2015

Industrial Worker (January/February 2015)

Articles from the January/February 2015 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at iww.org

Anti-police brutality protest shakes things up at the Mall Of America

An account by x378436 of an illegal rally at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

On Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, a protest organized by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis aiming to shut down the Mall of America took place. The demonstration was part of the ongoing movement against police brutality and structural racism in police departments nationwide. Thousands of protesters crowded into the rotunda of the largest shopping mall in North America with banners proclaiming solidarity with Ferguson and “black lives matter.” Chants of “Hands up, don't shoot!” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” echoed through the mall and sometimes got loud enough to shake the windows. Protesters who showed up a little late were greeted by members of the Bloomington Police Department dressed in head-to-toe riot gear and plainclothes mall security guards. Several members of the Twin Cities IWW were present and a few were arrested when they tried to break through these police lines set up to block protesters’ access to the rotunda and the other half of the mall. An entire section of the mall was entirely shut down, with all the shops closed. Many food court workers walked off their jobs and stood with their hands up while still wearing their Auntie Anne’s Pretzels or Dairy Queen uniforms. Employees at the animal-friendly cosmetics shop, Lush, stood outside their store with their hands up in solidarity with the protesters. Many employees who were trapped inside their shops by the barricades that mall security guards set up stood by the shop windows looking out at the protests and raised their fists in support.

For a few hours, the Mall of America was partially shut down and the people who worked there seemed totally fine with it, and even supportive in some cases. Whether or not food court workers who abandoned their posts and joined the protest could be called a “wildcat strike” is up for debate, but it certainly speaks volumes that this is an issue that resonates with so many. It resonates enough with people that they are willing to refuse to work and instead take action against a white supremacist police state. Previous Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area have linked the Service Employee International Union’s (SEIU’s) Fight for 15 and Fast Food Forward campaigns with the movement against police violence. McDonald’s workers, still in their uniforms, blocked highways and led chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Some of them participated in die-ins on the highway or in the middle of busy intersections. The fact that many people of color who experience the brunt of police violence also make up a considerable amount of those who work at low-wage fast food and service jobs speaks volumes about the white supremacist capitalist system that we find ourselves living in today. It is the hope of this Wobbly and many others within the general antipolice movement gaining traction that we can link direct action against bosses who exploit us for our labor and pay us menial compensation with direct action against a State which uses violence to enforce a white supremacist and patriarchal social order.

Actions like “Hands Up Don’t Ship” (a symbolic protest by rank-and-file workers at the United Parcel Service [UPS] hub in Minneapolis in which workers refused to ship packages from Law Enforcement Targets Inc.) and these spontaneous walkouts by food court workers at the Mall of America are just the beginning of what is hopefully a new movement: a movement which can begin to combat both the mistreatment at the hands of the employing class and the mistreatment at the hands of the police; a movement that can bring working-class people together regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation and fight for its emancipation. The Twitter personality “@zellie,” who has been extremely active in reporting what has been going on in Ferguson and also in New York in response to the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, said “If you ever wondered what you would be doing in the Civil Rights Movement, now is the time to find out.” Let us all find out together. In the face of such blatant disregard for the lives of people of color in this nation by the police, inaction on our part is complacence.

The labor movement of the 21st century cannot avoid the presence of white supremacy or patriarchy in our society. It must combat them as well as combat capitalism. Then and only then will we begin to see a much less miserable world, one in which all of us will be free to carve out our own destinies free from the confines of wage labor, patriarchal subjugation, and white supremacist marginalization. Wobblies of the world, let’s get to work!

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (January/February 2015)

The toughest skin - Liberté Locke

A great, short article by Liberté Locke demonstrating the differing experiences one can have at work, based on issues of identity.

Being a woman means knowing mostly women will actually read this column.

As a woman who works in retail, I am making next-to-nothing for serving everyone.

I have always worked with my hands. I have used them to care of other people’s children. I have used them to clean bachelor pads while men I don’t know watch television and occasionally look me up and down when I know that this will not be a reoccurring gig. When men stay home to watch the housekeeper they hired from Craigslist for next-to-nothing, they were hoping to get more than their money’s worth to watch a disenfranchised broke woman clean for them. I’ve been asked why I was wearing so much, asked how much I weigh, asked why anyone would hire me “looking like that.”

I’ve been called every insult, been “offered” paid and unpaid sex work from complete strangers while selling them cups of coffee for barely over the minimum wage. And I have considered it.

