Leading up to the hearing, supporters of the Militant are campaigning across the United States to win endorsements for the fight to defend free speech and freedom of the press thats an important part of this case and win much needed contributions for the Militant Fighting Fund. The fund was set up last year to help the Militant and Socialist Workers Party defend themselves against this harassment suit by the Utah mine bosses.
Regardless of the outcome of the June 7 hearing, we will help build on the support won for the freedom of the press rights of the Militant to bolster the fight by the Co-Op miners and the United Mine Workers of America to turn back the legal attack against them by the mine owners, said Norton Sandler, a national organizer of the Militant Fighting Fund. The attempt to stifle the fight of the miners through the courts is at the heart of this harassment lawsuit by the company.
Attorneys Randy Dryer and Michael Petrogeorge will represent the Militant at the June 7 hearing. Dryer has a long history in defending clients whose freedom of the press rights have been challenged in court. The Salt Lake Deseret Morning News will be represented by Attorney Jeffrey Hunt. Michael OBrien will represent the Salt Lake Tribune.
On August 1 the court will hear a second round of oral arguments by attorneys representing the UMWA, 16 Co-Op miners, and other trade unions and labor organizations that have backed the Co-Op miners 20-month-long struggle to win UMWA representation. In addition to charges of defamation, the miners union and the individual Co-Op miners are cited for unfair labor practices for trying to organize a union at the Co-Op mine near Huntington, Utah. In all, C.W. Mining and the IAUWU, which workers describe as a company union, are suing nearly 100 participants and supporters of the Co-Op miners fight.
A blatant attack on freedoms
The Los Angeles chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) added its voice this week to those protesting the coal boss lawsuit, calling it a blatant attack on freedoms.
LCLAA strongly opposes the lawsuit brought by C.W. Mining against the miners at Co-Op Mining and the supporting newspapers, reads a May 31 statement that LCLAA president Raymond España sent to the Militant Fighting Fund. The fight to defend the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret Morning News and the Militant is a necessary and important battle to protect every Americans right to freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and the right to organize.
The company filed the civil lawsuit last September. It amended its legal complaint and refilled it days before the December 17 union representation election at the Co-Op mine, when the workers were to decide between the UMWA, the IAUWU, and no union. Eight days before the vote, the company also fired nearly every worker known to support the UMWA. The company has contested the votes of the fired workers. A ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on the matter is pending.
Critical importance to the media
Resolving the C.W. Mining lawsuit is of critical importance to the news media, says the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret Morning News legal brief backing the motion by the two dailies to dismiss the case. This sweeping lawsuit in which Plaintiffs claim they have been defamed by virtually everyone that has ever said anything critical about the Co-Op Mine, poses a dangerous risk of chilling…the news medias vigorous and constitutionally-protected reporting of this controversy.
Attorneys for the Militant newspaper have further pointed out, The time and expense associated with protracted litigation is a particular concern for small, independent, weekly newspapers with limited financial resources like The Militant (which, as stated on its masthead for decades, is A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people). The potential of frivolous defamation suits to chill First Amendment rights is even greater for these media outlets.
Arguments by the three newspapers
The newspapers will present a series of arguments, backed up by previous court rulings, for why the C.W. Mining lawsuit should be thrown out of court. These include:
1. The newspapers are protected by Utahs public interest privilege, which covers publications concerning public health and safety and the functioning of government bodies, so long as the reporting was not made with malice.
2. Given the context of a heated labor dispute many similar cases have been decided in Utah and other courts nationally involving spirited public debates where charges and counter-charges cannot be taken as defamatory.
3. Statements of opinion are constitutionally protected. Aside from editorials, which are clearly expressions of opinion, the remaining allegedly defamatory statements cited by the company are reports of the opinions, claims, and positions of the workers participating in the union-organizing fight at the Co-Op mine.
4. Newspapers are protected against defamation claims when reporting on official government proceedings, such as NLRB hearings and related rulings.
5. The company cannot sue on behalf of 23 individually named managers at the mine, since reporting by the newspapers about the dispute was focused on the actions of the company, and not the individual plaintiffs cited in the companys lawsuit.
6. Attorneys for the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret Morning News will also argue there is a strong case for protection of their clients under neutral reporting rules backed by a number of courts.
Attorneys for the Militant have reserved the right to use this particular argument. In their written response to the C.W. Mining lawsuit, Dryer and Petrogeorge wrote, The neutral reporting privilege… is satisfied by accurately reporting what was said or done by participants in the course of a newsworthy public controversy. The privilege has been ruled valid even when an author publishes an entirely one-sided view of people and events.
Attorneys for the three newspapers will also argue C.W. Mining should be held accountable for their attempt to use the courts to chill the news medias reporting of the dispute. They will press for awarding the newspapers attorneys fees and court costs incurred in defending themselves against the companys meritless claims.
Since all of the defendants have been charged with defamation, The companys ability to press its attack on the miners who are at the center of this fight, and the UMWA, and other defendants, will be weakened if the court rules favorably on the motions by the three newspapers to dismiss the lawsuit, Sandler said. We have no way of knowing now how soon the judge will rule on the newspapers motions to dismiss the suit.
Campaign for endorsements
Supporters of the Militant are campaigning now to garner as many endorsements and contributions as possible before the June 7 hearing. Material with updated endorsers lists will be regularly posted on the Militants website (www.themilitant.com) so that anyone interested can download them and use them.
At the end of May, some 40 union officials attending the Utah AFL-CIO executive board meeting in Salt Lake City received material urging support for the Militant Fighting Fund in their delegate packets. Partisans of the Militant Fighting Fund will be following up with phone calls and visits.
As a long-time union member in both the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America, I support the Militant Fighting Funds campaign against the Utah coal owners harassment lawsuit, wrote Nick Castle, a film director in Los Angeles, in a May 25 letter. We in the Hollywood film community have a stake in spreading the word about the issues in the lawsuit filed against the Militant and the Socialist Workers Party.
The SWP is cited in the lawsuit on charges of defamation based on the false claim by C.W. Mining bosses that the party owns and controls the Militant.
I am deeply angry at the phony defamation suit that C.W. Mining has filed, Castles letter says. The charges against the miners and their supporters, Utahs main daily papers, the Militant newspaper, and others are a blatant attack on freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
After pointing to the Militants long record of consistent coverage and support for labor struggles since the paper was first published 77 years ago, Castle concludes: Thats why everyone who upholds civil liberties should win supportboth political and financialfor the legal and public defense of the Militant and Socialist Workers Party against this lawsuit. Such attacks on the First Amendment should not be tolerated.
Endorsements and contributions should be sent to the Militant Fighting Fund at P.O. Box 520994, Salt Lake City, Utah 84152-0994. E-mail: MilitantFightingFund@yahoo.com
Utah miners plan picket, other actions to press union fight
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