WORKRIGHTS by Robert Ellis Smith


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One way of making a cause your own is to ignore what others have been doing and saying about it. The practice doesn't make for a reliable source of information, however. From Privacy: How to Protect What's Left of It (1979), Smith has moved into workers' rights, an area where considerable progress has been made of late, and considerable writing done. (See especially the 1980 Alan Westin-Stephan Salisbury reader, Individual Rights in the Workplace, and David Ewing's 1983 ""Do It My Way or You're Fired!"" Smith first decries individual powerlessness, with reference to his own job experiences (""the company's rigidity and impersonality,"" the psychological pressures) and to the contrasting legal protections against government abuses; and he berates one-and-all for inaction (most undiscriminatingly, the ACLU and the press). He then recaps the ""tradition. . . that an employer owned the body and soul of a person at work, and even after work,"" from the Code of Hammurabi to 1970s disaffection. Next, he proposes ""constitutionalization"" of workplace rights, without mention of its prominent exponents (who include ACLUers, Ewing, and Ralph Nader) or of alternative approaches. Subsequently, he regroups the various going issues--psychological testing, privacy, access to information, ""speaking out,"" unfair dismissal--into ""a manifest of Fourteen Freedoms"": from ""Freedom to be Hired Fairly and Openly"" (where he notes federal prohibitions against discrimination and raises the equal-pay issue, which doesn't really belong) and ""Freedom of Trust"" (polygraph and other tests) to ""Freedom in Fringe Benefits"" (pension rights), ""Freedom of Due Process"" (disciplinary actions or, mainly, dismissal), and ""Freedom from Abusive Firing"" (which has to do with ""just cause,"" and overlaps the foregoing). The groupings are gimmicky, artificial, and muddling. Smith hasn't the legal grasp of Westin et al. or the comprehensive, up-to-date information of Harvard Business Review's Ewing (who examines many of the same cases in detail). Lots of pertinent odds-and-ends are trotted out, but not deployed to advantage.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1983
Publisher: Dutton