San Francisco Chronicle
Where do we draw the line?
If you fire a fascist for his or her political views, you are a fascist
No one should get fired for his political beliefs. Not even a Nazi. I am disturbed by the news that some of the white nationalists who attended the violent “Unite the Right” hatefest in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend are being outed on social media. Attendees have received threats and doxxing. A restaurant worker in Berkeley was canned after he was exposed on Twitter as a participant.
I hate Nazis, Klansmen and the like: Their politics and values are exactly the opposite of mine. Still, no one should get fired for parading around with torches like it’s Germany in 1933. This isn’t a First Amendment issue. Nothing in our outdated Constitution prevents an employer from firing you on account of your politics. In 2004, an Alabama company even fired a woman for having a John Kerry for President bumper sticker on her car. It is a free speech issue. A business has the right to control its employees’ behavior in order to protect its image. Particularly in a liberal stronghold like Berkeley, but anywhere really, no one wants a waiter with a swastika tattoo. But if Top Dog restaurant can fire a dude for racist views he expresses thousands of miles away, there’s nothing to prevent Google from firing a software engineer for sexism — or you, for what you believe.
Firing a worker for their politics — especially when those politics are expressed outside the workplace — is McCarthyism. McCarthyism is wrong, and ought to be illegal.
Many of my comrades on the left are gloating over what they see as righteous payback against violent, racist, anti-Semitic thugs. This makes me very uncomfortable.
As a political cartoonist, I know that what’s popular today gets censored tomorrow, and vice versa. We applaud Top Dog for firing a fascist, but next time the victim could be a garden-variety Democrat.
“Historically, it’s more dangerous as an employee to be associated with racial justice and the NAACP than it was to be affiliated with the KKK,” notes Walter Greason, a historian and professor at Monmouth University.
A sign posted by Top Dog management reflects a common view: “We do respect our employees’ right to their opinions,” the sign read. “They are free to make their own choices, but must accept the responsibilities of those choices.” The question is, should those “responsibilities” include being deprived of a livelihood?
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve read some variation of “You have the right to be a fascist/racist/sexist/ jerk/communist, but XYZ Corp. has the right to fire you too.” Or, as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote in 1891: “A employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”
True, that’s the law. I’m arguing that workers should be protected from retribution for what they say.
Except for those born rich, we must work or else starve. Under these conditions, without workplace freespeech protections, employees think twice before they attend a rally, post a controversial memo, join a political party or slap a bumper sticker on their vehicle. Are you willing to risk unemployment, poverty and perhaps homelessness — not just you, but also your spouse and children? If the answer is “yes,” God bless you. History is made by people like you.
For many others, the answer is “No, I can’t afford free speech.” The upsides of free expression are intangible, while the downside risks are terrifyingly brutal. A 2016 Harris poll found that 33 percent of U.S. employees are afraid to talk about politics at work.
The American workplace is a fascist state. It’s time to overthrow the millions of little Hitlers who think that issuing a paycheck turns their employees into slaves subject to thought control.
Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the president’s life in comics form. Twitter: @tedrall