Arturo Giovannitti

Arturo Giovannitti



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Arturo Giovannitti, the son of a pharmacist, was born in Ripabottoni, Italy, on 7th January, 1884. After finishing his education he emigrated to Canada. At the time he was deeply religious and he studied in several theological seminaries near Montreal. In 1904 he moved to New York City.

Giovannitti did a variety of different jobs after arriving in America. He was also an active trade unionist and became the leader of the Italian Socialist Federation of North America. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and in 1911 he became the editor of Il Proletario, a radical Italian-language weekly.

In January 1912 the American Woolen Company in Lawrence, Massachusetts, reduced the wages of its workers. This caused a walk-out and the IW), who had been busy recruiting workers into the union, took control of the dispute that became known as the Lawrence Textile Strike. The IWW formed a strike committee with two representatives from each of the nationalities in the industry. It was decided to demand a 15 per cent increase in wages, double-time for overtime work and a 55 hour week.

The mayor of Lawrence called in the local militia and attempts were made to stop the workers from picketing. Thirty-six of the workers were arrested and most of them sentenced to a year in prison. Money was collected throughout America to help the strikers.

The IWW sent Giovannitti to Lawrence to help organize relief. A network of soup kitchens and food distribution stations were set up and striking families received from $2 to $5 cash a week. Soon afterwards Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Bill Haywood, and Carlo Tresca of the IWW arrived in Lawrence and took over the running of the strike.

Dynamite was found in Lawrence and newspapers accused strikers of being responsible. However, John Breen, a local undertaker, was charged and arrested with planting the explosives in an attempt to discredit the IWW. It was later discovered that William Wood, the president of the American Woolen Company, had paid Breen $500. Another man, Ernest Pitman, who claimed that he had been present in the company offices in Boston when the plan was developed, committed suicide before he could give evidence in court. Wood was unable to explain why he had given Breen the money but charges against him were dropped.

The Lawrence Textile Strike became so violent that as William Cahn has pointed out in his book Lawrence 1912: The Bread and Roses Strike (1977): "To safeguard the health of small children during the strike, parents would send them to relatives and friends in other cities. Small tots were bundled up, with identification tags hung around their necks, and sent off to spend a few weeks in New York or Bridgeport or Barre or Philadelphia. Usually a reception demonstration would be given the children upon their arrival in a community.

The governor of Massachusetts ordered out the state militia and during one demonstration, a fifteen-year old boy was killed by a militiaman's bayonet. Soon afterwards a woman striker, Anna LoPizzo was shot dead. The union claimed that she had been killed by a police officer, but Joseph Caruso, a striker, was charged with her murder. Arturo Giovannitti and Joseph Ettor, who were three miles away speaking at a strike meeting, were arrested and charged as "accessories to the murder". The socialist lawyer, Fred H. Moore, was sent to Lawrence to defend them.

Faced with growing bad publicity, on 12th March, 1912, the American Woolen Company acceded to all the strikers' demands. By the end of the month, the rest of the other textile companies in Lawrence also agreed to pay the higher wages. However, Giovannitti and Ettor remained in prison without trial. Protest meetings took place in cities throughout America and the case eventually took place in Salem. On 26th November, 1912, both men were acquitted.

Giovannitti returned to New York City and began to associate with a group of socialists that lived in Greenwich Village. This included Max Eastman, John Reed, Floyd Dell, Robert Minor, Art Young, Michael Gold and Boardman Robinson. He also became a regular contributor to the socialist journal, The Masses. In 1914 Giovannitti published a book of poems, Arrows in the Gate, which had an introduction by Helen Keller.

Giovannitti believed that the First World War had been caused by the imperialist competitive system and that the USA should remain neutral. Over the next three years he was busy with anti-war agitation. He also founded two short-lived Italian-language political journals, Il Fuoco (1915) and Vita (1916). He also staged the first of his Italian-language dramas, Tenebre Rose.

The Industrial Workers of the World was virtually destroyed by its attempts to prevent American entry into the First World War and the Red Scare that followed. Giovannitti decided to abandon his involvement with revolutionary syndicalism and instead concentrated on traditional trade unionism. Over the next few years he played an important role in establishing the Italian Dress Makers Union and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. He also contributed to the New Masses journal.

In the 1920s and 1930s Giovannitti was considered to be one of the greatest orators in the labour movement. Max Eastman commented that Giovannitti and Joseph Ettor were as well known to American radicals as Lenin and Leon Trotsky. As Robert D'Attilio has pointed out: "Their voices, which had been among the most intelligent and the most energetic in the fight for freedom and social justice in the beginning of this century, faded, however, into obscurity, melancholy examples of how difficult it is to sustain a lifelong radical posture in America."

Arturo Giovannitti worked as a farmer and wine maker in California before he died on 31st October, 1959.

If there was any violence in Lawrence it was not Joe Ettor's fault. It was not my fault. If you must go back to the origin of all the trouble, gentleman of the jury, you will find that the origin and reason was the wage system. It was the infamous rule of domination of one man by another man. It was the same reason that fifty years ago impelled your great martyred President, Abraham Lincoln, by an illegal act, to issue the Proclamation of Emancipation - a thing which was beyond his powers as the Constitution of the United States expressed before that time.

They say you are free in this great and wonderful country. I say that politically you are, and my best compliments and congratulations for it. But I say you cannot be half free and half slave, and economically all the working class in the United States are as much slaves now as the negroes were forty and fifty years ago.

No one has ever given me a good reason why we should obey unjust laws. When a government depends for "law and order" upon the militia and the police, its mission in the world is nearly finished. We believe, at least we hope, that our capitalist government is near its end. We wish to hasten its end. I am sure this book will go on its way thrilling to new courage those who fight for freedom. It will move some to think and keep them glad that they have thought.

Until the end of World War II when his health failed, he wrote and spoke extensively in the struggle to establish organized labour. At various times he was a close associate of Max Eastman, Norman Thomas, David Dubinsky, and many others. At the fiery labor rallies in the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties, Mr. Giovannitti was in great demand as a speaker. A colorful figure, with a Van Dyke beard, a Lord Byron collar and flowing tie, he addressed Italian and English-speaking audiences with an equally flowery fluency.


The constructive side of syndicalism - Arturo Giovanitti

Written in 1913, Giovannitti, Secretary of the left wing Italian Socialist Federation and editor of Il Proletario attempts to distinguish syndicalism from trade unionism, reformist socialism and anarchism.

The Constructive Side of Syndicalism

Like all the other new theories that have loomed up in the horizon on the troubled waters of capitalist society, or, for that matter, any society whatever, syndicalism is naturally going to be very much maligned, calumniated, and revolted against, not only by those that are not in sympathy with it from the economic point of view, but also from those that are sincere in their beliefs and earnest in uplifting mankind to the higher plane of civilization. It has been ever so throughout history, and it is so today.

