Defend Our Civil Liberties – 72nd UE Convention
The following resolution was passed at the 72nd National UE convention in Pittsburgh, PA, September 25-29 2011. The resolution condemns the FBI repression of trade union and anti-war activists (see paragraph three), and urges UE locals to support and work with civil liberties organizations, including the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.
Defend Our Civil Liberties
Despite positioning himself as a supporter of civil liberties during the 2008 campaign, President Obama has chosen to largely embrace rather than reject the sweeping changes made during the Bush regime, including the so-called Patriot Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) amendments, as well as executive orders and legal opinions. These greatly expanded the ability of government agencies to spy on and disrupt law-abiding residents and organizations in the U.S.
UE has warned for years that when the government is given powers of domestic surveillance and “counterintelligence,” it can and will use them against ordinary, innocent Americans, particularly those who speak out against government policies, and especially those who represent a credible power base, such as the labor movement. We saw this during the McCarthy period in the 1940s and 1950s, when the combined forces of the federal government, big business, and their business-union co-conspirators nearly destroyed the UE and progressive trade unionism.
Now the U.S. labor movement has again been targeted by government witch hunts. The Justice Department is interpreting laws prohibiting “material support” for terrorist organizations to include those who speak out on certain foreign policy issues and organize fact-finding missions, and even those who attempt to teach non-violent approaches to those who have engaged in violence in the past. This then led to an undemocratic grand jury investigation and eventually FBI raids in late 2010 on the homes of labor and peace activists who had organized non-violent protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. Since some of those labor activists also supported the fight by UE Local 1174 members to stop Wells Fargo Bank from causing the closing of their plant in the Quad Cities, the FBI warned police in the Quad Cities of “dangerous” militants coming to their area, a ridiculous accusation since it involved a handful of union activists coming to show traditional labor solidarity. But it forced the local police department to greatly overreact, spending precious local tax dollars on large numbers of extra police while having a chilling effect on the ability of local citizens to exercise their right to protest against corporate bad behavior.
Today, more Americans than ever are under government and corporate surveillance, and information about us is being shared widely among all levels of law enforcement, the military and with private entities. Law enforcement agencies are allowed to spy on and infiltrate organizations without any indication that a crime has been committed or is being planned; surveillance cameras are increasingly being used in the workplace, on city streets, and in other public spaces; and our telephone and email communications are being swept up en masse. Bureaucratic initiatives such as fusion centers (state, local, and regional law enforcement coordinating centers) and joint terrorism task forces are speeding the sharing of often false or illegally-obtained information.
This will not protect us from future events like 9/11. The problem was not a lack of information but the failure to analyze and act upon existing information. The government obsession with gathering information on non-terrorist political opponents means there are fewer resources to combat real crime, including terrorism.
Bosses try to instill fear in workers during union organizing campaigns – that is the kind of fear that the government has tried to spread across society as a whole. People may avoid anti-globalization rallies if they know they are under government surveillance. A union member will think twice about voicing their outrage on a picket line if they know they could face trumped-up terrorism charges. Fewer people attend organizing meetings if they suspect that someone in the room could be a police agent.
It is clear that the fight to protect and regain civil liberties must continue regardless of which party controls the White House.
A growing number of Americans also question the use of the death penalty. Why should working people who regularly express deep distrust of our government officialdom trust these same forces with the power to inflict the ultimate penalty of death? The question is especially crucial when a rising tide of evidence demonstrates our judicial system is stacked against those without money. When evidence such as DNA testing reveals death row prisoners are innocent, it confirms our justice system is fundamentally flawed. The question of capital punishment is historically of great concern to union members. On numerous occasions our government has framed and executed labor leaders. Among the more famous are the Haymarket martyrs, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) leader Joe Hill, immigrant labor activists Sacco and Vanzetti, and the coal miners known as the Molly Maguires. Spared the death penalty only after massive campaigns to save them were Tom Mooney, who spoke to an early UE convention, and the legendary Big Bill Haywood.
Attacks on civil liberties are not minor infringements on the rights of a few extremists. Today they affect a vast cross-section of Americans. The chilling effect of denials of our democratic freedoms curtails political debate within the U.S., limits the ability of all citizens to make democratic choices for the future of our country, and thereby undermines our livelihoods and living standards.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 72nd UE CONVENTION:
- Opposes any change in the federal criminal code that would undermine our basic rights to organize, strike, protest, demonstrate and otherwise defend the interests of working people, specifically including changes designed to make picket-line activity subject to federal prosecution;
- Urges all locals to actively defend the right to protest against government and corporate policies which hurt working people by working with and supporting organizations such as the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Defending Dissent Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression;
- Calls on public-sector locals to investigate and aggressively challenge any restrictions on their members’ civil liberties written into state law or municipal ordinances;
Demands that Congress outlaw political spying and disruption by the FBI and other federal agencies, repeal the FISA amendment act, repeal or let sunset regressive parts of the Patriot Act, and pass legislation to roll back the worst excesses of the Bush regime by barring the use of secret evidence and restricting the use of the state secrets privilege and National Security Letters;
- Supports local initiatives to promote civil liberties by encouraging local governments to pass a Local Civil Rights Restoration Act 9 as part of the People’s Campaign for the Constitution and laws based on the First Amendments Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004 enacted by the Washington, DC city council, which recognizes demonstrations as critical to free speech and vital to democracy, and thus emphasizes negotiation and communication and prohibits preemptive arrests;
- Calls for legislation to prohibit random or blanket drug testing in the workplace as well as legislation to ban telephone and Internet monitoring of employees and to further restrict the use of lie detectors in employment;
- Opposes President Obama’s preventive detention proposal and Justice Department policies that allow for closed hearings, secret evidence, refusal to name those detained, elimination of attorney-client privilege, and long detentions without bond without any specific articulated reason;
- Supports legislation to abolish preventive detention and re-establish the right to bail and the concept of “innocent until proven guilty;”
- Demands that Congress reform the process for placing groups on terrorist lists to ensure that they have sufficient notice and a meaningful opportunity to respond to the charges against them, with necessary checks and balances on executive discretion, while also reforming the prohibition on material support to protect free speech, association, peace building and the provision of humanitarian aid to civilians;
- Supports legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, supports strong whistle blower protection legislation, and opposes efforts to intimidate or bar the press and other news media from reporting on government activities;
- Supports repeal of McCarthy-era “speech crimes” laws, including the Smith Act and the Subversive Activities Control Act and opposes exclusion of foreigners based on political beliefs or memberships;
- Supports the abolition of the death penalty.