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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.

Documents made public by Edward Snowden reveal that the FBI and NSA are sweeping up the telephone, email and internet use data of virtually every person in the U.S. and holding onto that data for at least five years. The FBI continues to conduct thousands of investigations each year called “assessments” which require no evidence or even suspicion of criminal conduct, but which allow agents to infiltrate meetings, conduct round-the-clock physical surveillance, use informants, and dig through a target’s trash. According to the FBI less than 5 percent of those assessments uncover criminal activity but dossiers created on the innocent targets are kept for 20-30 years. Not surprisingly, many of these targets are Muslims or progressive activists, including union organizers.

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. Fewer people attend organizing meetings if they suspect that someone in the room could be a police agent.

The Obama administration is endangering freedom of the press and government transparency with its aggressive leak investigations and vicious prosecutions of whistleblowers. The Obama Department of Justice has prosecuted six whistleblowers under the Espionage Act (more than all other administrations combined). The administration’s treatment of Private 1st Class Chelsea Manning has been especially severe. These practices chill would-be whistleblowers, protecting those in power from accountability and exposure.

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.

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. Spared the death penalty only after massive campaigns to save them were Tom Mooney, who spoke to an early UE convention, and the legendary Big Bill Haywood.

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 the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Defending Dissent Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression;

3.    Demands that Congress outlaw political spying and disruption by the FBI and other federal agencies;

4.    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;

5.    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;

6.    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;

7.    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;

8.    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;

9.    Supports the abolition of the death penalty.