But whatever may be said against syndicalism, the fact is this, that syndicalism has given expression to all the hopes that were latent for centuries and centuries in the breasts of the poor and downtrodden of society that it represents the awakening of the working class that it represents one of the most powerful social forces today that makes for the uplifting of mankind to the higher plane of civilization that syndicalism represents all that is good, noble, uplifting in the heart of the proletariat. It is a fighting force today, it is the force today of capitalist society, but it is more than that. It is a constructive movement which will make for a new society, a society which will know neither master nor slave, and from which will have been forever eliminated the pauper and the millionaire, those who produce everything and own nothing, and those who do not produce anything and own all the good things of life.

An Old Fight in a New Form

This mighty struggle, which lately we have called class struggle, has gone on since the dawn of civilization and in every region, from the birth of mankind up to now. As Mr. Perkins told you this morning, it was in the darkest age a struggle between the slave and his master, afterwards between the serf and the baron, and now it is the struggle between the employee,—or the proletariat, if you want to call it by that word which is so very dear to us, — and the capitalist. It has assumed various forms and various shapes. It has fought by various methods it has compromised sometimes, and sometimes it has fought to a finish once, at least, it has remodeled and changed and completely revolutionized society, and today it is striving to do the same thing.

No Quarter Given or Taken

This mighty war, according to our theory and according to our study of the history of mankind, is something that cannot be arbitrated. It is something that cannot be neutralized, it is something that cannot be settled unless it be settled right. And we say that it cannot be settled right except in two ways, either that the capitalist society, capitalist class, by using all the oppressive weapons at their disposal will crush and destroy and obliterate in the hearts of the workers this magnificent spirit of rebellion which is so dear to us, and therefore drive back the course of history into the black ages, where the stronger ruled upon the weaker or it will be solved by the working class taking in their hands the reins of their own history and by driving out of existence this class which has been the abomination of mankind. Driving out this way, I say, not by destroying it, but by assimilating it into the ranks of the workers themselves.

The Creators of our Civilization must be its Rulers

Labor, being at the bottom of society, labor, being the exclusive — not only the only reason but the exclusive reason — of the present civilization, it is natural and it is logical that when labor has risen to the full conception of its importance, of its power, and of its utter necessity, labor will eventually control all the powers of society. It may control them through the State, it may control them through a friendly understanding between the capitalist and between the bosses, it may control them by assuming directly the superintendence of everything, but this fact remains, that without labor modern society cannot exist, and that without capitalism probably modern society will exist much better than it exists today.

The Worker will Solve his own Problems

They have said that syndicalism is a destructive movement that syndicalism would drive back humanity to the dark ages that it wants to tear down everything beautiful and everything good that we have built so patiently for ages and ages. I believe, and I affirm most solemnly, that syndicalism is the only constructive movement in society today it has nothing to destroy, it has everything to upbuild.

The social question, which has been the most perplexing question of the last five or six decades, is going to be solved only by those who are directly interested in solving it. However in earnest you may be to solve this question, let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that you can do absolutely nothing. The workers are the ones that are going to work out their own salvation. The workers are the ones who are going to dictate under what terms they want to work and under what terms they are going to produce whatever is necessary for the maintenance of society. Everybody speaks about the workers today the preacher from the pulpit is very much in earnest about bringing about some remedies whereby the working class might be benefited the politicians speak of nothing else but that all the political platforms are full of various plans for the poor, downtrodden working class. The capitalists, too, are racking their brains to invent all sorts of schemes in order to do something for those poor workingmen. Every one is willing to put a hand and a shoulder to the wheel to let this car go ahead and solve the social question, but nobody wants to recognize that the workers alone are to solve this question.

We go to the workingmen and say, "Now, you are the persons who are most concerned in this case what are you going to do about it?" Nobody says that except the syndicalist. Therefore, I say that the only constructive movement that aims at the direct solution of the social question in behalf of the workers is naturally the movement of the workers themselves.

Syndicalism not a Theory, but a Fact

It is more than a fact it is a movement. On this movement we have tried to build some kind of what you may call a philosophy, but it is not an abstract philosophy. We do not start from an idea or from a theory and then begin to come back we do not build the house from the roof we start from the practical facts we recognize that the working class today is in a condition of abject slavery, that the working class wants to get out of this condition, and that the only way to get out is to gather together in one big mighty whole and there discuss the ways and means whereby they can attain their liberation and emancipation.

That being the fact, we recognize another thing, namely, that there is amighty struggle going on, as in the past centuries, between the class that has the economic power and the working class. Between these two classes there are quite a few intermediate classes — there are the professional classes, there are the small business classes, there are various other classes that are not interested in the advancement of the capitalist or in the uplifting of the working class in the economic field. These intermediate classes live simply because capitalism exists. The lawyer could not live if there was not capitalism, because if there was not capitalism there would be no strikes, there would be no lawsuits, there would be no thieves, there would be no murder. There would be nothing to be argued before the court of justice. The business man, the trader, the tradesman, the merchant, lives only because capitalism exists.

If the workers were the direct producers of all wealth and were the direct consumers of all that wealth, naturally there would not be any room for those middlemen. The professional classes exist because capitalism exists and they have all their interest to uplift capitalism. They know that the day the working class takes hold of the reins of society they will be abolished, absorbed into the ranks of the workers, and they themselves will have to work for a living. Therefore, they are inventing all sorts of palliatives and all sorts of remedies, and inventing all sorts of methods to pacify these two conflicting classes in order that one would not take the upper hand on the other class.

We do not Believe in Social Pacification

The interests are diametrically opposed to each other. The capitalist wants to make as much money as he can and the working man wants to make as much money as he can. The capitalist wants the workingman to work as long as he can, and the workingman, on the other hand, would like to work, not eight hours, but six hours or four hours, and if they could not work at all probably they would like it much better, because, as you know, labor has always been considered as a curse from the Almighty on mankind, and every one of us more or less feels this curse. I do not mean intellectual labor, but manual labor, those men who have been put down to the same level as the brute.

Who Shall be the Arbitrator?

Who is going to say what is a fair share for the laborer? Who is going to say what is a fair share for the capitalist? Who is going to say how many hours one should work and the other should sleep? We must have a neutral judge, an absolutely impartial judge, who could go to work and regulate everything to the satisfaction of all. That is why we syndicalists, by following to the letter the doctrine that has been preached and heralded for so many years by the socialists of the various schools, have thought that the conflict must go on between those two classes until the workers have come into the full inheritance of what was originally their own and what is the product of their own sweat and of their own labor. We want to eliminate completely the middleman.

Ours is not a Gospel of Peace

It is not a gospel of pacification, it is not a gospel of harmony and brotherly love. So far as the economic conditions are concerned, ours is a struggle for the mastership and for the rulership of the earth. Ours is the gospel of the social war ours is the gospel of the individual that has labored against another individual, and the class that is laboring against another class. If we can obtain justice by good means let us have them immediately, but if in order to get justice we must have war and fight, then let us fight. If we have no other weapons we will use our claws and hands. Because justice is something which must be established firmly in all those who have for so many centuries lived on injustice. Justice is something that cannot be granted from above justice is something which must be fought out from below.