I know touching a man’s hand while giving him change makes for a 75 percent chance I’ll get a tip. I know laughing when he asks if I’m on the menu means not being called “bitch.” I’m called “bitch” often.

Being a large woman means that thin rich New York white ladies will almost always change their drink orders after looking me up and down to non-fat, nowhip, and sugar-free.

Being an injured woman worker wearing wrist braces on both hands while making drinks at neck-breaking speeds means undoubtedly that the few people that feign concern mostly want to waste my time telling me how I don’t take care of myself, how losing weight will help my arms. They will make every assumption about me, my class, my life, and assume I somehow did this to myself and not capitalism.

Being a big, injured, openly-queer woman, exhausted, overworked, underpaid, almost bottom-rung worker at a major corporate chain means that I’m on display constantly—for every judgment and every critique. Being confident means customers go out of their way to break me down because shit rolls downhill and their jobs suck too, but differently. Very differently.

I know being a woman organizer is breaking down from all the misogyny I experience daily, the ableism, the homophobia, the transphobia (from openly supporting and loving trans people, and admitting to being a bit fagboi myself), being truly working class—born and bred—that male organizers will hear all that as counter-revolutionary complaining or “identity politics” for those with the time to be all academic about my reality. One such even said I wasted his time with it. Same such said I needed “tougher skin” for this work, meaning unionizing.

Being an injured queer fast food working woman who has always made her money through physical labor and knows homelessness, and knows need, and feels compassion for others’ struggles...I know that means that I embody toughness; even through my tears, and even through my breakdowns. Even through my struggle with daily misogyny, fatphobia, homophobia and ableism, I keep on keeping on. I realize that I can defend my emotional state until I’ve lost my voice and broken my own heart but that true allies, true comrades, true Wobblies would never ask me to do such a thing.

I’m still fighting, I’m still breathing, and that’s in spite of the haters and people who misunderstand me. This life ain’t easy, and it ain’t over. And I’m not giving up.

“Marginalized Workers’ Voices” is a new column for women, gender minorities, and any LGBTQ+ Fellow Worker. It’s for Wobblies of color, workers with disabilities, and any other marginalized voice of the One Big Union. If you’d like to contribute, please send your article to iw[at]iww.org with the subject line “Marginalized Workers’ Voices.”

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (January/February 2015)

Industrial Worker (April 2015)

Articles from the April 2015 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at iww.org.

Liverpool IWW demonstrates for precarious workers

A short account of a protest outside a job centre in Liverpool.

Members of Liverpool IWW joined around a dozen activists, including people from the benefits advice group Reclaim, outside West Derby job centre on Eaton Road this lunchtime. This was part of a national day of action in solidarity with Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist Tony Cox. Tony was arrested on 29th January after Arbroath job centre management called police to stop him representing a vulnerable jobseeker. We protested to drive home the message that ‘advocacy is not a crime’, and aiming to build towards smashing sanctions against unemployed workers.

The G4S ‘security guards’ immediately called the cops when we showed up with our leaflets, placards and banners, which was pretty easy as the police station is right next door! A group of quite a few police went into the job centre and spoke to G4S employees for some time, before coming out and telling us they had no problem with us protesting (neither could they, it’s supposed to be our right!), but asking us to remove our banners from the job centre wall. We refused, as the job centre is funded by tax payers – i.e. all of us – so should be considered public property. The cops didn’t want to push it, and they went back to their station.

Perhaps one reason for their decision to leave us in peace was the fact that the demo was getting MASSIVE public support. Not only were job centre users (if anyone actually ‘uses’ a job centre these days) pleased to get info on their rights, but there was an absolute racket from the number of people passing in cars beeping their horns and shouting their support. Clearly, we’ve now reached a stage where large numbers of working class people are very aware of the horrific damage done by the government’s sanctions regime, and are glad to see people fighting back.

We will be organising more with our friends in Reclaim over the next few months, as we aim to build resistance amongst the most precarious sections of the local working class.

Originally posted: February 25, 2015 at Liverpool IWW
Republished in the Industrial Worker (April 2015)

Syndicalist union protests migrant worker exploitation in Berlin

Evidently, a construction site is nothing for wet blankets. But besides the hard physical work, exploitation and inhuman treatment of migrant workers from the European Union (EU) seems to be the current practice on many German construction sites. What is new now is that cheated workers are fighting back! In the autumn of 2014, Polish colleagues found support from the Freie Arbeiterinnenund Arbeiter-Union (FAU) Freiburg. By the end of the year and continuing into 2015, Romanian workers—unionized with the FAU since November 2014—are fighting for unpaid wages totaling in 60,000 euros ($67,000).

