Where we’ve come from
The Free Speech Union was formed in 2021 and has grown rapidly. It came from the Free Speech Coalition which began in 2018 out of the need to challenge the Mayor of Auckland after he banned people whose views he disliked and treated Council property as his own. Our job was to fight the expansion of government censorship, by fighting bad legislation and challenging dangerous legal precedents. It was a campaign group, and the central hub of a network of Kiwis who looked at what was happening in the media, academia, and politics, and saw a dire need to protect free speech.
Over the past five years, it’s become evident that many New Zealanders are both unaware of how vital freedom of speech is, and how dangerous some of the moves are to exclude its protections. We had to accept that a true defence of free speech cannot begin with fighting government censorship. By the time the state is able to impose censorship, the culture of free speech has already been lost.
One of the early wins for the trade union movement in the 20th century was the idea of the eight-hour day – and that employees are no longer servants to their employers after they clock off. We need to refight for that principle. People should not be punished for expressing views outside of work that don’t relate to their employer.
To compound this, a new form of censorship has emerged which has confounded the traditional division between the public and private spheres. There is a reoccurring pattern to this censorship. It begins with a post online, often on social media but not always. This post is then taken to the employer of the person who posted it, and is used as the basis of a claim that the person responsible for the post should lose their job, usually under spurious health and safety grounds. These claims are often made by anonymous individuals or groups. They amplify the media surrounding the complaint, to put pressure on the employer to fire the offender.
People have lost jobs, friends, careers and livelihoods because their publicly expressed thoughts or opinions were used against them in this manner. Having a supportive community and access to reliable, impartial advice can make a life-changing difference for people who find themselves ostracised and potentially out of work because of nothing more than an expression of their democratic rights to speak freely.
In order to stand up to this pernicious but non-state censorship, the Free Speech Union incorporated as a registered trade union in 2021. The Union is empowered to provide its members with advocacy support if they become a target for non-government censorship, along with producing media, campaigning against bad laws, and hosting events.