Syndicalism has very little to do with the expectation of what is going to happen tomorrow. Therefore, I cannot tell you how we are going to run the industries when syndicalism or socialism has been established, but I can tell you how that thing is to be established, and every one of you will be very much more interested in knowing how we are going to dispossess him than how we will run his business afterwards.

Having disposed of all this outside interference between these two classes, the capitalist class and the working class, standing squarely and uncompromisingly upon the ground of the class struggle, we simply face the capitalist class with the united power of our hosts. We tell the workers that they must unite together in one solid unit that they must develop in the ranks a spirit of solidarity, a spirit of interdependence that they must study more and more what concerns them directly, and that they must develop in themselves a spirit of self-denial and a spirit of sacrifice, which is the only thing that can keep them together and that can insure them a final victory. When wc have a union of workers we know that in that union of workers there is a spirit of unrest, we know there is the spirit of revolt, and we go to the capitalist class and say, "They are not going to work any more for the conditions which they have faced before."

Distinguished from Trade Unionism

Syndicalism — or rather, I prefer to use the word "Industrial Unionism" — is different from the other trade organizations. It docs not belong in the sectional or factional or trade or craft division of the working class it belongs in the absolute unification of every man and woman and child who works with his hands and brain, no matter which, for the direct production of all that is necessary in society. Industrial unionism does not believe in nationality, does not believe in creeds, does not believe in political parties it simply tries to unite together in one solid amalgam all those forces of the working class and then pit them against the capitalist class. It does not believe in the trade strike it has a different method, it believes in the industrial strike. It believes that when the time of action has arrived the workers of a given industrv will strike simultaneously, or, to put it with the phrase of Bill Haywood, "All together."

Outside of the immediate industrial union we have a national industrial union, and then a federation of all these national industrial unions, which controls all the industrial workers of the world. We have no contract, because we refuse to sign any contract with the bosses, and by having no contract with the various trades or with the various industries we are in a way free at a moment's notice to call a strike in which every industry will be affected throughout the State or nation, and by a series of strikes and by the enforcement of the boycott, whereby we can refuse to buy goods from an unfair firm, and by a rigid application of the label we can force the capitalist class to terms.

Strikes and the General Strike

Every one of us knows — and no man is more convinced of it than I .— that the strike to a certain extent is very futile. When a strike is settled there is an agreement made between the boss and the workers in which the workingman pledges himself to work for certain hours, say for eight hours a day, and to receive for his labor, say, $4 a day. The boss, on the other side, does not pledge himself not to raise the price of the product that these workers produce, and naturally the next day, as soon as he finds that he has been hit very hard in his pocketbook, the boss immediately remedies his loss by raising the price of his products. Thus this seesaw movement continues interminably, until sometime the workers are going to put an end to it by making an actual dent in the profit of the boss. For making this dent in the profit of the boss one thing alone is necessary, to devise some means and schemes whereby the boss will be prevented from raising the price of the product. How are we going to do it? In this way: By striking simultaneously in all the industries, if necessary, and by forcing the label on the boss, and by telling him we are not going to buy any more of his goods unless sold at the same price as before.

How We Shall Deal with the State

Then in this mighty struggle between the workers and capital we find that we are hampered in making clear cut the class divisions. We find that there are some impediments that stand between the army of the capitalist on the one side and the army of the workers on the other side. If these two armies were on a war footing and were just one against the other, with their artilleries in shape, I think that the social question would have been settled long ago. But there is something else which stands in the way, and that something is the State, it is the power of government. It is what is supposed to be the instrument of the will of the people. The State has its soldiers, it has its policemen, it has its laws, it has its legislative assemblies, it has its judges, it has its jails, it has its hangmen and executioners, and all these various elements which constitute the government are all directly interested in keeping society as it is now. Now, you may transform it as much as you want to, you may modify it and modernize it, but the fact remains that this State exists because these classes exist, and if you are going to put these classes up or down this State will eventually disappear. That is what we syndicalists say. We say that the State is the great impediment to the solution of the social question.

And here is where our attitude differs from the attitude of the socialist and from that of the anarchists on the other side. The socialists say that the root of all evil is the State the anarchists say likewise that the root of all evil is also the State. But the socialists say, "Let us capture the State and by capturing it we will remedy everything." The anarchists say, on the contrary, "Let us destroy it, and by destroying it we will also remedy everything." Now, we syndicalists say that we are going neither to capture it nor to destroy it, but to gradually absorb it into the working class.

Let me tell you how we are going to do it, and how we are doing it. All of the functions of the State are gradually being transformed to the working class. There was a bill for an eighthour law a few years ago in this country, and I think it passed the Congress and the Senate, — I don't know whether it was the Federal Congress or Senate, — but it had been passed practically in seven or eight States, and then this law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and was never put into effect. Then the workers took this law into their own hands. They assembled in their convention halls and they passed an eight-hour law right then and there. They have struck for this eight-hour law and they are going to get it. And if they do not get it just now they will get it later on. But that is the only way to get it, simply by taking it into their own hands. This is what we call direct action. Therefore one function of the State, so far as the industry is concerned, has been taken away from it, it has been transferred into the labor union.

Also, other attributes of the capitalist State are gradually taken by the workers themselves. One of the most necessary functions of the State is the question of education. It has been said that the State was going to educate every citizen and give every citizen a liberal education. Well, we syndicalists have come to a different conclusion we are not satisfied with the way our children are taught in the public schools we do not want them to go any more to the public schools we are going to build our own socialist school, our liberal school, where we are going to teach them truth, science, and everything that makes for the uplifting and for the betterment of mankind. We are not going to read them the Bible every morning we are not going to make them sing about the American flag and how beautiful it is to get slaughtered to defend one's country we are not going to tell them that the American people are the greatest people in the world we are not going to tell them that in case of war it is a great and beautiful thing to go and be shot to pieces simply to defend the pocketbook and the commerce of the master class but we are going to tell them and educate them along class lines.

We are going to give them a one-sided education, but this one-sided education consists in instilling into their hearts the most strong dislike and the most bitter hatred against all form of oppression. Therefore, against this last rampart, this last bul wark of capitalism, we are going to oppose the Modern School, for which Francisco Ferrer was shot to death four years ago in Spain.

And then when we have done all these things you will naturally see that all the other classes will have been compelled to take sides or issue either with one class or the other class. When the lines are sharply drawn between these two classes, then, ladies and gentlemen, it will come to the question of a test of force, to a test of power. I do not mean necessarily violence, but I mean power. Because all the evangel of the Industrial Workers of the World and the syndicalist movement all over the world is this: that there is no such thing as right without a good solid force to back it up.

It is a new State in society that we are going to have just now it is a movement upward, it is not a movement downward. It is the next degree in the tragedy of social and human evolution, it is something that will grant to every individual the full product of his labor and guarantee to him the most complete expression of his own individuality. For I claim that syndicalism is not the "slavery" that Herbert Spencer called socialism. Syndicalism is something more powerful than that. It does not believe in the almightiness of the all-powerful capitalism that has had to dispense welfare to every member of the community by keeping them in subjection arid slavery. It is a new individualism not the individualism of the economic man as the capitalist understands it, but the individualism of the complete individual, the one that feels first of all the power of his own personality and believes that he must develop himself in order to develop the environment in which he is, and then he knows that he is a unit of this mighty whole which goes forward toward a definite goal which some of you might call the Kingdom of God and which I prefer to call the Kingdom of Man.