From July until mid-October 2014, the comrades worked in the center of Germany’s capital to construct the “Mall of Berlin.” For constructing this shopping and apartment complex, which opened solemnly (despite unfinished construction sites and defects in fire safety) at Potsdamer Platz in autumn 2014, hundreds of workers from Romania slaved away for 10 hours a day and received only 6 euros per hour (or approximately $6). Due to problems with the pay and a lack of promised accommodation, workers staged protests and crossed their arms. Finally, in hope for betterment, the workers switched from one subcontractor (Openmallmaster) to another (Metatec). In the end, none of the two subcontractors even paid the agreed-upon wage completely, which—being below the industry’s minimum wage of 11.15 euros ($11.92) per hour—is illegally low.

“They didn’t only not pay our wages,” a comrade explained, “several times, we were treated arbitrarily and menaced (with violence, too). They did withhold written contracts from us, and they gave us no or completely rotten accommodations.” Another comrade stated: “I had two goals when staging the protest: first, I wanted to fight for our dignity and, secondly, for the money.”

“The first goal, we already achieved,” he added.

Before joining FAU Berlin, the comrades had already gone to the publiclyfunded counseling office for posted workers sent to Berlin, situated in the house of the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (German Confederation of Trade Unions, or DGB). The DGB has confirmed the mounting number of workers from Romania and Bulgaria seeking counseling, as does the intercultural association Amaro Foro. Therefore, the comrades’ cases might be considered symptomatic of the increased exploitation and cheating inflicted on workers from EU countries who are hired for the lowest possible wages and, then, are not even fully paid. Still, legal advice and written claims’ assertions do not adequately replace union action.

The latter has been provided quickly and resolutely by FAU Berlin, particularly by its section for migrant workers called the Foreigners Section, as well as by a dedicated FAU working group. Right before Christmas 2014, by means of daily rallies and a noisy demonstration of some 300 people, the grassroots union and its new comrades made the “Mall of Shame” (as they call it), a symbol for the exploitation of migrant workers. By the end of January 2015 a Brandenburg newspaper stated it was “a subject of reporting of all Berlin press.” They’ve been wholeheartedly supported by FAU members from all over the country.

In the meantime, the bosses try to avoid their responsibility and take distance from one another. Customerinvestor Harald Huth (HGHI) told the press: “We have nothing to do with these workers. This is an issue for FCL [Fettchenhauer Controlling & Logistic], which we’ve paid completely for all provided services.” But the executing FCL declared bankruptcy by mid-December, which neither hinders ex-general manager Andreas Fettchenhauer to be continually active in the construction industry with half a dozen other companies nor attempts to silence FAU Berlin by the legal means of a temporary injunction. In the meantime, the subcontractors’ representatives declared they “have never employed Romanian workers” (Metatec) and that they had not gotten any money from FCL (Openmallmaster). The first assertion is refuted by so called “renunciations” that some individual workers signed in order to get at least part of their wages. The latter assertion is vehemently refuted by Fettchenhauer himself. And despite Huth’s claim in mid-December to have broken with Fettchenhauer, an “FCL Fettchenhauer Construction GmbH” is right now working briskly on the renovation site of a new shopping center in Berlin-Lichterfelde—a project of Huth’ian HGHI.

As for FAU Berlin, the union continues its protests in 2015, by leafleting, for example, or hold a rally at the subcontractors’ offices. Additionally, the grassroots union supported its comrades in filing lawsuits against the subcontractors. And the FAU continues to fight back against the use of “temporary injunction” and the restrictions of union liberty. So, this struggle will remain thrilling.

For more up-to-date information, visit https://berlin.fau.org/kaempfe/mall-ofshame. Follow the campaign on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mallofshame.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2015)

Aim high, Fellow Workers! - FW Colt Thundercat

An article by Colt Thundercat on the problem of 'idling' in a workplace organizing campaign.

