“From the Industrial Workers of the World’s (IWW) fight for free speech in the 1910s to the major labor-inspired civil liberties court decisions of the 1930s, the labor movement has often been in the forefront of defending the right to speak and protest. Trade unionists understood that without the ability to speak out, union efforts would be crushed. Of necessity, the fight for civil liberties went hand in hand with the fight for workers’ rights.”
Trade Unionists Speak Out Against FBI Attacks on Civil Liberties
By Joe Burns
Important labor groups are speaking out against the recent spate of federal attacks on the civil liberties of U.S. peace and labor activists.
On October 1, 2010, the convention of AFSCME Council 5, representing 46,000 public employees in Minnesota, passed a resolution objecting to recent FBI raids of prominent peace and labor rights activists in Minneapolis and Chicago. On October 14, delegates to the Duluth Central Labor Body (DCLB) unanimously adopted a similar resolution opposing the raids. The Duluth resolution “resolved that the DCLB forward this resolution to Midwest-area labor councils and the AFL-CIO and urge these organizations to similarly condemn FBI and DOJ attempts to intimidate and disrupt grassroots social movements.” Likewise, the San Francisco Central Labor Council delegates meeting voted on September 27 to denounce the raids and “participate in the ongoing movement to defend our civil rights and civil liberties from FBI infringement.”
On September 24, the FBI raided the homes of seven activists, seizing computers, cell phones and documents. The FBI also raided the offices of the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, seizing their computer containing a database of supporters. The peace movement nationally has roundly condemned the FBI for attempting to silence dissent. In the weeks following the raids, demonstrators protested in dozens of US cities.
The FBI also issued subpoenas requiring the activists to testify before a grand jury in Chicago. Many of those subpoenaed are trade unionists. The AFSCME Council 5 resolution noted that four of the subpoenaed activists were members in good standing of ASCME Council 5.
[Joe Burns, a former local union president active in strike solidarity, is a labor negotiator and attorney. He is the author of the forthcoming book Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America (IG Publishing, 2011) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]