Column: Actually, we don’t have any freedom of speech at all

The labour movement has always known that democracy ends at the factory gates.
The labour movement has always known that democracy ends at the factory gates.
Freedom of speech is an eternal source of discussion. We keep talking about it. But let’s be honest: do we actually have freedom of speech?

And I don’t mean that we have the freedom to say: “I am against this government”. We also we’re not talking about the fact that “the Constitution states that…”. And we certainly don’t talk about “the Enlightenment” or “the French Revolution” or anything like that. We are talking here about everyday life.

The original text in Dutch
(January 26th, 2015)
Translated by Jet

Can you actually say to your employer that there is too much work pressure, that he or she is managing things the wrong way, that you are fed up with your insecure position because of your umpteenth temporary contract? No, you can’t. Because your contract is not going to be extended if you are critical. When you’re critical, you will be on the streets with the next reorganisation. Or they will bit by bit bully you into leaving. If you go to court and win the case, you will have to continue working while walking on eggshells all the time. Is it worth it?

So do we have freedom of speech? No. Absolutely not. If an employee tells the employer what he or she wants then this will have consequences. This is only one example. There are thousands of them. Still we believe that we really do have freedom of speech. They trick us into believing that we can say what we like.

Eighty percent of Dutch people say that they are against the destruction of the health sector by the government. We all agree and say it together. But does it change anything? No. Of course not. And as long as we are not a danger to them, and are not going to change the policies, then why not allow us to say these things? But as soon as you, as a health worker, start saying in the media that your health institute provides low-quality care, as soon as you become a threat to the employer, that is when they quickly present you with a press protocol and shut you up.

Just to show that freedom of speech cannot exist in a situation of dominance and hierarchy. So we should not limit freedom of speech to being able to criticise an oppressed group such as Muslims in the Netherlands. I am not saying that this should not happen: of course it should be possible to criticise religion. But if we limit freedom of speech to criticising and even insulting an oppressed group, to what extent are we still talking about freedom of speech?

We can only truly say that there is freedom of speech if you can say whatever you want to your employer without being afraid that your temporary contract will not be extended.

Emek Egeli