1. Early life

Arturo Giovannitti was born January 7, 1884, in Ripabottoni in what is now the Province of Campobasso, Italy, at the time part of the Abruzzi but now part of Molise. He immigrated to Canada in 1900 and, after working in a coal mine and railroad crew, began preaching in a Presbyterian mission. He soon came to the United States, where he studied at Union Theological Seminary. Although he did not graduate, he ran rescue missions for Italians in Brooklyn and Pittsburgh. He also began writing for the weekly newspaper of the Italian Socialist Federation. In 1911, he became the newspapers editor.


Italian Americans Who Fought for Justice

Profile.
Brief bios of people of Italian heritage who were committed to social justice.

Want to honor Italian heritage? Skip Columbus and learn about these justice fighters.

In the fight to abolish Columbus Day, we invariably hear from people who defend the holiday because it recognizes a historic figure of Italian heritage. This despite Columbus’ legacy of slavery and terrorism.

Our response is that there are many other people of Italian heritage worthy of attention — people who have played an active role in the struggle for labor rights, gay and lesbian rights, human rights, and civil rights. Here are just a few people of note of Italian heritage.

We welcome your suggestions of people to add to this list. Email [email protected]

Students can also consider how to memorialize key events and organizations in history. See “People’s History Through Art: Projects by High School Students” about the work of Hayley Breden and her students in Colorado.

Angela Bambace RoseAnn DeMoro Ralph Fasanella Arturo Giovannitti
/>Father James Groppi Viola Liuzzo Family Vito Marcantonio />Tony Mazzocchi
Vito Russo Sacco and Vanzetti Mario Savio />Eleanor Smeal
Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zant Carlo Tresca

Angela Bambace speaks at a podium on behalf of ILGWU, Roanoke, VA. Image: Kheel Center /Cornell University.

Angela Bambace

In 1955, Angela Bambace (1889-1975) became the first Italian immigrant woman to hold a leadership position in the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) as vice president.

Bambace’s family had moved from Italy to the United States, settling in East Harlem, where Bambace’s mother worked in the garment industry. After completing high school in 1917, Angela and her sister Maria joined their mother at a shirtwaist factory operating sewing machines. There the young women were exposed to the exploitative and dangerous working conditions for women workers of the garment industry.

When the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Association (ACWA) began the fight to unionize the shop, Angela and Maria participated in walk-outs, strikes, and other forms of protest, marking the beginning of their long lives as labor activists.

Bambace’s organizing expanded into the network of New York City garment worker organizers and she quickly became known as a fierce champion of labor rights. She would go on to unionizing garment workers in Baltimore, serve as the district manager for the states of Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia, and become vice president of the ILGWU. Bambace died of cancer at the age of 86 in 1975. [By Kathryn Anastasi.]

RoseAnn DeMoro

RoseAnne DeMoro is the Executive Director of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses. Born in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, DeMoro grew up working class. In 1977, she and her husband moved to California where DeMoro pursued a doctorate in sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. It was during this time that she decided to shift careers and joined the Teamsters as a labor organizer. In 1986, she joined the California Nurses Association and helped the organization grow into one of the most powerful unions in the country, eventually combining in 2009 with other major nurse associations to form National Nurses United.

As one of the fastest-growing organizations in the U.S., National Nurses United represents 170,000 registered nurses. Under DeMoro’s leadership, the group has become known for running well-publicized and creative campaigns and taking on some of the toughest opponents in politics and government. To date, the organization has led influential campaigns for limits on managed care abuses, landmark reforms for patients, such as campaigning for the expansion of Medicare to cover more patients, record improvements for registered nurses, and reforms on nurse-to-patient care.

Ralph Fasanella

Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997) worked in machine shops and dress shops, drove trucks, pumped gas, and organized workers for higher wages and a better life. He was also a self-taught artist. Many of his paintings reflect a nation of working people who took collective action to improve life on and off the job. Fasanella encouraged people to remember our history and heritages, “Lest we forget.” [From the Ralph Fasanella website.]

Fasanella fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

While he began painting in the 1940s, his work did not reach national acclaim until after the McCarthy era, in the 1970s. One of his most recognized paintings is of the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike.

The Great Strike: Lawrence 1912. © Estate of Ralph Fasanella. Click to enlarge.

Learn more about Fasanella at www.fasanella.org.

Arturo Giovannitti at the time of his trial, September 1912. Image: Library of Congress.

Arturo M. Giovannitti

Arturo Giovannitti (1884-1959), was a poet and labor organizer. In 1912, he traveled to Lawrence, Massachusetts to help his friend and fellow I.W.W. organizer Joseph Ettor lead the Textile Mill Strike, known as the Bread and Roses Strike. Mill owners accused Giovannitti and Ettor with inciting violence. When textile worker Ana LoPizzo was killed during a clash with state militia, striker Joseph Caruso was charged for the murder, and Giovannitti and Ettor were charged as accessories to murder, although they were miles away from the scene. Their trial gained international attention. In a closing statement to the jury, Giovannitti spoke about his dedication to the ideals of the working class (Voices of a People’s History, pp. 274-277):

We shall return again to our humble efforts, obscure, humble, unknown, misunderstood—soldiers of this mighty army of the working class of the world, which out of the shadows and the darkness of the past is striving towards the destined goal, which is the emancipation of human kind, which is the establishment of love and brotherhood and justice for every man and every woman in this earth.

On Nov. 26, 1912, all three men were acquitted of the charges. [Sources: ItalyHeritage.com, Voices of a People’s History, and Bread and Roses Centennial Exhibit]

Learn more about Arturo Giovannitti at www.italyheritage.com.

Father James Groppi

Father James Groppi was a Catholic priest who helped win the 1968 fight for open-housing in Milwaukee by leading 200 consecutive daily marches through the streets there. From 1965 to 1975, ”Groppi” was a common headline word nationally as he led demonstrations for civil rights, welfare rights, Native Americans, and against war. Since being excommunicated for his marriage in 1976, he had considered himself a ”Catholic in exile.”

He participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. He was then assistant pastor of St. Boniface Catholic Church in a predominantly Black section of Milwaukee. Groppi had been arrested for the first time when he and other clergy formed a human chain in front of a Milwaukee school to protest de facto segregation.

Viola Liuzzo Family

Viola Liuzzo (1925 – 1965) was a civil rights activist who was brutally killed by the KKK. Luizzo was driving people home from the March to Selma in 1965, when a car pulled up alongside her vehicle and began shooting, killing Luizzo.

