Defend Our Civil Liberties

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 ‘50s when the combined forces of the federal government, big business, and their business union co-conspirators nearly destroyed the UE and progressive trade unionism.

These warnings are more relevant than ever with the election of Donald Trump. The Trump administration represents a severe threat to civil liberties. Trump has demonstrated a hostility to dissent, praised authoritarian law enforcement and intelligence practices, and scapegoated Muslims and immigrants. Trump wasted no time in issuing a Muslim ban via executive order but was thwarted by massive outpourings of solidarity, including protests at airports and actions by unionized taxi drivers.

Trump’s administration has coincided with a dramatic crackdown on the right to protest. Across the country, state legislators are proposing and even passing laws targeting the right to protest. During Trump’s inauguration, DC police engaged in a mass arrest of hundreds of people, including not only protesters, but also journalists and legal observers. Using guilt-by-association tactics, prosecutors charged 214 protesters with felonies carrying penalties of up to a decade of prison. Prosecutors do not allege that each of these protesters individually engaged in unlawful property destruction, but that by merely being present at the demonstration and participating in chants, such as, “Whose Streets? Our Streets?” they are collectively guilty. One individual has been charged in relation to the inauguration protests who was not even present at the protest, but helped facilitate planning meetings. 

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 or be held liable for the actions of others. Fewer people attend organizing meetings if they suspect that someone in the room could be a police agent.

Even prior to Trump’s election, civil liberties in the U.S. had long been under attack. Documents made public by Edward Snowden revealed that the FBI and NSA are sweeping up the telephone, email, and internet use data of virtually every person in the U.S. Agencies like the FBI, NSA, and CIA, along with politicians in Washington, appear more concerned with persecuting whistleblowers than rectifying the civil liberties violations, human rights deprivations, and war crimes that they expose. 

The FBI continues its role as the political police. Released documents have uncovered that the FBI spied on groups it acknowledged were peaceful, in some cases for decades often under the guise of “counterterrorism.” Those spied on or visited by the FBI include the Occupy movement, School of the Americas Watch, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock Water Protectors, and other environmental protesters. Unsurprisingly, the FBI’s main targets continue to be those who struggle for peace, workers’ rights, economic justice, racial justice, and other progressive causes disfavored by big business. 

The most basic civil liberty is the right to live without fear of being harassed, beaten, or killed. African Americans and other people of color are disproportionately targeted by police and are much more likely than white people to be victims of police harassment and violence. The abundant and growing audiovisual record of law enforcement officers using excessive force against people of color when stopped for traffic or other minor civil infractions documents that race remains a major factor in depriving people of their civil liberties. Movements against police brutality, mass incarceration, and racism, such as Black Lives Matter, have been able to win some gains in recent years. Yet, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is intent on rolling back even the mildest of reforms. 

A growing number of Americans also question the use of the death penalty. 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, including the Haymarket martyrs, Industrial Workers of the World leader Joe Hill, immigrant labor activists Sacco and Vanzetti, and the coal miners known as the Molly Maguires. Tom Mooney, who spoke to an early UE convention, and the legendary Big Bill Haywood, were spared the death penalty only after massive campaigns to save them.

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. It is clear that the fight to protect and regain civil liberties must continue regardless of which party controls the White House.


  1. Opposes any change in the law that would further undermine our right to defend the interests of working people, specifically including changes designed to make picket-line activity subject to federal prosecution;
  2. Urges all locals to support organizations such as Defending Rights & Dissent, the National Lawyers Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, and the Southern Poverty Law Center;
  3. Demands that Congress investigate revelations of political spying and disruption by the FBI and other federal agencies and pass legislation definitively outlawing these practices;
  4. Opposes any laws designed to limit the right to protest;
  5. Calls for the end of mass arrests and charges against protesters not supported by suspicion of actual individual wrongdoing, and for the charges against the Trump inauguration defendants to be dropped;
  6. 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 and other surveillance technologies in employment;
  7. Opposes preventive detention 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;
  8. 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;
  9. Supports legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, supports strong whistleblower protection legislation, and opposes efforts to intimidate or bar the press and other news media from reporting on government activities;
  10. Supports repeal of McCarthy-era “speech crime” laws, including the Smith Act and the Subversive Activities Control Act, and opposes exclusion of foreigners based on political beliefs or memberships;
  11. Supports the abolition of the death penalty and an end to mass incarceration;
  12. Urges locals and regions to support and stand in solidarity with protestors arrested for political protests including J20, including supporting providing legal support to protesters facing charges at the federal and state level.