Monday, February 7, 2011

FBI Investigation Hindered 2009 Bank Protest

UE: FBI Investigation Hindered 2009 Bank Protest

By Kari Lydersen

In These Times

February 3, 2011


Union workers at the Quad City Die Casting plant in

central Illinois expected their planned protest outside

a Wells Fargo Bank in July 2009 to be calm and civil.

They had already talked with local Rock Island police

and made it clear they "had no beef," in UE Midwest

director Carl Rosen's words, with the police or the

municipality, but wanted to make a statement about the

bank which was cutting the plant's financing.


So when the day of the protest came, workers and their

supporters were surprised to see a heavy and relatively

combative police presence. At the time they didn't know

what to make of it, and figured maybe Wells Fargo had

pressured the department to come out in force.


The plant was organized by the United Electrical Radio

and Machine Workers of America (UE), the same union

which eight months earlier had carried out the famous

Republic Windows occupation. Protesters heard a police

officer say the FBI had alerted them that "terrorists"

were coming to Rock Island for the action, but union

reps didn't believe it.


"It seemed fantastical that the FBI would be interested

in us," said Rosen. It wasn't until more than a year

later that they understood what had happened.


The union members coming from Chicago in solidarity that

day included Joe Iosbaker, who, as it turns out, was the

target of an ongoing FBI investigation that became

public in September 2010 when agents raided his home and

the homes of 13 other labor and anti-war activists in

Chicago, Michigan and Minnesota.


As described in a statement adopted by the UE's general

executive board at their national meeting January 27-28,

union leaders now believe the FBI had been spying on

communications of Iosbaker and other activists, and

called the Rock Island police to tip them off about the

Chicagoans' plans to go to the protest.


Iosbaker is an executive board member and chief steward

of SEIU Local 73 in Chicago, and an outspoken labor

activist in general. He directly participated in the

UE's Republic Windows and Doors occupation.


A number of unions and labor groups have passed

resolutions or made statements condemning the FBI

investigations as a violation of civil rights and free

speech. The UE statement points out how the FBI's

actions not only targeted activists for their anti-war

views, but also as a side effect infringed upon the Quad

City Die Casting members' right to peacefully protest

regarding their own situation.


"We're supposed to be living in a democracy, and a

democracy means elections, but also the ability of

people to speak out about issues they're concerned

about, whether popular or unpopular," Rosen said.

"People need to have a right to address their grievances

to the government and the public at large-that's what

our members were doing. They'd conferred in advance with

the local police so everything could run smoothly and

minimize the resources of the local police."


He added that the FBI, rather than taxpayers, should

have been billed for the overtime or extra staff

resources utilized by the Rock Island police that day.

Rosen noted that even "under the wild speculation that

any of these folks that they`re investigating did

something improper with someone overseas," it was

unnecessary and inappropriate for the FBI to have called

the local police. "They're labor activists, one thing

you do as a labor activist is practice solidarity,"

Rosen said. "Nothing could have indicated these people

would in any way pose any danger here."


Iosbaker and other people targeted by the FBI think the

investigation stemmed from their involvement in protests

around the 2008 Republican National Convention, and

expanded to focus on their solidarity work with

Palestine and Colombia. Iosbaker said he doubts the FBI

is specifically targeting labor activists, but

nonetheless the investigation could affect labor

struggles like Quad City Die Casting.


"Right now the main focus of repression is the anti-war

movement and international solidarity work," Iosbaker

says. This was likely "a bleed-over from an operation

they had been doing deep undercover on the anti-war

movement," he added, noting the Quad City Die Casting

protest was publicized through the Fight Back! newspaper

listserv he helps maintain. "But this stemmed from that.

They disrupted a protest action organized by the UE.

They harassed and intimidated them."


As the UE statement notes, their members have a

particular interest in addressing civil rights

violations and overzealous FBI surveillance, since the

union was a target of anti-Communist counterintelligence

and covert repression in the McCarthy era.


The UE statement says:


    Our own union's history has taught us that

    infringement on basic freedoms is a matter of life

    and death to the workers' movement. During the "red

    scare" of the late 1940s and the 1950s, the combined

    forces of the corporations, the federal government,

    both major political parties, the media, and

    opportunistic business unions nearly succeeded in

    destroying UE and crushing progressive trade



    Because of the persecution that our union suffered

    and barely survived in that era, we in UE have a

    continuing obligation to speak out forcefully

    whenever civil liberties are endangered by political

    hysteria and repression.


Last September, it was revealed the UE was among about

200 civil rights, women's rights and labor groups spied

upon by Pennsylvania's Homeland Security office, which

reported to local law enforcement on groups they

considered terrorist threats. When the operation was

exposed it created widespread outrage and Pennsylvania

Gov. Ed Rendell demanded the program halted.


Rosen and Iosbaker said continued publicity and

expressions of support by labor activists and others is

important to make sure the FBI doesn't over-reach and

violate civil liberties as part of the "war on terror."


"The lessons of history are that when people don't speak

up about the civil liberties of others being taken away,

more civil liberties get taken away from more and more

people," Rosen said. "The sooner and the louder that

more people speak out, the more likely it is these

things will stop and we'll get that element of democracy



The statement from the UE concludes:


    From the Industrial Workers of the World's (IWW)

    fight for free speech in the 1910s, to the major

    labor-inspired civil liberties court decisions of

    the 1930s, the labor movement has often been in the

    forefront of defending the right to speak and

    protest. Unionists have understood that without the

    ability to speak out, union efforts would be




1 comment:

Kunal said...

Very Informative and attractive blog created by the blog owner. I am very thankful for this blog owner for post information like that. I would like to come on this blog again and again. Pressure Die Casted Products Manufacturers Suzuki Seat Covers