Luizzo was born Viola Gregg. She married a man of Italian descent, Anthony Luizzo, and raised a family. After her death, a smear campaign ensued that was mounted by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI [COINTELPRO], as a means of diverting attention from the fact that a key FBI informant was in the car with Liuzzo’s killers. The campaign, as well as violent behavior, took a toll on Luizzo’s family. A group of people had tried to break down the Liuzzos’ door, and a cross was burned on their lawn. Luizzo’s daughter Sally Liuzzo-Prado recalls one morning after her mother’s death, “These people — grown-ups — lined the street and were throwing rocks at me, calling me ‘N-lover’s baby.’ I didn’t know what that meant.”

On May 3, 1965, the trial of Liuzzo’s killers began. One of the men in the car, Gary Thomas Rowe Jr., was an FBI informant and thus was protected by the FBI. The three others were indicted on a state charge of murder and a federal charge of civil rights violation. In the federal trial the defendants were found guilty and were sentenced to ten years in prison, a landmark in southern legal history. [Adapted from NPR’s “Killed For Taking Part In ‘Everybody’s Fight’” and the Viola Liuzzo Collection.] Read more at uudb.org/articles/violaliuzzo.html.

Vito Marcantonio

Elected to Congress from New York’s ethnically Italian and Puerto Rican East Harlem slums, Vito Marcantonio, in his time, held office longer than any other third-party radical, serving seven terms from 1934 to 1950. Colorful and controversial, Marcantonio captured national prominence as a powerful orator and brilliant parliamentarian. Often allied with the U.S. Communist Party (CP), he was an advocate of civil rights, civil liberties, labor unions, and Puerto Rican independence. He supported social security and unemployment legislation for what later was called a “living wage” standard. And he annually introduced anti-lynching and anti–poll tax bills a decade before it became respectable. He also opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), redbaiting, and antisemitism, and fought for the rights of the foreign-born. He was a bold outspoken opponent of U.S. imperialism. [Biography by John J. Simon from “Rebel in the House: The Life and Times of Vito Marcantonio” at MonthlyReview.org.]

Tony Mazzocchi

Anthony “Tony” Mazzocchi was a 20th-century labor activist who became a leader known for his radical politics, solidarity with the environmental movement, and dedication to union organizing. Born in Brooklyn in 1926, he grew up in the Great Depression and dropped out of high school to join the Army during World War II. When he returned from the war, he worked in several trades and was elected to be president of his local by age 26.

The United Steelworkers Tony Mazzocchi Center (USWTMC) for Health, Safety and Environmental Education describes the progress he helped working people achieve:

Some of his local’s achievements included the first dental plan in the country, early support for the civil rights movement, massive organizing efforts all over the New York area, and the rebuilding of the entire Democratic party of Long Island.

Mazzocchi was appointed Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers citizenship-legislative director in 1965 and moved to Washington, D. C. In this capacity, he discovered that workers across the country were facing clouds of toxic substances on the shop floor. He developed a national mobilization and educational campaign that led to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

He also was the first union activist to unite with environmentalists who helped to pass the Clean Air Act and other environmental bills. In addition to these legislative successes, Mazzocchi invented the concepts of “Right to Know” and “Right to Act” for the toxic substances faced at work and was the first unionist to conduct education on global warming.

He was also a friend and collaborator of union organizer Karen Silkwood, who famously blew the whistle on dangerous conditions related to the production of nuclear power at the Kerr McGee Company.

Learn more about his life in the book The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi by Les Leopold and in his obituary at the New York Times.

Vito Russo. Film still from “Vito.”

Vito Russo

“I was fighting for the generations that were going to come after me so that young gay people who were 14 or 15 wouldn’t have to grow up the way we did.”

Vito Russo (1946-1990) was a gay rights activist and a film historian. Russo is best known for his groundbreaking book The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, an exploration of the ways in which gays and lesbians were portrayed in film, what lessons those characters taught gay and straight audiences, and how those negative images were at the root of society’s homophobia. In 1985, Russo help founded GLAAD, an organization that monitors LGBT representation in the media. [Sources: LGBT History Month website, Vito film, and Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo]

Read more about Russo at LBGThistorymonth.com and in the biopic, Vito. View a video of Wallace Shawn reading Russo’s “Why We Fight” on the Voices of a People’s History Vimeo page. See the film, How to Survive a Plague.

Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, handcuffed, in the Dedham, Massachusetts Superior Court, 1923.

Sacco and Vanzetti

On July 14, 1921, anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were found guilty of murder despite a lack of evidence and an international campaign for their release. The trial took place during the height of the Red Scare, and symbolized the prejudice views against immigrants, labor unions, and political radicals that was fueled by the Department of Justice raids—known as “the Palmer Raids”— in targeted communities.

Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on August 23, 1927.

Read an article by Howard Zinn about the relevance of this case today.

View a video of Steve Earle reading Vanzetti’s speech to the court on the Voices of a People’s History Vimeo page.

Mario Savio on Sproul Hall steps at UC-Berkeley, 1966, at a rally protesting the University’s ban on the distribution of political material on campus. Image: Creative Commons.

Mario Savio

In 1964, Mario Savio ( 1942-1996 ) came to public notice as a spokesperson for the Free Speech Movement at the University of California-Berkeley, where he led a non-violent campaign to inspire thousands of fellow Berkeley students to protest university regulations, which severely limited political speech and activity on campus.

Savio had volunteered with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964. He planned to raise money for SNCC on his return to university. That was when he learned of the ban on political activity and fundraising. He launched the first protest on October 1, 1964 when a fellow student was arrested for distributing literature from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

The non-violent campaign culminated in the largest mass arrest in U.S. history, drew widespread faculty support, and resulted in a revision of university rules to permit political speech and organizing. This significant advance for student freedom rapidly spread to countless other colleges and universities across the country. Read more.

Eleanor Smeal

“Once you recognize discrimination, you see it everywhere. Injustice doesn’t live forever. But it takes constant work, and it takes standing up, and you can’t worry about what people are thinking.”

For more than 30 years, Eleanor Smeal has been on the frontlines fighting for women’s equality and is currently president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which she co-founded.

Recognized throughout the nation as a women’s rights leader, for more than two decades Eleanor Smeal has played a leading role in both national and state campaigns to win women’s rights legislation and in a number of landmark state and federal court cases for women’s rights.

One of the architects of the modern drive for women’s equality, Smeal is known as a political analyst, strategist, and grassroots organizer. She has played a pivotal role in defining the debate, developing the strategies, and charting the direction of the modern day women’s movement. Smeal was the first to identify the “gender gap”—the difference in the way women and men vote—and popularized the usage of the term “gender gap” in election and polling analyses to enhance women’s voting clout. [Description adapted from the Feminist Majority Foundation.]

Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zant

Musician and songwriter Bruce Springsteen’s career has spanned several decades, and in that time he has become known as a champion of the working class. Springsteen, with the E Street Band, has put his support behind various social causes including participating in the No Nukes concert and album in 1979, the “Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid” in 1985 (organized by friend and bandmate Steven Van Zandt, also Italian American, pictured left), and cancelling a 2016 North Carolina concert in protest of the anti-LGBT law.

