Arts & Video
News Archives
About LaborNet

Workers' political rights under attack

LAST MONTH THE San Francisco Chronicle fired technology columnist Henry Norr. His offense? Taking a day off to join thousands of other Americans in protesting the Bush Administration's illegal, immoral and unnecessary attack on Iraq.

Norr's action was not against Chronicle rules at the time - the paper's official ethics policy states that "The Chronicle does not forbid employees from engaging in political activities." And the California State Labor Code unambiguously bars any attempt on the part of management to control workers' outside political activity: according to section 1101 of the code (a provision originally enacted  by the legislature to protect supporters of Upton Sinclair's End Poverty in California movement),

No employer shall make, adopt, or enforce any rule, regulation, or policy:
(a) Forbidding or preventing employees from engaging or participating in politics ..
(b) Controlling or directing, or tending to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees.

But the management of the Hearst-owned Chronicle, ignoring both its own rules and the law, first suspended Norr without pay, then fired him. And after the fact management unilaterally modified the ethics policy to bar newsroom employees from participating in war-related demonstrations.

These moves were not just retaliation against one individual - they add up to a transparent attempt to intimidate other Chronicle employees from exercising rights guaranteed by the Constitution and state law. They're part of a growing trend to impose conformity, in the name of "objectivity," throughout the corporate-controlled media.

The threat isn't limited to the media, either. By the same logic the Chronicle used to justify Norr's firing, any business could put limits on the outside political activity of employees - McDonald's, say, could bar workers from participating in antiwar rallies lest "patriotic" customers switch to Burger King.

If the bosses can make rules like that, what's left of democracy?

If you disapprove of Norr's firing, make your voice heard - complain to chronfeedback@sfchronicle.com, Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein (pbronstein@sfchronicle.com), and Managing Editor Robert Rosenthal (rrosenthal@sfchronicle.com).

For more information on the Norr case, see his statement about his firing (www.sfbg.com/wartime/norr.html), his interview with Democracy Now host Amy Goodman (www.democracynow.org/norr.htm) and stories in the San Francisco Bay Guardian (sfbg.com/37/29/news_norr.html and www.sfbg.com/37/31/news_norr.html) and the San Francisco Examiner (www.examiner.com/news/default.jsp?story=n.norr.0410w). Or write directly to Norr at hnorr@mailblocks.com.

The pertinent sections of the California State Labor Code are at www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode ?section=lab&group=01001-02000&file=1101-1106.

contact LaborNet

copyright 2003 © LaborNet