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The News Line: Feature US unions fight against the voter identification laws THE US’ largest labour federation plans to mount an aggressive campaign against voter identification laws in a half-dozen battleground states that will be key in the presidential election.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker told reporters on Tuesday that the labour federation will have boots on the ground registering and helping voters in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in coordination with the group’s political programme.

Labour is pushing back against voter ID laws, which they say suppress voting by minorities, the elderly, the poor and students. Supporters of the measures say showing identification to vote is needed to crack down on fraud and protect the integrity of elections.

Baker said the AFL-CIO would execute its ‘most aggressive push’ yet against the ID laws in 2012.

‘This year, we will be running the strongest voter protection programme ever. This will be our most aggressive push, and we have never done anything on this scale before because the attacks that we are seeing on the right to vote are unprecedented,’ Baker said, calling voter ID laws passed in several states ‘a modern-day version of a poll tax and a new form of Jim Crow’.

The announcement comes less than a week after the AFL-CIO suffered a huge defeat in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker (R) survived the union-led recall against him.

The AFL-CIO plans to partner in voter-protection efforts with groups like the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, Generational Alliance and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

‘In the past year, we have seen more states pass more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than we have seen in a 12-month period in the past century,’ said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous.

Voter ID laws have either been proposed or passed in the six swing states that have grabbed the AFL-CIO’s attention. Baker also said there’s ‘strong union density’ in those states, meaning the labour federation could reach more of its members there.

‘So when you combine for us our concern about the voter suppression laws introduced in the majority of states we are focusing on and where are members are, it made perfect sense for that to be our focus. As I said, ideally, we are looking at all 50 states, but you can’t go everywhere, and these are the states where we will be focusing our efforts but certainly supporting others who are working in other states, including those in the South,’ Baker said.

Many of the demographic groups that could be adversely affected by the voter ID laws tend to vote Democratic.

The labour federation is encouraging people to sign up as polling monitors and poll workers in the six battleground states. Further, it has set up a website,, to inform voters of voter registration laws in their states and provide a resource for reporting complaints. In addition, union lawyers will help with poll monitor training and could join with groups in litigation against ID laws.
Florida has recently been of particular concern to liberal groups.

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) said on Monday that his state would sue the Department of Homeland Security in its effort to purge ineligible voters from the rolls. The Justice Department had already requested Scott not move forward with the purge, saying it would violate the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act.

Jealous of the NAACP said Justice should not back down its standoff with Scott.

‘Governor Scott’s defiance of the US Department of Justice is deeply troubling but it’s right in line with his actions so far. He has seemed committed to repeat the sins of 2000 and to turn to clear as many voters off the rolls as possible in black and Latino and poor communities,’ Jealous said. ‘We will continue to encourage the US Department of Justice to be forthright and aggressive in ensuring that he respects the laws of his state and of this country.’

Scott said his determination to remove ineligible voters from Florida’s voting rolls is ‘a no-brainer’.
‘We’re sitting here trying to watch how we spend our money, pay down our debt, do the right things for the citizens of our state, and the federal government tells us, “Oh, no, you can’t do the right thing for our citizens and we’re going to sue you,”’ Scott said Tuesday. ‘It doesn’t make sense.’

l Despite promises made in the Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights, Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place to be a union member.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the main international trade union organisation, just released its annual survey of violations of trade union rights. The report, which comes shortly after the Colombia Free Trade Agreement went into effect, summarises violations of trade union rights around the world – and its findings on Colombia are grim.

The ITUC reported that 29 of the 76 trade unionists murdered worldwide in 2011 were in Colombia. And that’s just the reported number—the actual number may be even higher. In addition to the 29 tragic murders, reported intimidation of unionists in Colombia last year included three forced disappearances, 10 attempted murders, two cases of torture, a kidnapping, 16 arbitrary detentions and 342 reported instances of unionists being threatened for their association with a union.

Colombia is still the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, despite the alleged ‘success’ of the Action Plan and entry of the Colombia FTA into force.

Although some progress has been made, Colombia is simply not holding up its end of the bargain. The ITUC reports that the Colombian government is implicated in these violations beyond its failure to uphold its own worker protection laws. Brutal police repression is used to silence workers who exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to strike.

The ITUC reported 480 specific violations of trade unionists’ rights to life, freedom and physical integrity. Although the authors of these violations remain unknown in about 70 percent of cases, where a perpetrator could be identified, it was a paramilitary group nearly 73 per cent of the time – a clear sign that the demilitarisation of the paramilitary groups remains a work in progress (to put it generously).

Ominously, some 1,500 former paramilitary fighters may be released from Colombian prisons next year without meeting their legal obligations to confess the truth of their crimes and pay restitution to their victims. So there is grave reason to believe that violence and intimidation of trade unionists will get worse, not better, in years to come.

For many years, Colombia has been notorious for workers’ rights violations of all types. Unfortunately, there has been a string of new threats in recent weeks, including threats against unionists who came to the United States in 2011 to speak out against moving the Colombia FTA before workers’ rights were secure.

The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement went into effect on May 15, 2012. The AFL-CIO stands with the global labour movement in support of labour and human rights activists and calls on the Colombian government to fully investigate these cases.


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