In a 2007 interview, Springsteen credited Howard Zinn as one of his inspirations. “A People’s History of the United States had an enormous impact on me. It set me down in a place that I recognized and felt I had a claim to. It made me feel that I was a player in this moment in history, as we all are, and that this moment in history was mine, somehow, to do with whatever I could. It gave me a sense of myself in the context of this huge American experience and empowered me to feel that in my small way, I had something to say, I could do something. It made me feel a part of history, and gave me life as a participant.”

Springsteen contributed to The People Speak film with a rendition of “Ghost Of Tom Joad” and a cover of “This Land Is Your Land.”

In addition to being a musician, actor, producer, and activist, Steven Van Zant launched TeachRock.org to help bring the history of rock ‘n’ roll into the classroom.

Carlo Tresca

Carlo Tresca (1879-1943) was an Italian-born American anarchist, newspaper editor, and labor agitator. During the first half of the 20th century, Tresca was a riveting speaker for the Industrial Workers of the World, and put himself on the frontline of some of the most significant labor strikes of the era including Lawrence, Paterson, and Ludlow. He also played a key role in the unsuccessful attempt to save his fellow Italian-American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti from execution.

As an editor and journalist for several underground anarchist papers including his own publication, Il Martello (The Hammer), Tresca wrote scathing attacks on labor agents, bankers, consular officials, and priests. In the 1930s, he condemned Stalin’s repressive tactics and particularly, the liquidation of anarchists and other non-communist loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. But his most fervent vitriol was reserved for Italy’s Fascist regime.

Tresca’s relentless war of words against the Fascisti would prove to be the greatest crusade of his life, prompting the Italian Ambassador to the U.S. to request that Tresca be deported or “silenced.” But deportation attempts failed, and the indefatigable Tresca refused to be silenced. When one of his papers was closed down, he’d simply start another. [Description adapted from OnThisDeity.com by Dorian Cope.]

Read more about Tresca in the book Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel by Nunzio Pernicone.


Hellraisers Journal: IWWs Brought to Chicago from New York City & Seattle St John Arrested in New Mexico

Hellraisers Journal, Tuesday November 6, 1917
Chicago, Illinois – More “Agitators” Arrive to Face Charges

From The Chicago Sunday Tribune of November 4, 1917:


The Verses and Battles of Arturo Giovannitti

The John D. Calandra Italian American Institute hosted a round table on Arturo Giovannitti on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of his arrival in America.

The event, moderated by Dean Anthony Tamburri, was strongly wanted by Silvana Mangione, vice-secretary of the General Council of Italians Abroad: “Remembering authors like Giovannitti is important on the 150th anniversary of the Italian Unification to attest the role of Italians abroad and understand their 'culture of the return', towards which Italy must open itself to embrace a larger view of culture”.

Enzo Amendola, secretary of Italy's Democratic Party (PD) for the Campania region added, “Giovannitti, as a poet and activist, was especially able to transmit the idea that working class emancipation would allow everyone to participate in the building of the American society respecting human dignity”. “It is by following such authors”, concluded Gianluca Galletto, representative of the PD in the North American constituency, “that Italy becomes an independent community from a specific geographical location”.
 

Talking about Giovannitti's works were Professors Joseph Tusiani, Fred Gardaphè, Robert Viscusi and Marcella Bencivenni. A controversial figure of early 20th century America, he led the Italian Socialist Federation and edited the radical weekly 'Il Proletario', in 1912 he was among the organizers of the Lawrence Textile Strike, in which protester Anna Lo Pizzo was shot and killed.

Giovannitti was accused, together with Joseph Ettor, of murder they were released after 10 months of prison and a trial accompanied by a strong working-class mobilization in the name of solidarity towards the two leaders, that especially moved the American public opinion.

The first speaker was Prof. Marcella Bencivegni, who illustrated the different ways to read Giovannitti: as a political activist, as an idealist, a journalist, and a theologist in his early years.
 

The son of a pharmacist from Ripabottoni, in Molise, he had come to North America at age 17 and spoke Italian, English and French fluently. In New York he took part in weekly meetings of a cultural club on 5th Avenue with socialists, anarchists and intellectuals, to discuss philosophy, poetry and revolution. Giovannitti was a product and a producer of a similar radical culture.

The frequent mistake is dividing his activist spirit from his soul as a poet. On the contrary, the two natures feed on each other. For instance, in his play “Com'era nel principio di tenebre rosse” written in 1916 and performed in English on Broadway only once, is an anti-military work that describes the de-humanizing effect of war through the story of a young poet who becomes a ferocious beast to revenge the raping of his wife by a German soldier, which left her pregnant.

Fred Gardaphè explained that Giovannitti represented an important reference point for the different Italian-American authors that spoke to the public about the stories of the Italian-American working class. The use of the English language allowed them not only to show this new culture to America but especially to impress a new religious orientation in the English-speaking literary panorama. Christianity was the element the united Italian-American workers and which Giovannitti was able to speak about, influencing more recent authors such as Pietro Di Donato and Augusto Lentricchia.

Reading the verses of the poem “The Walker”, written by Giovannitti in prison, Robert Viscusi showed the details of his radical spirit, rhymes of a man who didn't believe in the traditional forms of government, such as the Italian monarchy, and had come to America open to modernity, seeking a better and freer land.

Giovannitti's personality emerged from Joseph Tusiani, pupil and friend of the poet, as well as David Giovannitti, Arturo's grandson. He was an untiring reader and a sensible writer, tied to his homeland and his pupils by a “paternal love” the strong values transmitted to his family are still alive today, 50 years after his death.

Alternating critical analyses, readings and direct accounts, the speakers offered a complete frame of the author, each one pondering upon a certain aspect of his life and works. Sadly, in spite of his large number of works, Giovannitti remains unknown to many.  In the opinion of the speakers, the motivations are multiple: Joseph Tusiani explains that Italy itself was the first to ignore him, if one thinks that “The Walker”, from 1914, was translated in Italian as “L'uomo che cammina” only in 1938. Marcella Bencivegni shows how in America he wasn't highly considered because of his radical ideals and, as adds professor Viscusi, with World War II he lost attention, since Americans stopped reading Italian works. But especially, concludes Fred Gardaphè, Italy's mistake lay in the inability to institutionalize its own culture. So,  talents like Giovannitti are frequently abandoned to the fate of alternating currents.
 


The Lawrence textile strike, 1912 - Sam Lowry

A short history of the strike of 20,000 textile workers, mostly women and girls who included native and immigrant workers, which won big concessions over wages, conditions and hours for the entire textile industry

At the turn of the 20th century, Lawrence, Massachusetts was one of the most important textile manufacturing towns in the United States. The mills in the area were principally under the ownership of the American Woollen Company, which employed about 40,000 people. The Company's consolidation of thirty-four factories across New England had a yearly output of about $45,000,000. The dawn of the Industrial Revolution had allowed many employers to lay off skilled workers in favour of large numbers of unskilled, immigrant labourers who were working on average for less than $9.00 for a full week&rsquos work. A large proportion of the work was done by women, and about half of the workers in the four mills in Lawrence owned by the American Woollen Company were girls aged between fourteen and eighteen.

