Opinion | Tornadoes Shouldn’t Be a Workplace Hazard
For the vast majority of Americans, democracy ends when work hours begin.
Most people in this country are subject, as workers, to the nearly unmediated authority of their employers, which can discipline, sanction or fire them for nearly any reason at all.
In other words, Americans are at the mercy of what the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson calls “private government,” a workplace despotism in which most workers “cede all of their rights to their employers, except those specifically guaranteed to them by law, for the duration of the employment relationship.” With few exceptions — like union members covered by collective bargaining agreements or academics covered by tenure — an employer’s authority over its workers is, Anderson writes, “sweeping, arbitrary and unaccountable — not subject to notice, process, or appeal.”If “private government” sounds like a contradiction in terms, that is only because in the modern era we have lost an older sense of government as an entity that, as Anderson says, exists “wherever some have the authority to issue orders to others, backed by sanctions, in one or more domains of life.” The state, then, is simply one kind of government among others, albeit one with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
For most of human history, the state itself was essentially private; few individuals outside of the ruling class had any standing to question its decisions or demand accountability for its actions.
The extent to which the state is public at all is, as Anderson notes, “a contingent social achievement of immense importance,” the result of a centuries-long struggle for “popular sovereignty and a republican form of government” such that the state is now “the people’s business, transparent to them, servant to their interests, in which they have a voice and the power to hold rulers accountable.”