I’m writing this to talk about an important issue that I’ve seen crop up in many IWW campaigns, including my own: that of “idling.” This is one of the most disheartening and destructive feelings that seems to happen pretty frequently. Our campaigns seem stuck at a certain low level, where we put a lot of effort into achieving small gains on the shop floor, often successfully, but it never seems to grow the committee or build the campaign. Unsurprisingly, it leads to a massive amount of burnout and to campaigns slowly and depressingly sputtering out.

To me, it seems like one of the core issues at play here is a backwards view of how escalation works and how we get co-workers to join our campaigns and the union. When I say backwards, what I mean is that we wait to escalate until we see our committees grow to a certain level, always tackling low-level shop-floor issues and never expanding beyond a certain work area to a broader level. While we are often successful at improving the quality of our and our co-workers’ lives at work, it rarely seems to build people’s involvement. Unfortunately, I’ve seen more than a few campaigns “idle” under this conservative interpretation of escalation.

I believe one of the reasons that this happens is because Wobblies and our non- IWW co-workers tend to view these types of gains in a very different manner. We often have a tendency to view such things as political and important in a way that our co-workers—even those who participate in shop floor actions—do not. In my own campaign, where we spent a solid year in this phase, we would engage in small marches on the boss, slowdowns, and other actions around various shop-floor grievances. While we viewed these actions as vital union activity, our co-workers tended to view them as “That time we told our supervisor to turn on the fans because it was too hot” or “That time we said ‘fuck it’ and worked slow for a few days.” It was something they were happy to do, but not all that significant.

We need to get out of this pattern of idling if we’re going to grow as a fighting workers’ organization. In our campaign the way we’ve done this is to turn this view of escalation on its head. Instead of waiting until we are a certain size in order to escalate, we have taken a tack of using a particular goal in order to push our organizing to the next level. To me, the key component of this plan is summed up in two words: aim high.

It was aiming high that pushed us to take on the action that most of the IWW, the labor Left, and many of our co-workers, now know us for. After the Ferguson uprising started, about a dozen of us working at the United Parcel Service (UPS) sorting hub here refused to handle cargo from a company making racist shooting range targets for the police in Missouri and elsewhere in an action called “Hands Up, Don’t Ship.” At the time, the action made little sense from the conventional view of escalation: we had only two committee members in the large shop, far fewer than what it would take to pull anything of any significance off. Moreover, it seemed like there was almost no hope of any reasonable success.

And that is almost precisely why it worked. What started as a random shot in the dark caught on quickly. The other organizer and I knew we needed our coworkers’ participation to do it, and so we pushed ourselves to sell the idea to them. We kicked into overdrive and chatted with many of them about the idea and found massive support despite the nearly non-existent expectation of success. As it turned out, the thing that pushed folks to be involved had little to do with whether or not they thought it would succeed, but rather that it was a fight for which they were passionate and with which they had a personal connection. Against all odds, we succeeded and the company rerouted all of their shipments to a different facility for fear of disruptions.

Right now, we’ve gone one further, initiating a campaign to fight for a $5 wage increase at all of the Twin Cities’ locations of our company. It’s the type of struggle everyone knows will take a lot of people to get done. I think that’s exactly why the reaction to it has been so positive. We obtained nearly 100 workers’ signatures on our petition in a two-day period. The petition itself allowed us to follow up with our co-workers who signed it and see what level of engagement they are interested in having with the campaign.

Instead of waiting to take on the issues that our co-workers are more deeply passionate about until they’re already on board, we need to take on fights that will excite them to the point of being active and interested in the IWW. Yes, we need to take care not to overextend ourselves and get people fired. We need to be smart about our actions and make sure our coworkers are on board with any plans we make—and, importantly, that we’re open to modifying them with the help of our coworkers as they get involved. Even when we fail, we often find ourselves better off for it due to bosses making concessions that we couldn’t have won before. More importantly, we end up with many more of our co-workers excited about the prospect of future fights. We shouldn’t be afraid of aiming high and talking big. That big picture is what’s going to get people excited, and excitement is the fuel that propels our campaigns forward.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2015)

Killers of IWW member Frank Teruggi sentenced in Chile

In February 2015, two former Chilean military intelligence officers were convicted of the murder of IWW member Teruggi and another American, Charles Horman. Teruggi and Horman were kidnapped, tortured and murdered during the military coup in Chile in 1973.

