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Defending civil liberties, free speech

Labor movement opposes FBI raids

Published Oct 31, 2010 10:53 PM

Among the 115 groups that have taken a stand against the Sept. 24 FBI raids targeting anti-war activists are a growing number of labor unions, federations and organizations. Pointing out that many of those subpoenaed were union activists, the resolutions connect the latest repression to the long history of anti-labor attacks that sought to squash union organizing in the U.S.

The San Francisco Central Labor Council delegates meeting voted unanimously Sept. 27 to condemn the raids. The resolution noted that Joe Iosbaker, a long-time Service Employees Local 73 chief steward at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a well-known leader in the Chicago labor movement, was one of the targets.

Two Teamster locals — 705 in Chicago and 807 in the New York City area — passed resolutions citing Isobaker’s solidarity during a Teamster strike at UIC as well as expressing solidarity with Teamster brother Mick Kelly in Minneapolis, who was also targeted.

At the Oct. 1 convention of American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees Council 5, which represents 46,000 public employees in Minnesota, a resolution noted that four of the subpoenaed activists are members of Council 5. On Oct. 21, AFSCME Local 3800, which represents University of Minnesota clerical workers, followed suit with a resolution denouncing the attacks on Tracy Molm, Ahn Pham, Jess Sundin and Steff Yorek.

On Oct. 13, Local 1493 of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents the faculty at California’s San Mateo Community College, passed a resolution denouncing the FBI visit to member Masao Suzuki. On Oct. 14, the Duluth Central Labor Body’s resolution condemned the FBI and Department of Justice’s “attempts to intimidate and disrupt grassroots social movements.”

U.S. Labor Against the War, Black Workers for Justice, Labor for Palestine and the South Bay Labor Council in San Jose, Calif., also passed similar resolutions.

Many unionists participated in more than 60 protests around the country in the days immediately following the raids and during the grand jury hearings in early October where those subpoenaed refused to testify. For example, Larry Goldbetter, president of the National Writers Union, United Auto Workers Local 1981, read a statement at a New York City protest linking the raids to what may be in store for workers in a low-wage economy with permanently high unemployment.

Long history of gov’t attacks on labor movement

Many of the resolutions drew a parallel between the current raids and the notorious Palmer Raids of the early 1920s, where outspoken immigrant and labor leaders were deported or expatriated; to the anti-communist McCarthy witch hunt in the 1950s, which drummed many dedicated leaders out of office as well as the union movement; and to the FBI’s well-documented attacks from the 1950s through the 1970s on the Civil Rights and the Black liberation movements.

AFT Local 1493 noted the internment of Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1945 and the fact that Arab Americans and members of the Muslim faith have been framed up since Sept. 11, 2001, under the Patriot Act.

The statement by the Black Workers for Justice reads: “We know full well that these attacks, while starting against anti-war activists, are aimed at all activists that organize and mobilize against the many injustices caused by a system that places profits and domination over human needs.”

An article by Joe Burns cited a number of times over the last century where the labor movement has led the struggle for the rights to free speech and protest needed to win workers’ rights. (www.inthesetimes.com, Oct. 16)

Take the 1909 struggle of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World). After the city of Spokane, Wash., outlawed street-corner rallies, the Wobblies called on its members and supporters to come to town. The law was rescinded when activists outnumbered jails cells.

Many valiant labor struggles affirmed the right to protest during the 1930s. For instance, the 1939 Supreme Court case Hague v. CIO established that parks and streets were public spaces where people could exercise their first amendment rights. The case started when the Congress of Industrial Organizations tried to organize unions in Jersey City, N.J., and the openly corrupt mayor, “Boss” Hague, arrested CIO leafleteers and closed down union meetings.

Government repression is only too familiar when workers strike. Just remember the heroic Transport Workers strike of 2005, when the courts and the city government, backed by the corporate-owned press, demonized the workers in Local 100 for exercising their right to withhold their labor when offered a bad contract.

The only way that workers and all oppressed people are going to survive — and eventually surmount — the “new normal” economy of low-wage capitalism and mass unemployment is by fighting back. Defending workers’ rights to a job at a livable wage and to dissent against government repression is critical in the coming period.

For more information about the struggle to defend the anti-war activists and stop government repression, see www.StopFBI.net.