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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
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
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
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
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.
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