Under The Radar

Anti-War Soldier Wins Conscientious Objector Status, Honorable Discharge on Moral Grounds

U.S. Army Specialist and Iraq war veteran Daniel Birmingham set an important legal precedent when he received both conscientious objector (CO) status and an honorable discharge in lieu of deployment to Afghanistan. While the military has typically granted CO status for religious or spiritual opposition to war, Spc. Birmingham objected to the war on purely moral grounds.

Spc. Birmingham is a member of March Forward!—an organization of anti-war active- duty and veteran service members. As such, he campaigned publicly about his moral objections to the war prior to his legal victory. His statement, “I will not go to war again,” was distributed widely online and on various military bases. Spc. Birmingham is twenty-one years old and from Battle Creek, Michigan, the son of an autoworker and a union painter. He originally entered the military due to lack of employment opportunities.

A statement from March Forward! argued that Spc. Birmingham’s legal precedent means all anti-war service members “have the right to refuse deployment to Afghanistan.” They have announced a new outreach campaign—called “Our Lives, Our Rights”—to inform active-duty service members on military bases of these new rights.

Immigrant Workers at Pacific Steel Protest Firings, “Silent ICE Raid”

In February 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began a “silent raid” in which they audited the documents of the employees of Pacific Steel Casting in Berkeley, California, leading to the firing of 214 of them later in the year.

Workers at the foundry, who are represented by Molders Union Local 164B, struck the plant in March 2011 over health care cuts. According to ICE regulations, enforcement actions are supposed to stop during labor disputes. In practice and in this case, however, there appears to be a strong correlation between ICE attention and job actions (and unionization efforts).

The Obama administration has made I-9 audits of employees a centerpiece of its immigration enforcement strategy. Due to their status, tens of thousands of undocumented workers have been fired, including thousands of janitors in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and San Diego, as well as two thousand sewing machine operators in Los Angeles. Pacific Steel’s Berkeley site is the country’s largest steel foundry west of the Mississippi River, and the company claims it was forced to conduct the layoffs.

In February 2012, hundreds of immigrant steelworkers, along with their family members and supporters, held a “March for Dignity” against the company. The mass march ended months of debate among the fired employees, who met in union halls and churches to weigh the consequences of taking their firings—and thus their immigration status—public.

Department of Justice Affirms Constitutional Right to Record Police

While Obama’s Department of Justice has disappointed progressives on a range of issues related to constitutional and civil liberties, it also issued a legal opinion that the video recording of police officers represents a protected First Amendment activity, amounting to freedom of the press. The Civil Rights Division statement came in response to a case in which Baltimore police officers seized the cell phone of a man who had recorded them beating his friend. In addition to affirming the constitutionality of recording the police, the Justice Department recommended that policies be written to: restrict officers’ responses to individuals recording their activity; describe when an individual’s actions amount to interference with police duties; provide clear guidance on supervisory review; and describe under what circumstances it is permissible to seize recordings.

In Tampa during the Republican National Convention: Sticks Banned, Firearms Permitted

For the Republican National Convention, the Tampa City Council banned a host of items from the surrounding area, including poles, pieces of wood, and water guns. Real guns, however, are okay. Florida Governor Rick Scott shot down a request by the city’s mayor to ban firearms from the city’s downtown, citing the unconstitutionality of such a provision.

The ban on sticks and poles is clearly designed to limit the visibility of protesters, who have already been restricted to specially designated “protest zones.” Presumably, they could put their signs on top of their guns.

The Pinkertons Are Back

The most hated force of private mercenaries and detectives deployed against labor in the last Gilded Age has returned in today’s Second Gilded Age. The Pinkertons, infamous for their armed attacks on the 1892 Homestead Strike, helped coordinate several major banks’ security on May Day 2012. Reflecting proudly on the company’s history and legacy, the Pinkerton website boasts of retaining “the same reputable dedication and commitment to protecting clients and their assets worldwide.”

Pinkerton, whose anti-labor detective work was largely replaced by the professionalization of law enforcement, was acquired by the Swedish firm Securitas AB in 2001. In Bloomberg News, a Pinkerton security coordinator compared the May Day inter-bank security and surveillance efforts to those of elk ringing together to fend off wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

High School Walkouts around the Country

One unmentioned consequence of all the state- and local-level austerity budgets is a resurgence of high school activism. Taking just a few weeks from mid-April to early May as a sample, there were student walkouts in at least twenty different towns and cities against budget cuts and layoffs. These include fifty students in Rhinelander, Wisconsin; three hundred in Seattle, Washington; hundreds in Belgrade, Montana; one hundred in Eagle Point, Oregon; two hundred in Detroit, Michigan; one hundred in Brooklyn, New York; one hundred in Jackson, Mississippi; hundreds in Portland, Oregon; and one hundred in Calexico, California.