Dellinger Takes on ACLU (03/02)

Homeland security has many disturbing civil liberties implications. One striking example emerged last October, when the Socialist Workers candidate for mayor of Miami, FL, was fired by Goodwill Industries. The reason, said the plant manager, was that Michael Italie’s “views of the US government” were contrary to those of the company. 

A week later, Lida Rodriquez-Tassef, president of the Miami chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), compounded the problem. “Employees don’t have a First Amendment right to express their political views if they work for private employers,” she announced, explaining why the ACLU wouldn’t take Italie’s case. “Employers have a First Amendment right to associate with people whose opinions they approve of.”

Responding to this, Toward Freedom Co-chair Dave Dellinger contacted Miami’s mayor and the Committee to Defend Freedom of Speech and the Bill of Rights. His grandson had spoken with Italie at a Chicago conference. Dellinger also sent an open letter to ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, noting that the group’s recent membership appeal raises concerns about its stand on both the current war and civil liberties at home.

“I am shocked that in your letter asking me and other people to join,” he wrote, “you state that when terrorists attacked our country on Sept. 11, -It was an attack on the freedom, equality and tolerance that are the hallmarks of our democracy.’ But we have no equality and no real democracy. One quarter of one percent control more US wealth than the bottom 95 percent, and the poor end up in prisons. In addition, the Pentagon has 6500 employees whose job is to sell arms to approximately 182 countries, 75 percent of which are to third world countries that are opponents of human rights.”

Romero had written that “security and civil liberties do not have to be at odds,” and that increasing our safety is necessary “while still protecting basic freedoms and liberties.” Dellinger pointed out that “all kinds of civil liberties have been destroyed after Sept. 11, especially for Arabs and Afghanis. In addition, Italie was fired for speaking against the US war in Afghanistan, while defending the Cuban revolution and the right of workers to organize a union to fight for better conditions and dignity on the job.” The Goodwill Industries plant in Miami is a nonunion shop, and the “nonprofit” company uses exceptions to federal minimum wage law to pay as little as $1-3 per hour.

Goodwill CEO Dennis Pastrana admits that the firing was politically motivated.  Since the company has government contracts to produce uniforms and flags, “We cannot have anyone who is attempting to subvert the United States,” he explains. Italie calls his dismissal “an attack on the right of all working people to speak out on government policy without fear of intimidation or losing their jobs.” To express your views or get involved, write ACLU Director Romero, 125 Broad St., 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004-2400, or contact the Committee to Defend Freedom of Speech, PO Box 510127, Miami, FL 33151-0127.