Dictatorships and Double Standards

25 Oct

I’m hoping in the coming days to do a longer blog on the stories about employers instructing employees how to vote, forcing employees to attend rallies for Romney, etc. In the meantime, Gordon Lafer has one of the best pieces yet on this story. He makes the point, which came as news to me, that the Bush Administration repeatedly condemned elections in other countries where because in part bosses there were doing the exact same thing they’re doing here.

The Bush Administration, for instance, rejected Ukrainian elections as illegitimate, in part because international observers found that managers of state-owned enterprises had “instructed their subordinates to vote for [the ruling party].”

One step beyond even the Kochs is GOP mega-donor Bob Murray, who required employees at an Ohio coal mine to attend a Romney campaign event. The resulting photo-op could have been at home in the old East Germany – candidate standing before a crowd of miners, replete with banner reading “Coal Country Stands With Mitt,” with no notice that miners were attending under the direction of their boss, forced to give up a day’s pay in order to serve as human props. Again, we routinely condemn such charades when carried out by foreigners. The Bush Administration criticized Armenia’s elections, for instance, after observers reported that “factory workers … were instructed to attend the incumbent’s rallies.”  But what we reject for Armenians and Ukrainians, the business lobbies now want to institute at home.

He also responds to a claim I often hear—including on this blog—that since employers can’t really know how an employee votes, employers can’t be said to be intimidating or coercing employees.

An employee whose boss tells them hot to vote may still ignore this advice in the privacy of a voting booth. What they won’t do, however, is display a button or bumper sticker, write a letter to the editor, or be seen attending a rally of the opposing party. This strikes at the very heart of democracy.  Elections are only “free and fair” if voters are free to speak out, write in, and publicly support the candidate of their choice, without fear for their livelihoods.

What sets democratic elections apart from the sham votes of authoritarian regimes is not secret ballots – after all, even Saddam Hussein had secret ballots – but the ability of all voters to participate in what the Supreme Court termed “uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate” without fear of retaliation.

Update (October 26, 4 pm)

Gordon sends me a followup email:

You mentioned in your post about my article that even people on your blog wonder why it’s a problem for bosses to tell workers how to vote, since you still have the secret ballot.  I noticed similar comments on the The Hill site where the piece went up — even “why shouldn’t employers tell their employees what they think the impact of certain policies will be?” and “don’t they have a moral obligation to do that”?  I got similar questions yesterday afternoon in a radio interview about the Milwaukee manufacturer emailing his employees that they’ll lose their pension funds if Obama is reelected.

One of the things this makes me think about is this: If I as a professor told my students who to vote for, and even if I gave good reasons — the Republicans are going to de-fund higher education and destroy the economy, your future will be bleak, Social Security will be destroyed if you vote for them, things I actually believe are true and you could say I had a moral obligation to pass on to my students — if I told people who to vote for based on that, I’d be subject to ethics charges for abuse of power.  Because then any student who disagrees, who wants to wear a Romney button or submit a class paper that argues for GOP policy, they’d have to worry about how this would affect their grade.  Certainly, I think that if Wisconsin school teachers, for instance, went into class and told their students that Governor Walker is destroying the school system and destroying their chances of getting a middle class job when they graduate — they’d be accused of abusing their authority as teachers, and “politicizing the classroom.”  But the power teachers and professors have over students — giving grades and writing letters of recommendations — is much less than what bosses have over employees.

5 Responses to “Dictatorships and Double Standards”

  1. normanbirnbaum October 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Dear Corey I am reminded of a proud moment in my recent life. I was visiting Madrid when then Secretary Rice turned up to meet with her Spanish Socialist colleague, Miguel Moratinos. At the usual joint press conference she said she had to declare that the US was distressed because Moratinos had visited Castro without speaking out publicly for the political prisoners in Cuba. I wrote a reader’s letter to El Pais, declaring my extreme pride in the US defense of civil and human rights, and adding that on accou8nt of age, I could not recall the name of the US Secreary of State who had visited Franco and publicly called upon him to release the prisoners then in Spanish jails…..a couple of our embassy officers phoned to express their thanks and the maitre d at the Palace personally served my breakfast Best Norman

  2. Mark Erickson October 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Docked a day’s pay? They must not be unionized. (btw, what is the unionized rate for miners in the US?)

  3. KMH October 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    “… the ability of all voters to participate in what the Supreme Court termed “uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate” without fear of retaliation.” Sums it up perfectly!

  4. Glenn October 25, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Moratinos had visited Castro without speaking out publicly to Secretary Rice for the political prisoners in Guantanamo, Cuba.

    Shame.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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

    […] The 2012 election brought to public attention a whole series of stories about employers forcing employees to attend campaign rallies of the employers’ favored candidates (almost invariably Mitt Romney; you can see why they support Romney, after you read this piece I wrote for the New York Times on the Republican war on worker rights). This is a serious issue in that it involves coercing workers to support a certain kind of political speech; indeed, if you take participation in a rally as a mode of political speech, you could say that employers 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 of. […]

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