Frank Teruggi, an IWW member from Chicago and a native of Des Plaines, Ill., was kidnapped, tortured and murdered during the military coup in Chile in 1973. On Feb. 4, 2015 two Chilean military intelligence officers were convicted of the murder of Fellow Worker (FW) Teruggi and another American, Charles Horman. Brigadier General Pedro Espinoza was sentenced to seven years in the killings of both men. Rafael González, who worked for Chilean Air Force Intelligence as a “civilian counterintelligence agent,” was sentenced to two years in the Horman murder only. Espinoza is currently serving multiple sentences for other human rights crimes as well. A third indicted man, U.S. Naval Captain Ray Davis, head of the U.S. Military Group at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago at the time of the coup, has since died.

Teruggi, 24, and Horman, 31, had gone to Chile to see and experience the new socialist government of President Salvador Allende. FW Terrugi participated in protest marches in Santiago following the unsuccessful June 1973 military attempt referred to as the “Tanquetazo” or “Tancazo.” FBI documents show that the agency monitored him, labeling him a “subversive” due to his anti-Vietnam war activities, and participation in assisting draft evaders. FBI files also list his street address in Santiago. Chilean soldiers later dragged him out of this house when he was arrested.

Judge Jorge Zepeda’s ruling stated that the murders of Horman and Teruggi were part of “a secret U.S. information gathering operation carried out by the U.S. Military Group in Chile on the political activities of American citizens in the United States and in Chile.” Sergio Corvalán, a human rights lawyer working for the Horman and Teruggi families on the case, told reporter Pascale Bonnefoy of the New York Times that he felt the ruling confirmed what the families had long believed— that Chilean military officers would not have acted against them on their own. They must have had an “OK” from U.S. Officials.

The families of Teruggi and Horman were awarded a cash settlement. Under Chilean law, a mandated appeal process must occur before final action is taken. Janis Teruggi Page, Frank Teruggi’s sister, told Costa Rica’s The Tico Times:

“Joyce Horman [Charles Horman’s widow] and I still have an appeals process to get through, which may last six more months. Page said that she and Horman would like the U.S. government to look into these killings more thoroughly. “We are now asking the U.S. Navy, the State Department and the CIA to investigate on the basis of the information (in Judge Zepeda’s ruling) pointing to U.S. officials, especially Captain Ray Davis.”

Documentation published by Peter Kornbluh in his book “The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability” confirms that Frank and his roommate, David Hathaway, were taken from their home at 9 p.m. on Sept. 20, questioned at a nearby Carabineros station and then delivered to the national stadium, which had become a holding tank, torture chamber and execution site for thousands of activists and others simply caught up in the frenzy of coup. Hathaway survived the ordeal. Chilean journalist Pascale Bonnefoy Miralles, who has covered the Teruggi case for a number of years, in her book “Terrorismo de Estadio,” quotes a Belgian named André Van Lancker, also tortured in the stadium. Van Lancker was told by other detainees that they saw Frank Teruggi during an interrogation in the stadium. He was beaten and tortured with electric shocks, then killed by a machine gun. The torturers realized they had gone “too far,” she reports, and were afraid of having problems with the U.S. government, so they kept Frank’s name off the lists of prisoners. His body was later left in a public street, where it was discovered the following day, Sept. 21, just after 9 p.m., and brought to the morgue.

For days, the Teruggi family did not know what had happened to their son. Steve Brown who covered the story extensively for the Daily Herald Suburban newspapers in Chicago, remembers interviewing FW Teruggi’s father, Frank Teruggi, Sr., who was trying to get more information and help from the U.S. government:

“He was disturbed. . . that there wasn’t more attention being given to this thing (by the Nixon administration).” This should not have been a surprise, however, as just before the coup against the Allende government, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger declared “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

This month’s sentencing followed a ruling last June by Judge Zepeda that found that Teruggi and Horman, in separate incidents, had been killed by Chilean military officials based on information provided to them by U.S. intelligence operatives in Chile. Judge Zepeda’s investigation, which began in 2000, asserted that the targeted killings were part of “a secret United States information-gathering operation carried out by the U.S. MILGROUP in Chile on the political activities of American citizens in the United States and in Chile.”

A report published in September 2000 by the U.S. Intelligence Community report affirmed that the CIA “actively supported the military Junta after the overthrow of Allende.” But, in spite of this admission, much of the specifics of the U.S. role remain obscured.

“After 14 years of investigation, the Chilean courts have provided new details on how and why Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi were targeted and executed by Pinochet’s forces,” said Peter Kornbluh. “But legal evidence and the verdict of history remain elusive on the furtive U.S. role in the aftermath of the military coup.”

