Born in the U.S.A: Big Brother in the workplace

One thing that always baffles me about my conservative friends is how inconsistently they apply their ‘live and let live,’ philosophy. Keep out of the corporate boardrooms, they say, but make sure there’s no funny business going on in the bedroom. It’s simply a wonder that these ‘live free or die’ conservatives seem willing to impose on the rest of us a moral code that says business should be free to do as it pleases, but that women should be required to undergo invasive procedures before they can choose to have an abortion.

Philosophically, this kind of thought comes full circle with the embryonic corporate nanny-state developing in the American workplace.

Usually a term used to deride government that interferes with daily life by conservatives, the nanny-state with which Americans are more familiar comes not from the halls of Congress, but from the corporate boardrooms.

If you work for a living, you know what I’m talking about. I work fast food when I’m not writing for The News and I can tell you that I’ve seen this kind of thing all too often.

There’s an explicit policy on the books prohibiting management and crewmembers from intermingling outside work. A coworker of mine was explicitly denied a raise because “he plays too many video games” (as written by my supervisor on his performance review, no joking here).

Another one of my coworkers was denied a 25-cent raise by that same supervisor because he has long hair, something that I should note has never affected whether or not my female coworkers have gotten raises.

The corporate nanny-state is but a component of a larger development in American workplaces – the return of the authoritarian workplace, a place where workers have no rights, no say, and no choice but to comply. Like the company towns of old, the new authoritarianism in the business world has developed largely as a way to prevent workers from speaking up.

Bosses are to be obeyed even if doing so would put your life at terrible risk. Potential rebels are screened out by bizarre personality tests that force job applicants to be a better liar than their competitors. Invasive drug tests are forced upon every applicant, and in the event of an accident at work. Unpaid internships are an opportunity, not a modern form of slavery. You don’t have the right to go home whenever your shift is over; you have to ask for permission from your boss. Your wages are dependent upon what they’ll report, not what you’ve actually worked.

Perhaps the trend towards an authoritarian workplace is part of the broader trend towards authoritarianism in the United States. The Occupy protests were dispersed with force outsized to the supposed threat they posed. The right of protesting has been curtailed by court order and by legislative act. The Internet, a forum for democratic discourse unlike any other, is steadily being encroached upon by corporate America in the name of enforcing copyright law. Is the authoritarian workplace out of place in an increasingly authoritarian society? Or is it symptomatic of a broader problem – a problem that has at its core the need to manage those who aren’t benefitting from the current economic and social order in the United States?

Column by Devin Griggs, opinion editor. Devin serves as vice president of finances for the Murray State College Democrats.