are two things happening in the world of dissent and union organizing
that all Americans should watch closely, starting with the
imprisonment of union organizers in Turkey and the laws that have
been adopted or are in the works in the various states in the U.S.
is not particularly known as a bastion of the kind of rights that
U.S. citizens expect to enjoy under the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution, but the act of union organizing in Turkey in 2007 has
resulted in the impending imprisonment of 14 union organizers. The
charges include: “…founding an organization for the
purpose of committing crime, violating the right to peaceful work
through coercion in order to obtain unfair pecuniary gain and
obstructing enjoyment of union rights…”
Ankara, organizing workers to raise their pay and gain other benefits
apparently has become a crime that must be stopped. The organizers
were captured in a sweep in raids in 2007 and sentenced to prison
terms in 2012, all on the complaint of a corporation, according to
labourstart.org. The Turkish judiciary does not provide for a jury
of peers. In fact, the judges make the decisions after hearing the
cases. There is no provision for juries. Labourstart works in
partnership with the International Transport Workers Federation, a
global federation of 690 unions which represent more than 4.5 million
workers in 153 countries.
organizers can be jailed in Turkey for doing what they are expected
to do for their members. And, it can happen there for a variety of
reasons, but can it happen in the U.S.? We tend to think that could
not happen here, but it has been happening in the U.S. for many
years, and it’s like the proverbial frog in the cold water:
During the early stages, the frog doesn’t notice any
discomfort, then some discomfort and, by the time the water boils,
it’s too late.
U.S. has a history of suppressing public displays of dissent,
particularly when workers gather to demand their rights, but it has
been done in such a way that the general public is not very aware of
it. In recent years, especially during the Bush-Cheney years,
demonstrations or rallies of any political nature have been
restricted to free speech pens, which are areas designated for the
demonstrators, restricted to a small area enclosed by chain link
fences. Often, the pens are placed far from the object of the rally,
so that, in effect, the voices of the protestors are impossible to be
heard by the president, senator, corporate CEO, or other public
figure, in effect negating the rights of the people under the First
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
the lives of slaves, indentured servants, factory workers, farm
workers, and many others have not been very highly valued. If their
very lives have not been important to the powers that be (the rich,
the corporations, and their minions), why should their voices be of
any value? It is nothing to simply cut off those voices, and that is
what is done, as much as possible.
though, with instant communications via the Internet, people are able
to organize a rally or picket on very short notice and that presents
a problem for those who would thwart exercise of free speech. But
the power brokers are quick to counter action that tends to curb
their control over economic and political policies and programs.
At this time, the move
to curb free speech is taking the form of legislation that makes it
illegal to demonstrate under some circumstances. According to the
National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Republican legislators in 19 states are
attempting to criminalize and penalize protests, including increasing
jail sentences and fines for obstructing traffic, for tampering or
trespassing on such property as railroads and pipelines, or refusing
to leave an “unlawful protest.”
to the NLG: “Particularly alarming are bills removing liability
from drivers who ‘accidentally’ hit and kill
protesters…Other legislation has proposed labeling protests as
‘economic terrorism.’” During the nationwide
strike of Greyhound workers, there were some stations where the scabs
were told to drive through the picket lines and, as a result, there
were strikers hit by buses and one striker was killed.
the wave of attempts to take away one of the most fundamental
freedoms that Americans believe they enjoy, it will not be long
before picketing one’s workplace that is being struck could
become a criminal act. The attempt to criminalize picketing during a
strike became a corporate success story, when it was (still is)
possible to go to court and have the judge issue an injunction
limiting the number of pickets and vastly diminishing the power of
collective action by workers and their unions.
of the legislation being considered has more to do with government or
corporate policy and programs, whether it’s opposition to the
U.S. war machine, to injustices committed every day by paying half a
living wage, marching for women’s rights and Black Lives
Matter, or trying to stop the Keystone XL pipeline or the Dakota
Access pipeline. Passing laws limiting protest will not stop the
protests completely, but it gives authorities a tool to deal, often
harshly, with participants.
effort that has politicians scrambling to introduce legislation to
squelch free speech is the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction)
movement against Israeli treatment of Palestinians and settlements in
the West Bank. In this case, it isn’t so much punishment by
fine or imprisonment, but a preemptive effort to stop BDS in its
tracks, especially on college campuses. However, despite their best
efforts, the BDS movement seems to be growing in the U.S., as well as
in other countries.
last week, the New York State Senate had three bills introduced that
would curb BDS free speech and the bills, if passed, will go to the
Assembly for a vote. The first bill, S.2493, would deny funding to
student groups at public universities that advocate for BDS in Israel
or other American allied nations, according to the Washington-based
Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation (BRDC).
It should be noted that the bill broadens anti-BDS so as to give
cover to the goal of stifling speech about Israel. The second bill,
S.4837, would deny public
universities from using state money to fund membership in, or travel
and lodging for a meeting of, an academic association that boycotts
Israel, while the third, S.2492, would create a blacklist to deny
state contracts to and investment in individuals, organizations, and
businesses that boycott “American allied nations.”
According to the BRDC, “It’s sponsors have made it clear
that supporters of Palestinian human rights are its targets.”
Republicans in the majority in Congress, in possession of the White
House and a majority of governorships and state legislatures, and
with the GOP hand firmly on the gerrymandering of congressional
districts, there’s no telling how far they will go to curb free
speech and dissent.
does not seem to be a question of when this will happen, but the
question is how far the Republicans and their Right Wing forces will
go before they take a page out of Turkey’s playbook, to both
preempt and punish the use of the First Amendment to advance a cause
or right a wrong, something that Americans have taken for granted.
That right is being chipped away, day by day, and all sentient
citizens need to be aware and act, before there is very little of the
right of dissent left on which to stand. Otherwise, it is to be
hoped that U.S. prisons are better than their Turkish counterparts.