Kornbluh is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., that has been collecting and analyzing documents about the U.S. role in the Chilean coup since the mid-1980s. In June 2000, they released electronic documents (http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB33/index.html) relating to the deaths of Teruggi and Horman. These documents and others were part of the evidence reviewed by Judge Zepeda.

In 2011, Zepeda, a Chilean special investigative judge, indicted and attempted to extradite former U.S. Navy Captain Ray Davis. Davis, it was later discovered, had left the United States in 2011 and was living secretly in Chile, where he died at the age of 88 in a nursing home in April 2013—before he could be located by authorities. His death leaves many questions unanswered.

The 1982 film “Missing” portrays Ray Davis (called “Capt. Ray Tower” in the movie) and other U.S. Embassy officials as being much more involved in the coup and its aftermath than the U.S. public was aware. In an attempt to gain more understanding of what had happened to his son, Frank Teruggi, Sr. joined a delegation that traveled to Chile from Feb. 16-23, 1974. The group, called the Chicago Commission of Inquiry into the Status of Human Rights in Chile, stated in its report (excerpted and printed in the New York Review of Books on May 30, 1974): “The Embassy of the United States seems to have made no serious efforts to protect the American citizens present in Chile during and after the military takeover.”

The importance of Judge Zepeda’s ruling, and the fact that it clearly indicts a U.S. official for having a role in these deaths, may help to move the investigations forward, but the full extent of involvement by the U.S. government in these events may never be known. After the sentences were announced in February, Frank Teruggi’s sister, Janis Teruggi Page, told journalist Pascale Bonnefoy in the New York Times, “Frank, a charitable and peace-loving young man, was the victim of a calculated crime by the Chilean military, but the question of U.S. complicity remains yet to be answered.”

Frank Randall Teruggi was buried in a cemetery in Des Plaines, Ill.. According to newspaper reports at the time, more than 100 friends and family members attended, and the late South African exiled activist poet Dennis Brutus wrote this poem for the occasion:

FOR FRANK TERUGGI
(Killed in Chile, Buried in Chicago)

A simple rose
a single candle
a black coffin
a few mourners
weeping;
for the unsung brave
who sing in the dark
who defy the colonels
and who know
a new world stirs.

More about Teruggi, and Horman and the story of their murders can be found at http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/09/187856/other-911-seeking-truth-about-frank-teruggi and http://www.hormantruth.org/ht/ bio_teruggi.

With excerpts from the Associated Press and internet files.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2015)

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Did Commies kill Wobblies during the Spanish Civil War? - Raymond S. Solomon

An article by Raymond S. Solomon about Stalinist repression during the Spanish Civil War.

In September 1938, Wobbly Ivan Silverman and “two unidentified Wobblies” were “forced by commies onto a bare field to face fascist machine guns [in] Spain.” This history was cited by Fellow Worker DJ Alperovitz in a Nov. 2013 article in the Industrial Worker that lists murdered Wobblies from 1907 until the present time. The article was titled “In November Who Do We Remember?” (page 6-7). In the right hand column, or sidebar, of this massive listing were small reproductions of parts of newspaper stories involving a large number of these Wobbly deaths. These terrible incidents include Wobblies being shot by thugs, killed by the Ku Klux Klan, dying in Soviet Russia’s Gulag Archipelago, and beaten to death by various company guards. In the bottom righthand corner is a clipping from the Sept. 10, 1938 edition of the Industrial Worker with the headline “IVAN SILVERMAN, TWO OTHERS KILLED IN SPAIN.”

This is typical of a lesser-known aspect of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939)—that is the struggle within the Loyalist side between the communists on one side and the left-wing parties and the anarchists on the other. It was a civil war within a civil war. The communists wanted the Spanish Revolution of workers and peasants stopped or slowed down. It did not want the Spanish Loyalist cause to be seen as a radical cause.