The workers lived in small, cramped, and often dangerous tenement buildings and survived mostly on bread, beans, and molasses as their staple diet. 50% of the children brought up in these conditions did not survive to reach the age of six, while thirty-six out of every hundred men died before the age of twenty-five. As well as these inhumane conditions, workers had to contend with rent prices that were higher than rent prices in the rest of New England, and ranged from about $1.00 to $6.00 a week for the small apartments the workers lived in. 58% of these homes found it necessary to take in lodgers in order to be able to pay the rent.

The conditions in the mills became steadily worse before the strike began in January of 1912. With the introduction of a two-loom system, the pace of work became much faster for the workers, which in turn led to a series of layoffs and wage cuts for those that remained.

The skilled textile jobs in Lawrence were mostly held by 'native-born' workers of English, German and Irish descent, about 2,500 of whom, in theory, belonged to the United Textile Workers, a section of the conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL), although it is estimated only a couple of hundred of them were fully paid up by 1912. The unskilled workforce was made up mostly of Italian, French-Canadian, Portuguese, Slavic, Hungarian and Syrian immigrants who the revolutionary syndicalist union the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had been attempting to organise since 1907, they claimed over a thousand members in the area, but as with the United Textile Workers, only about 300 were regularly paying dues by 1912.

Following a reduction of hours from fifty-six to fifty-four hours a week to comply with new state legislation, a letter was sent from the small English speaking IWW branch to President Wood of the American Woollen Company asking how the new law would affect wages. Wood did not reply. Anger with the company increased when workers realised that a reduction of two hours pay would mean (as the IWW publicly pointed out) three fewer loaves of bread a week to put on the table.

Polish women in the Everett cotton mills were the first to notice a shortage of thirty-two cents in their pay envelopes on January 11th, stopping their looms and leaving the mill shouting, "Short pay, short pay!" Similar events happened throughout Lawrence and the next morning workers from the Washington and Woods mills also walked out, within a week there were 20,000 workers on strike.

The IWW immediately took hold of the strike and after a mass meeting, a telegram was sent to the IWW in New York, requesting that Joseph Ettor (an Executive Board member well known for organising in Lawrence) be sent to Lawrence to lead the strike. He arrived quickly and set up a strike committee, two representatives from each ethnic group of strikers sat on the committee and took responsibility for most major decisions. The meetings of the committee were also translated into 25 different languages for the immigrant workers. The strike committee decided on a set of demands it was to make to the American Woollen Company a 15% increase in wages, a return to the fifty hour work week, double time for overtime work and a stopping of discrimination for union activity.

In response to the circulation of strike leaflets, the Mayor ordered out the local Militia to patrol the streets, and the city's alarm bells rang for the first time. The strikers responded with mass picketing of the mills, and the women of the strike adopted the now famous slogan, "We want bread and roses too!" The sight of mass picketing (which had never been seen before in New England) prompted a vicious response from the authorities and strikers were attacked with water hoses from the rooftops of adjoining houses, the strikers responded by throwing chunks of ice. Thirty-six strikers were arrested and sentenced to one year each in prison.

A few days after the strike began, Arturo Giovannitti (another well known IWW organiser) arrived in Lawrence to organise strike relief. Relief committees, a network of soup kitchens and food distribution stations were set up to help the strikers, and families received between $2-$5 cash a week from a strike fund.

Lawrence was the first time large numbers of unskilled, immigrant workers had followed the leadership of the IWW John Golden, president of the United Textile Workers denounced the strike as 'revolutionary' and 'anarchistic' and unsuccessfully tried to take the leadership of the strike away from the IWW and into the hands of the AFL in order to break it up. Failing this, the AFL offered token words of support to the strikers.

Less than a week later, dynamite was found in several places around Lawrence, and the press was quick to lay blame to the strikers. However, a local undertaker was arrested and charged with planting the explosives in an attempt to discredit the workers. He was fined $500 and released, President Wood of the American Woollen Company was implicated in the plot, but cleared by the court although he could not explain why he had made a recent large cash payment to the undertaker.

Contemporary cartoon from Industrial Worker depicting the bosses' brutality in Lawrence

On the evening of January 29th, a woman striker, Anna LoPizzo was killed by the police when they tried to break up a picket line, and, although three miles away at the time addressing a large rally of workers, Ettor and Giovannitti were arrested as 'accessories to murder'. They were refused bail and held for eight months without trial. The IWW responded by sending Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to take over leadership of the strike, and later, Carlo Tresco, an Italian anarchist, who was met by 15,000 strikers at the train station and carried down Essex Street to Lawrence Common, where he addressed 25,000 workers, each nationality singing the 'Internationale' for him in their various tongues.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn organised for several hundred children from Lawrence to be temporarily fostered at supporters homes in New York for the duration of the strike, and on February 10th 120 children were met in New York by 5,000 members of the Italian Socialist Federation and the Socialist Party singing the 'Marseille' and the 'Internationale'. A few weeks later, ninety-two more children left for New York, and before going to their foster homes, were paraded with banners down Fifth Avenue. Troubled by the publicity this was creating for the strikers, the authorities in Lawrence ordered that no more children could leave for their temporary foster homes, and on February 24th when a group of 150 children were ready to leave for Philadelphia, fifty policemen and two militia companies surrounded the Lawrence railroad station. They took children away from their parents and threw 30 women and children into jail. The assault on the children and their mothers was all caught by the press, there to photograph the event. The matter ignited public outrage, to which Congress responded with investigative hearings into the matter, hearing many testimonies from the children of Lawrence.

On March 1st, the workers were offered a 5% pay rise, which they rejected. They then held out for another two weeks and the American Woollen Company conceded to all four of their original demands. Other textile companies soon followed, as well as other textile companies throughout New England who wanted to avoid a strike similar to Lawrence.

Poster calling for strike action in defence of Ettor and Giovanitti

However, Ettor and Giovannitti were still in prison after the strike had ended. The IWW had raised $60,000 for their defence and had campaigned for their release, holding demonstrations and mass meetings throughout the country. In Boston, every member of the Ettor-Giovannitti Defence Committee was arrested, and 15,000 workers in Lawrence went on strike for a day on September 30th to demand Ettor and Giovannitti's release. Swedish and French workers proposed a boycott of all woollen goods from the United States and a refusal to load ships heading for the U.S. and Italian supporters rallied in front of the United States consulate in Rome.

The trial of Ettor and Giovannitti took place in Salem, Massachusetts at the end of September and lasted for two months during which workers would wait outside the courtroom and cheer the two men as they arrived and left each day. They were both acquitted on November 26th, 1912.

The strike and subsequent struggle for the release of Ettor and Giovannitti lasted nearly a year. However, within the next few years nearly all of the gains fought for by the workers and the IWW had been chiselled away by the mill companies and there were drops in pay and conditions, and the installation of labour spies to keep an eye on the workers, leading to the firing of many union activists. The workers had won a temporary victory in Lawrence, but eventually lost all that they had fought for due to the bullying and intimidation of the American Woollen Company of union members, and the coming economic decline in the US.


