Monday, July 29, 2013

Unions cautioned about surveillance

In These Times cautioned last week about the potential dangers posed by government surveillance to labor unions.

Sam Adler-Bell and David Segal detail the long and troubled history of the federal government spying on unions and their leaders in an effort to quash their activities. But most distressingly, it explains how such efforts continue today. There’s plenty of evidence that the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. intelligence agency are working on behalf of Wall Street and multinational corporations:
All this points to the fact that today’s ever-expanding surveillance state should strike fear into the heart of organized labor not only because there is opportunity for abuse, but because there is motive. Thanks to Citizens United, the funding of most major political campaigns by the richest fraction of society, and the increasing coziness of Washington and Wall Street, we’re living in a moment in which the interests of the U.S. government and its representatives are increasingly synonymous with the interests of the wealthy, the banks, and major corporations.
Efforts to monitor labor activists go back to the 19th century, when the Pinkerton Detective Agency surveilled, infiltrated and ultimately brought down Pennsylvania miner activists known as the Molly Maguires in the 1870s.

There has been no shortage of incidents in this century as well, ranging from the New York Police Department wiretapping the phones of labor organizations in 1916 to Sen.  Joseph McCarthy calling union supporters Communists and blacklisting them for employment during the 1950s.
Now with the technology available, surveillance is even easier. The article notes that employers increasingly monitor strikers and other workers deemed “trouble makers” using cameras and videotaping capabilities available on most cell phones:
It’s this reality—that the NSA’s new spying powers represent an extension of the kind of repression regularly engaged in by union-busting employers across the country—that we hope the rest of the labor movement will come to appreciate.

Will it?