Some of the most consistent reporting on this was in the periodical Spanish Revolution. It was put out by the Vanguard Group, an anarchist youth group, but it had guidance and support from Wobblies, some of whom were integral to the Vanguard Group. These people included Herbert Mahler, Carlo Tresca, Sam Dolgoff (who often wrote under the pen name Sam Weiner) Roman Weinrebe, and Clara Freedman (my mother), who was both an anarchist and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. My father Sidney Solomon (who wrote under the name S. Morrison) was very involved in both the publication of Vanguard and of Spanish Revolution. He was very sympathetic with the Wobblies. I am therefore going to summarize the reports in Spanish Revolution that cover this conflict within the Loyalist side of The Spanish Civil War. I appreciate the fact that the website libcom.org has made back issues of Spanish Revolution available on the internet. I am going to intersperse this with other sources including the Industrial Worker, George Orwell, Spartacus Educational, and Wikipedia. I have cited Spanish Revolution in “History of Workers’ Revolution In Catalonia” (May 2014 Industrial Worker, page 14). Please keep in mind that Spanish Revolution was monthly and twice monthly, and that communication technology at the time was not what it is now, so there will be some time-lags between the dates of events and their reporting in Spanish Revolution:

The Feb. 8, 1936 issue of Spanish Revolution reported that French communist Andre Marty (1886 - 1956) was a commander in the International Brigade. During the Russian Civil War he led a mutiny on a ship bringing men and arms to fight against the Russian revolution. This was part of an article about the International Brigades, noting their multinational make-up (Spanish Revolution, Vol. 1. No. 11). Wikipedia reported that Marty was quite autocratic and “saw fifth columnists everywhere.” In contrast to this, George Orwell, in “Homage to Catalonia,” reported that while serving in the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) militia, dissent was greatly tolerated. At that time he expressed agreement with the communist view that the war came before the revolution, which was in contrast to the POUM and anarchist view that the war and the revolution were the same. He changed his views after the May Day conflict of 1937 (see below).

In two items on the front page of Spanish Revolution of March 12, 1937, (Vol. 1, No. 13), the New York Vanguard group joined in and reported on the anarchist defense of the Spanish POUM. The articles were titled “ANARCHISTS AGAINST P.O.U.M. PERSERCUTIONS” and “STOP PARTY STRIFE ANARCHISTS DEMAND.” The Spanish POUM was a Leninist but anti-Stalinist organization. In part, the POUM was an offshoot from the Trotskyites, and was therefore hated by the communists. The above mentioned articles called for an end to the persecution of the POUM and for disseminating lies about it—such as the POUM being agents of Hitler and Mussolini. It also vehemently denied that the anarchists shared the communist view about the POUM, as was claimed by the Communist Party of Spain. The editors of Spanish Revolution pointed out that since the anarchists had sacrificed their ideological purity to form a coalition with other parties in the cause of fighting against fascism, there should not be internal party strife, as manifested by the communist campaign against the POUM.

The essence of the communist demands was that the revolution should be postponed, that collectivization of factories and agricultural land not proceed, and that the defense of Loyalist Spain be changed from the militia system and replaced by a centralized “disciplined” military. One revolutionary response to that appeared in the Feb. 16, 1937 issue of the anarchist publication, Solidaridad Obreva: “Unified command? Yes; but under the control of the proletarian organization.” The communists wanted, in contrast, a government-controlled military. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union directed that the arms it supplied should not go to the Aragon Front, which had many anarchists and POUM troops.

But the plot thickens, and the threat to the revolution increases, as shown in the April 9, 1937 dated edition of Spanish Revolution (Vol.1, No. 15). One headline was titled “TOWARDS A POLITICAL CRISIS IN CATALONIA” (Ibid p. 2). It seems that there was a Stalinist-bourgeois block against the advancement of revolution. In “Homage to Catalonia,” George Orwell summarized the new internal alignment on the Loyalist side as:

1.The anarchists: the POUM and Prime Minister Largo Caballero’s leftwing segment of the socialists within the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) were for the revolution; versus

2.The communists: President Manuel Azana’s Republican Party and conservative elements of the socialists (typified by Juan Negrin) against going full speed ahead with the economic and social revolution.

Two popular jokes of that period were, “If you’re too conservative to join the Republican Party, you can always join the Communist Party.” Also, “Save Spain from Marxism! Vote Communist!”

The publishers of Spanish Revolution wanted to explain, among other things, what was happening on the Loyalist side and why it was so important. There was a meeting held on April 4, 1937. The main speakers included Wobblies Carlo Tresca and Sam Weiner (a.k.a. Sam Dolgoff).

