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,209 other followers