October 30, 2010

Open letter from trade union activists condemning the FBI attacks on civil liberties

Sisters and Brothers:

On September 24, 2010, the FBI carried out coordinated raids on the homes and offices of 14 anti-war activists in Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan. During the raids the FBI confiscated everything from computers and mailing lists to childrens’ drawings and photos of Martin Luther King.

Ten of the 14 victims of the raid are union members in good-standing, among them 3 members of AFSCME Local 3800 (U of MN), one member of Teamsters Local 320 (U of MN), a member of Education Minnesota, and the chief steward of SEIU 73 (U of IL-Chicago). All are well-known and respected activists who, according to FBI spokespersons, were targeted because of their role in seeking justice for workers and other oppressed peoples throughout the world. In addition to having their homes invaded, they were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. They have not been arrested or charged with any crime.

By its nature, a grand jury is a dressed-up fishing expedition. Those called to testify are not allowed legal representation during their testimony. If they refuse to cooperate, they face imprisonment, jeopardizing their jobs, homes and families. If they agree to testify, they give credence to an illegitimate fishing expedition.

Every American has the constitutional right to advocate and organize for change in the foreign policy of the United States. These activists are entitled to a presumption of innocence under the United States Constitution. No acceptable justification or evidence has been presented for these raids and subpoenas and there is no reason to believe any will be forthcoming.

Four days prior to the September 24th raids, the Office of the Inspector General of the United States revealed that the FBI has systematically and illegally spied on political activists; that FBI director Robert Mueller lied to Congress about details of the surveillance; and that agents frequently confuse civil disobedience with “domestic terrorism.”

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. What we see in these raids and grand jury subpoenas is reminiscent of the Palmer Raids and J Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO. The FBI and Department of Justice have long histories of exploiting public fears in order to disrupt trade union, civil rights and anti-war organizing.

Across the country organizations and individuals are standing together to protest the United States government’s attempt to silence and criminalize activism. Confronting power and privilege has never been popular in the United States. Anyone who has gone through a bitter strike knows all too well how the courts, the media and the government line up against striking workers. That’s why, as it has historically, the trade union movement must be at the forefront of defending the right to dissent.

We are writing to ask you to join us in taking a stand in support of our sisters and brothers who are facing this witch hunt. Unions across the country are passing resolutions denouncing the FBI raids and calling for an end to the grand jury investigation. A sample resolution is enclosed/attached, as well as a sign on letter for individual union members. Please introduce the resolution at your upcoming meetings. To sign on to the letter, send your name, title, and whether it is for ID purposes only to [email protected]. If you would like somebody to speak about the raids at your meeting, contact Cherrene at 612-940-0660 or [email protected]. For more information go to www.stopfbi.net.

We are also asking for donations to help with the cost of legal defense. Checks can be written to: Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and mailed to PO Box 14183, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

An injury to one is an injury to all!

In solidarity, Richard Berg, Past President, Teamsters 743 Phyllis Walker, President, AFSCME 3800 Cherrene Horazuk, Chief Steward, AFSCME 3800 Peter Rachleff, Labor Historian, Macalaster College Gladys McKenzie, Field Representative, AFSCME Council 5 Joe Burns, Labor Attorney/Negotiator Dave Riehle, former Local Chairman, United Transportation Union Local 650