In late April, George Orwell was on temporary leave from the POUM militia, where he was fighting on the Aragon Front. As Orwell recorded in “Homage to Catalonia,” he wanted to transfer to the International Column (i.e. the International Brigade) where he felt there was more significant fighting. He needed a recommendation from a communist, and had sought out a communist friend. He sensed the tension. May Day 1937 was approaching. There was talk of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and UGT marching together. In Catalonia, the past relationships between those two unions had not been good, in contrast to other areas in Spain. Orwell reported that due to this tension, the May Day parade was canceled in Barcelona. Orwell saw an irony in that Red Barcelona was the only major city in non-fascist Europe not to have a May Day parade.

Then, the Barcelona police and the communists demanded that the anarchists surrender the telephone exchange, which the anarchists had been running since the beginning of the Spanish Revolution. This led to a week of fighting with the police, with communists on one side and the anarchists and the POUM on the other side. Orwell was on the side of the anarchists. The fighting, which lasted from May 3-8 1937, was known as “The May Days.” One of the worst atrocities during the 1937 May Days was the murder of Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri by communists in Barcelona. Shortly after the May Days, Largo Caballero (“the Spanish Lenin”) was replaced by the more conservative Juan Negrin. As a result of the May Days, Orwell could not in good faith enlist in the International Brigade.

Orwell did go back to fight again in the POUM militia. During that time, Orwell was shot through his neck in battle. After recovery, he returned to Barcelona about five weeks after the May Days. The police and the communists were arresting POUM members, both Spaniards and foreign volunteers associated with the POUM. Orwell and his wife Eileen Blair escaped to France. Research by Michael Shelden, cited in his book “Orwell: The Authorized Biography,” shows that George Orwell (a.k.a. Eric Blair) and Eileen Blair were going to be arrested and publicly tried by the new communist-dominated government of Barcelona.

The Oct. 22, 1937, issue of Spanish Revolution (Vol. II, No.3, page 2) reported on the murder in Spain of Bob Smillie, a friend of George Orwell. Smillie had been arrested in the crackdown on the POUM and their Independent Labour Party allies. Although it was claimed that Smillie died of complications of an appendicitis operation, he had, in fact, had his appendix out in Britain. According to Spartacus Educational, Smillie had fought against Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.

The same issue of Spanish Revolution reported that General Enrique Lister, a Spanish communist who had received military training in the Soviet Union, despite being popular outside of Spain, was breaking up Spanish peasant collectives in Aragon and Catalonia.

Despite the fact that George Orwell bore witness to the Communist Party’s betrayal of the Spanish Revolution, including the murder and arrests of fellow POUM fighters, he asserted to the great merit of the communists who fought for Loyalist Spain. As Orwell wrote in “Homage to Catalonia,” “Please note that I am saying nothing against the rank-and-file communists, least of all against the thousands of communists who died heroically around Madrid.”

Ernest Hemingway said, “No men ever entered the earth more honorably than those who died in Spain.” These included, as Alperovitz cited, in the November 2013 Industrial Worker, an “Unknown numbers of IWWs…[who] died while fighting fascists while serving with the Republican forces in Spain” and specifically Lou Walsh, who “Died while fighting with the Catalonian Militia, Aragon front, Spain [on] June 16th, 1937.” And, as reported by Matt White in “IWW Members Who Fought in the Spanish Civil War” (Industrial Worker, November, 2013), at least five other Wobblies died in the conflict:

Heinrich Bortz, German anti-Nazi, whose battlefield death was recorded on the Oct. 23, 1937 issue of the Industrial Worker; Ted Dickinson, Wobbly from Australia, who was executed as a prisoner of war after being captured by Franco’s forces; Harry Owens, who fought in the forces of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, and was killed in the middle of 1937; Louis Rosenberg, who, “According to his death notice from the CNT…was killed in action with the Durruti International Battalion.” He was killed together with an unknown anarchist from Pennsylvania; Harry Schlesinger was killed in the latter part of 1938, when the war was almost lost, while serving in the Lincoln Battalion.

To learn more about the above five heroes, and other Wobblies killed in the Spanish Civil War read Matt White’s most excellent article in the November 2013 Industrial Worker.

Many of the veterans of the Lincoln Battalion and the George Washington Battalion were treated very poorly when they returned to America. Many were accused of disloyalty. Some were called before Congressional Committees during the McCarthy era. A large number were blacklisted. Many could not get adequate medical care for serious wounds acquired during the Spanish Civil War. Leading Wobbly organizer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn said they were discriminated against for “being prematurely antifascist.”

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2015)

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