Unions Condemn FBI 'Fishing Expedition'
The 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) passed a resolution Wednesday calling on the FBI to “stop using the national security laws to intimidate people from using their First Amendment rights.” The resolution arose because of FBI raids last September in Chicago and the Twin Cities on the homes of 14 anti-war activists, 10 of whom are also union members.
Special education teacher Sarah Chambers said she made the motion because “it could have been any of us. A lot of us are activists. We’ve been to rallies, we fight for workers’ rights—these are also people that fight for workers’ rights.”
Eighteen unions or labor councils and hundreds of peace and international solidarity organizations have passed resolutions condemning the FBI raids, which confiscated personal computers and documents, and the grand jury subpoenas issued to a total of 23 people.
“I’ve been to Washington twice to lobby about this,” said Joe Iosbaker, chief steward in Service Employees Local 73 in Chicago, a clerical worker at the University of Illinois, and one of the FBI’s targets. “Both times what we found was a tremendous amount of concern about the FBI spying on peace organizations. Having labor resolutions went a long way in convincing them.”
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Chicago, who belonged to a community organizing group in the 1970s, responded, “It sounds like the old Chicago Red Squad,” the police intelligence units that specialize in gathering intelligence on activists. Schakowsky’s group was infiltrated by the Red Squad.
Iosbaker said unions and labor councils representing nearly a half-million members have passed resolutions about the case, mostly in Illinois, Minnesota, and California. Most mention parallels from labor history: the anti-union and anti-“red” Palmer raids of the 1920s, and McCarthyism in the 1950s, which split and purged unions.
First Amendment Rights
The CTU said, “The nationally coordinated raids and fishing expedition are an assault on the First Amendment rights of every union fighter, solidarity activist or anti-war campaigner.” The resolution noted that the FBI confiscated crates full of computers, documents, cell phones, children’s drawings, photos of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and personal belongings.
The original 14 subpoenaed were all involved in organizing an anti-war protest at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2008. The organizing for that protest was heavily infiltrated by law enforcement. Iosbaker believes that anti-war activists who were also involved in opposing U.S. policies in Colombia and Palestine came to the FBI’s attention at that time. Now they are being subpoenaed by a grand jury for providing “material support” to terrorist organizations—a charge they all strongly deny.
A Supreme Court ruling last summer, Holder vs Humanitarian Law Project, broadened the definition of “material support” to include mere words, “if coordinated with, directed by or directed to” any organization that’s on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
Iosbaker said union activists who supported the fight against South African apartheid in the 1980s can remember when organizations fighting apartheid there were called “terrorist”—including Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela—but U.S. unions then were lauded for their solidarity actions.
The Committee to Stop FBI Repression is actively seeking union resolutions. Demonstrations against the FBI actions and the subpoenas are planned for 30 cities January 25. The original 14 have all vowed not to appear before the grand jury.
Meanwhile, Iosbaker says, “I’ve dedicated 20 years of my life to helping build the labor movement.” The story of his local’s fight against privatization and contracting out was featured in Labor Notes’ A Troublemaker’s Handbook. “I want my life back. This came right as my co-workers and I were on the edge of a strikable situation. I have been completely distracted for the last three months, trying to fight this. I’m not able to fulfill my duties as a chief steward. It’s all I can do to keep my wife and I out of prison.”
Iosbaker did eventually get his cell phone back from the FBI. He’s not using it.