First Amendment is Vitally Important to the Labor Movement

Assaults on the First Amendment continue as Republicans tried again unsuccessfully to pass Marco Rubio’s Combating BDS Act, a measure designed to protect Israel. Unfortunately, an act that criminalizes boycotts in one sphere may lead to criminalization of other boycotts and protests.

Reactionaries in state legislatures have enacted similar legislation to Rubio’s proposal. Legal restrictions on protests and demonstrations are becoming more common. Although frequently aimed at environmentalists, these restrictive laws can be expanded to include other protests including labor protests.

Attacks on Labor’s right to protest are a matter of record. The history of the Labor Movement is rife with accounts of legalized repression by reactionary politicians and their backers. If the First Amendment is infringed upon proponents of one cause, what guarantees its sanctity when infringed upon by another interest?

In Los Angeles, 30,000 teachers were striking for a reduction in class sizes, improvements in safety, accountability of charter schools and increases in wages and benefits commensurate with the skyrocketing cost of living in Los Angeles. LA’s striking teachers used their rights guaranteed by the first Amendment. Protecting those rights is a vital concern for the Labor Movement.

The boycott, the strike, the informational picket, leafletting and other actions and communications are the mainstays of protest and social progress. The First Amendment enshrines these activities as basic rights. They must be protected. Any doubt about the need to protect these rights disappears upon reading this Label Letter, numerous workers express their fear of retaliation for expressing workplace dissatisfaction.

Building on the 2018 Midterms

The so-called “blue wave” that swept many Democrats and Progressives into office on November 6 contained a less-noticed labor wave. Not only were many of the successful candidates, who frequently washed away reactionary incumbents supported by the Labor Movement, but many were actually current or former union members.

This is an accomplishment on which to build. This election provides a model for the next election, a presidential election featuring a load of Republican Senate seats that can be flipped by candidates who support workers’ rights.

With more than 800 Labor-backed candidates winning in 2018, we expect policy changes at many levels of government. So do the voters, union and general public alike. All across the country, healthcare was a major, possibly determinative issue.

Healthcare is a concern for Americans in many ways: access and affordability being foremost. Those politicians who opposed protecting us against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions frequently and fortunately paid the price at the ballot box this year.

Labor has other matters to press. Perhaps first should be the end to voter suppression, especially affecting minorities, because progressive politics would have been even more successful if all eligible voters had been able to vote.

Moving on to a legislative agenda, the issues of protecting and expanding Medicare and Medicaid are crucial. Defending Social Security from right-wingers who want to roll back FDR’s New Deal is another imperative. Protecting prevailing wage laws is one more critical initiative.

Our allies should press for infrastructure funding and for legislation to address climate change, the harmful effects of which are now visible as fires and floods across the United States.

The 2018 election was a re-start. Let’s make use of it and keep the momentum. ■

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