Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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United Electrical (UE) Resolution

Passed at the 70th UE convention, held August 2007

Similar resolutions passed at previous UE conventions in 2003 and 2005.


With the so-called Patriot Act as their centerpiece, new laws passed by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, along with a host of proclamations from President Bush and the U.S. Attorneys General, have greatly expanded the ability of government agencies to spy on and disrupt organizations in the U.S. Even where laws exist to restrain government excesses, the Bush Administration has ignored them, illegally wiretapping a wide range of individuals without first showing cause to a judge.

American history is full of examples showing that when the government is given this power, it can and will use it against ordinary Americans, particularly those who speak out against government policies, and especially those who represent a credible power base, such as the labor movement. During the 1940s and 1950s McCarthy period, the combined forces of the federal government, business, and their business-union co-conspirators nearly destroyed the UE and progressive trade unionism.

The core challenge to civil liberties lies in allowing law enforcement agencies to spy on and infiltrate organizations without any indication that a crime has been committed or is being planned. This has resulted in a massive increase in the number of Americans under government and corporate scrutiny, yet it will not protect us from events like 9/11. The problem was not a lack of information but rather the failure to analyze and act upon existing information. The government gathering so much information on non-terrorist political opponents means there are fewer resources to combat real crime, including terrorism.

Bosses try to instill fear in workers during union organizing campaigns – that is the kind of fear that the Bush administration has tried to spread across society as a whole. Fewer people will attend 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 be accused on trumped-up terrorism charges. Fewer people will attend organizing meetings if they suspect that someone in the room could be a police agent.

There are numerous examples of violations of our civil liberties under this new regime. President Bush stripped 70,000 federal workers of their right to a union under the guise of homeland security. A group of twenty peace activists from Milwaukee was prevented from attending a Washington rally protesting U.S. policy in Colombia when their names mysteriously showed up on a secret "no-fly" list. At least two U.S. citizens were held for years as "enemy combatants" without bail and with no charges pending. Thousands of non-citizens were also held for many months or years, sometimes in undisclosed locations, with no charges nor access to lawyers, and even their names were kept secret. Police in several cities have infiltrated peaceful protest groups and in some cases arrested hundreds of people in advance of demonstrations to prevent them from exercising their civil rights.

Many Americans have resisted these attacks. Over 400 local governments and several states have passed resolutions supporting the Bill of Rights and objecting to parts of the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 laws, executive orders, and policy changes. Some cities have passed ordinances directing police to facilitate, not impede, peaceful demonstrations. The new Democratic Congress has not only failed miserably to overturn these bad laws, but has instead helped expand the Bush attack on our civil liberties. For example, when Bush approached Congress asking for carte blanche to continue warrentless wiretapping for 90 days, bipartisan majorities gleefully rolled over. An increasing number of federal court rulings have thrown out some of the worst government practices. Much more work is clearly needed.

A growing number of Americans also question the use of the death penalty. Why should working people who regularly express deep distrust of our government officialdom trust these same forces with the power to inflict the ultimate penalty of death? The question is especially crucial when a rising tide of evidence is demonstrating the corrupt nature of our justice system, a system clearly stacked against those without money. Revelations that many death row prisoners are actually innocent confirm that 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. Among the more famous are the Haymarket martyrs, the IWW 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.

Attacks on civil liberties are not minor infringements on the rights of a few extremists. Today they affect a vast cross-section of Americans. 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.


  1. Opposes any change in the federal criminal code that would undermine our basic rights to organize, strike, protest, demonstrate and otherwise defend the interests of working people, specifically including changes designed to make picket line activity subject to federal prosecution;
  2. Urges all UE locals to actively defend the right to protest against government and corporate policies which hurt working people by working with and supporting organizations such as the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BRDC), and the Defending Dissent Foundation (DDF - formerly the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation), and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG);
  3. Calls on UE public-sector locals to investigate and aggressively challenge any restrictions on their members’ civil liberties written into state law or municipal ordinances;
  4. Demands that Congress outlaw political spying and disruption by the FBI and other federal agencies and repeal regressive parts of the Patriot Act and other executive orders and policy changes which expand investigative authority without justifying the need first, remove significant court checks and balances, increase government secrecy, allow secret evidence, and dissolve the Foreign Intelligence Act’s separation of intelligence and criminal investigations;
  5. Supports local initiatives to refuse compliance with the Patriot Act and encourages local governments to pass laws based on the First Amendments Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004 enacted in Washington, DC, which recognizes demonstrations as critical to free speech and vital to democracy, and thus emphasizes negotiation and communication and prohibits preemptive arrests;
  6. Demands that the U.S. Justice Department rescind recent 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, or that otherwise send a message that First Amendment-protected free speech and association activity is fair game for surveillance;
  7. Calls for legislation to prohibit random or blanket drug testing in the work place as well as legislation to ban telephone and internet monitoring of employees and to further restrict the use of lie detectors in employment;
  8. Supports legislation to abolish preventive detention and re-establish the right to bail and the concept of "innocent until proven guilty;"
  9. Supports legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act 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 crimes" 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 supports the bill introduced by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) to abolish the death penalty at the federal level;
  12. Calls on Congress to immediately restore the collective-bargaining rights of Homeland Security workers.