SWP wins first round in Washington disclosure fight

By Mary Martin
November 23, 2020

SEATTLE — The fight against government threats in Washington state to disclose the names and addresses of the electors here for the 2020 Socialist Workers Party presidential slate of Alyson Kennedy and Malcolm Jarrett has won an important initial victory. On Nov. 3 state officials informed Kathy Barnard, attorney for the Socialist Workers Party campaign, that the secretary of state’s office has decided to not disclose the personal information of the electors in response to the request they received. They will only disclose the information on the electors of the candidate who carried the state. This appears to be Democrat Joe Biden.

However the state also said that if a renewed request is made by anyone specifically asking for the SWP electors’ information, the party would have to take legal action to block its release. The party and its attorneys in the well-known labor law firm Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt stand ready to respond as needed.

Campaigners gathered over 2,000 signatures to put the SWP ticket on the ballot, and won support for the working-class campaign on workers’ doorsteps, Walmart parking lots, strike picket lines, protests against cop brutality and elsewhere. But they also ran into some serious threats, including death threats and to burn down the campaign headquarters and everyone in it.

For decades the party has fought to prevent government disclosure of information about their campaign supporters and contributors, including in hard-fought battles in both Seattle and Washington state. These fights exposed decades of spying, harassment and disruption against the party by the FBI, cop agencies, bosses and others.

Since the fight was launched to stop the disclosure of the 2020 electors’ personal information, over $20,000 was raised to pay for the legal costs and related expenses.

Dozens of solidarity messages were received from labor, academic and other individuals and groups across North America, strengthening the fight.

“This is just a little note to let you know that there is lots of support north of the border in your fight,” wrote Bart Dempsey, past president of United Steelworkers Local 7085 at the Glencore smelter in Belledune, New Brunswick. “To read this article [in the Militant] and see how far governments and their goons will go to try and intimidate the working class is appalling. Knowing what they know, and the threats and intimidation tactics that have already been proven, and the thought that they would look to release these peoples’ names and addresses is quite disturbing.

“Please keep up the good fight, and work,” Dempsey said, “and don’t be intimidated by these wrongful actions of the government’s goons.”

Support also came from Agustín López, member of the executive committee of Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia, a union in Yakima Valley, Washington. “We support the struggle of the SWP in its fight for political and labor rights and civil rights for all working people,” he wrote, “to protect the civil right to not share information that should not be shared, to protect privacy and prevent harassment.”

The Guinean Committee United for Status in Montreal, Quebec, wrote, “We, of the Guinean Committee United for Status, find that this is a profound attack on the political right allowing citizens to choose their political representatives, but also and above all the right to freedom of expression. We believe that this practice endangers democratic rights in general, but especially the lives of members of the Socialist Workers Party facing extreme right-wing radical groups.

“Furthermore, it could lead to political profiling of activists by the police and spying by the secret services, which constitutes a serious breach of privacy. Therefore, our Guinean committee demands the immediate end of this procedure which seriously undermines democratic rights and freedom of expression.”

Mark Downs, a member of ILWU Local 19 retirees, sent a message. “There is well over 100 years of evidence as well as very recent evidence to support the SWP’s request to not disclose these electors’ personal information,” he said.

“I served as a member of the executive board of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19 in Seattle three times during my 40-year career as a union dockworker,” he said. “I have seen firsthand how the SWP puts a lot of effort into union organizing and human rights struggles, which has been true throughout their history.

“Because the SWP is effective in these efforts, the anti-working-class forces who support the capitalist state want to shut up the SWP. The state should not disclose the electors’ personal information.”

Teachers face similar gov’t threat

Several teachers at Seattle Central College are supporting the SWP’s fight, drawing on their own experience in a battle they and their union have been engaged in against disclosure of their personal information.

“The SWP fight against the release of presidential electors’ personal information is important for all workers,” Barbara Kline, an English teacher at Seattle Central, wrote. “Public records requests are being widely used to intimidate workers and unionists. This last May the Washington Federation of State Employees lost an injunction to halt the release of the full names, work addresses, work emails, hire dates and bargaining unit names for all the employees of 3 major community colleges in Seattle. The employees’ lawyers were successful in preventing birthdates or names of ‘protected employees’ — those who have been victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking — but everything else was released.”

The teachers were battling a lawsuit filed by the notorious anti-union Freedom Foundation, which was seeking to take advantage of state disclosure laws allowing employers to hand over this personal information to conduct a drive to break their union.

“Last week at our meeting of AFT Local 1789, our union president said that some members have already been contacted privately,” Kline said, “questioned about their union affiliation and encouraged to leave the union.

“This is the third in a series of requests for the public records of our college employees,” she said. “These requests started in 2016 and have included employees at the University of Washington.”

She concluded, “A victory in this fight is a gain for all of us.”

Washington has long been a battlefield over aggressive public disclosure laws. Liberal Democrats have promoted a series of these laws in the name of “cleaning up” government, as workers have increasingly lost confidence in the capitalist rulers’ two-party system.

The SWP was successful in winning exemption from having to turn over names and personal information of their campaign contributors in both Seattle and Washington state.

“The Socialist Workers Party campaign in Washington state sends a sincere thank you to all those who supported this fight in many ways,” SWP leader Edwin Fruit told the Militant. “We can’t be certain we won’t have to kick this defense of political rights back into gear, but from the messages we have received, you can see we’ll have strong support.”