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 UE and progressive trade unionism.

More than two decades into the “War on Terror,” deprivations of civil liberties originally justified as emergency measures have become deeply entrenched and made permanent. They have not only failed to make us safer, they have diminished our democratic rights. Law enforcement and intelligence officials have turned a blind eye while reactionaries have plotted attacks on democracy in plain sight, while focusing their counterterrorism authorities on the same old targets — progressive movements that challenge the economic status quo.  Disturbingly, some are calling for these agencies to be granted new powers in the name of combating “domestic terrorism.”

The Justice Department continues to use the Espionage Act, which was originally used to jail labor leaders like Eugene V. Debs for their opposition to World War I, to jail whistleblowers and journalists. As information about torture, extrajudicial executions, or mass surveillance is made public, the U.S. government responds by pursuing those who made the information public, branding their actions as being on par with those of spies and saboteurs.

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. Corporations trying to defend their profit margins have been behind a number of these civil liberties abuses. Big business has pushed for laws to criminalize those who protest them or expose their misconduct. They hire private mercenary firms, modern day successors to the Pinkertons, who work with law enforcement to stamp out protests. 

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 what these communities have been saying all along: 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 are essential. The FBI has responded by distributing a threat assessment to law enforcement across the country claiming that opposition to racism or police brutality is likely to lead to violence against police.  

In response to working-class protests against police brutality and racism, many politicians are pushing anti-protest laws. These laws are similar to repressive legislation that has historically been pushed to restrict the labor movement. Many of these same politicians employ the language and spread the conspiracies of far-right extremists and white supremacists. Others, rather than openly endorsing hate, will turn a blind eye to these followers, affirming their assent through silence. Still others will deliver the same message but as dog-whistles, offhand remarks, and projection.

In September 2023, the Georgia attorney general’s office announced an indictment under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute of 61 organizers connected to the “Stop Cop City” movement. These peaceful protesters, who are seeking to stop the construction of a massive police training complex in one of the city’s largest remaining green spaces, now face up to 20 years in prison. This case sets a dangerous precedent that authorities can prosecute people for activities as harmless as putting up a flyer by connecting them to a “conspiracy.”

In many states, a vocal and ugly minority is seeking to deny, degrade, and, in some cases, criminalize fellow workers who merely wish to live their true lives and gender identities. Inevitably, these extremists and their agenda will not end with the trans community, but will instead carry on until their dogma is hiding in the corner of every bedroom, dictating a twisted version of morality and making criminals of all who refuse their backwards vision. The attacks on the rights of trans individuals and their fundamental right to exist is an affront to all that we hold true in UE. 

The Supreme Court’s reversal of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision has allowed the imposition of state laws that remove the fundamental right to make personal medical decisions, and strips the right to bodily autonomy from free citizens. Furthermore, there are factions that seek to outlaw and prosecute the use of birth control of all kinds, and criminalize interstate travel for the purpose of accessing medical care. State control of workers’ bodies is unacceptable and must be opposed.

An increasing portion of Americans oppose the death penalty, and a growing number of states have abolished it. 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 and members to support organizations such as Defending Rights & Dissent, the National Lawyers Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and the National Conference of Black Lawyers;
  3. Demands 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. Demands the end of use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers and journalists;
  6. Calls for legislation to protect our civil liberties in the workplace, including: 
    1. Prohibiting random or blanket drug testing in the workplace;
    2. Banning telephone and internet monitoring of employees;
    3. Further restricting the use of lie detectors, cameras, GPS, and other surveillance technologies in employment;
    4. Full respect of the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals;
  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 Congress reform the process for placing groups on terrorist lists to ensure that they have sufficient notice and a meaningful opportunity to respond to 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. Opposes legislation that would curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals to participate in marriage, access medical care, be recognized in society and by the law, and any other laws that would impinge on the rights of individuals to live their lives as free and equal citizens.