On Tuesday, January 25, union members will stand in “solidarity” outside Chicago’s federal court house with activists who are resisting grand jury subpoenas being used as fishing expeditions against the anti-war movement. All of those subpoenaed had been involved in completely legal activities in support of the anti-war effort. At least 18 unions or labor councils have passed resolutions supporting those resisting the subpoenas, including the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union.
The action by unions, while largely symbolic, nevertheless indicates their clear understanding of how national security laws are being used to intimidate people from expressing their rights to free expression and assembly. True solidarity would involve taking some risk, like going on strike until the subpoenas are withdrawn. Nevertheless, the fact that some unions have taken an anti-war stance in the first place could be considered progress. During the Viet Nam war, many unions were outright hostile to protesters and some served as goon squads that beat up and intimidated activists.
Some union members are among those subpoenaed and refusing to cooperate. Stephanie Weiner and her husband Joe Losbaker, both SEIU members, had their home raided and computers and personal items confiscated. They are refusing to cooperate with the subpoenas. The SEIU Illinois is likening the subpoenas to the Palmer Raids and McCarthy hearings.
The use of subpoenas to intimidate and stifle dissent is an old, but effective tactic. Refusal to cooperate can result in contempt charges and prison time. You cannot plead the fifth to avoid self-incrimination during grand jury investigations.
Chicago is no stranger to the political subpoena. HUAC issued subpoenas for Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman following the 1968 Democratic National Convention demonstrations. Activists who weren’t subpoenaed suddenly came down with Subpoenas Envy. Hoffman and Ruben made a mockery of the process, attending in a Santa Claus outfit and draped in the American flag, respectively.