Arturo Giovannitti

This chapter delves deeper into the sovversivi's poetry by discussing the figure and work of Giovannitti, one of the most charismatic figures of the Italian American Left, who gained national prominence as the leader of the famed 1912 Lawrence strike and as one of America's best poets. It attempts to bridge the political and “lyrical” sides of Giovannitti and re-situate his poems in the broad cultural context of the early American labor movement. It argues that Giovannitti's poetry blurs traditional distinctions between art and propaganda. His idealism, lyricism, and intense melancholia were never separated from his deeds, and his poetry was never exclusively expressive of his personal inner world. In fact, his political views formed not only the background of but also the impetus for his poetry.

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Arturo Giovannitti (1884 - 1959): Arturo M. Giovannitti, born on this day in 1884, was an Italian-American union leader, socialist political activist, and poet.

Arturo M. Giovannitti, born on this day in 1884, was an Italian-American union leader, socialist political activist, and poet. Giovannitti was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and is best remembered for his leadership and subsequent arrest in the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike.

Along with "Smiling Joe" Ettor, Giovannitti was sent to Lawrence to help rally and organize striking workers there. When a striking worker was shot and killed, Ettor and Giovannitti were arrested as accomplices to the murder on little to no evidence.

While in jail, he wrote many poems, "The Walker" in particular becoming well-known. The trial made the textile strike a national controversy and resulted in "Big Bill" Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn coming in to lead the strike in their stead. Months after the strike itself ended, Ettor, Giovannitti, and a third co-defendant were acquitted of all charges.


Arturo M. Giovannitti, “The Constructive Side of Syndicalism” (1907)

Like all the other new theories that have loomed up in the horizon on the troubled waters of capitalist society, or, for that matter, any society whatever, syndicalism is naturally going to be very much maligned, calumniated, and revolted against, not only by those that are not in sympathy with it from the economic point of view, but also from those that are sincere in their beliefs and earnest in uplifting mankind to the higher plane of civilization. It has been ever so throughout history, and it is so today.

But whatever may be said against syndicalism, the fact is this, that syndicalism has given expression to all the hopes that were latent for centuries and centuries in the breasts of the poor and downtrodden of society that it represents the awakening of the working class that it represents one of the most powerful social forces today that makes for the uplifting of mankind to the higher plane of civilization that syndicalism represents all that is good, noble, uplifting in the heart of the proletariat. It is a fighting force today, it is the force today of capitalist society, but it is more than that. It is a constructive movement which will make for a new society, a society which will know neither master nor slave, and from which will have been forever eliminated the pauper and the millionaire, those who produce everything and own nothing, and those who do not produce anything and own all the good things of life.

An Old Fight in a New Form

This mighty struggle, which lately we have called class struggle, has gone on since the dawn of civilization and in every region, from the birth of mankind up to now. As Mr. Perkins told you this morning, it was in the darkest age a struggle between the slave and his master, afterwards between the serf and the baron, and now it is the struggle between the employee,—or the proletariat, if you want to call it by that word which is so very dear to us, — and the capitalist. It has assumed various forms and various shapes. It has fought by various methods it has compromised sometimes, and sometimes it has fought to a finish once, at least, it has remodeled and changed and completely revolutionized society, and today it is striving to do the same thing.

No Quarter Given or Taken

This mighty war, according to our theory and according to our study of the history of mankind, is something that cannot be arbitrated. It is something that cannot be neutralized, it is something that cannot be settled unless it be settled right. And we say that it cannot be settled right except in two ways, either that the capitalist society, capitalist class, by using all the oppressive weapons at their disposal will crush and destroy and obliterate in the hearts of the workers this magnificent spirit of rebellion which is so dear to us, and therefore drive back the course of history into the black ages, where the stronger ruled upon the weaker or it will be solved by the working class taking in their hands the reins of their own history and by driving out of existence this class which has been the abomination of mankind. Driving out this way, I say, not by destroying it, but by assimilating it into the ranks of the workers themselves.

The Creators of our Civilization must be its Rulers

Labor, being at the bottom of society, labor, being the exclusive — not only the only reason but the exclusive reason — of the present civilization, it is natural and it is logical that when labor has risen to the full conception of its importance, of its power, and of its utter necessity, labor will eventually control all the powers of society. It may control them through the State, it may control them through a friendly understanding between the capitalist and between the bosses, it may control them by assuming directly the superintendence of everything, but this fact remains, that without labor modern society cannot exist, and that without capitalism probably modern society will exist much better than it exists today.

The Worker will Solve his own Problems

They have said that syndicalism is a destructive movement that syndicalism would drive back humanity to the dark ages that it wants to tear down everything beautiful and everything good that we have built so patiently for ages and ages. I believe, and I affirm most solemnly, that syndicalism is the only constructive movement in society today it has nothing to destroy, it has everything to upbuild.

The social question, which has been the most perplexing question of the last five or six decades, is going to be solved only by those who are directly interested in solving it. However in earnest you may be to solve this question, let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that you can do absolutely nothing. The workers are the ones that arc going to work out their own salvation. The workers are the ones who are going to dictate under what terms they want to work and under what terms they are going to produce whatever is necessary for the maintenance of society. Everybody speaks about the workers today the preacher from the pulpit is

very much in earnest about bringing about some remedies whereby the working class might be benefited the politicians speak of nothing else but that all the political platforms are full of various plans for the poor, downtrodden working class. The capitalists, too, are racking their brains to invent all sorts of schemes in order to do something for those poor workingmen. • Every one is willing to put a hand and a shoulder to the wheel to let this car go ahead and solve the social question, but nobody wants to recognize that the workers alone are to solve this question.

We go to the workingmen and say, “Now, you are the persons who are most concerned in this case what are you going to do about it?” Nobody says that except the syndicalist. Therefore, I say that the only constructive movement that aims at the direct solution of the social question in behalf of the workers is naturally the movement of the workers themselves.

Syndicalism not a Theory, but a Fact

It is more than a fact it is a movement. On this movement we have tried to build some kind of what you may call a philosophy, but it is not an abstract philosophy. We do not start from an idea or from a theory and then begin to come back we do not build the house from the roof we start from the practical facts we recognize that the working class today is in a condition of abject slavery, that the working class wants to get out of this condition, and that the only way to get out is to gather together in one big mighty whole and there discuss the ways and means whereby they can attain their liberation and emancipation.

Classes and Class War

That being the fact, we recognize another thing, namely, that there is a mighty struggle going on, as in the past centuries, between the class that has the economic power and the working class. Between these two classes there are quite a few intermediate classes — there are the professional classes, there are the small business classes, there are various other classes that are not interested in the advancement of the capitalist or in the uplifting of the working class in the economic field. These intermediate classes live simply because capitalism exists. The lawyer could not live if there was not capitalism, because if there was not capitalism there would be no strikes, there would be no lawsuits, there would be no thieves, there would be no murder. There would be nothing to be argued before the court of justice. The business man, the trader, the tradesman, the merchant, lives only because capitalism exists.

If the workers were the direct producers of all wealth and were the direct consumers of all that wealth, naturally there would not be any room for those middlemen. The professional classes exist because capitalism exists and they have all their interest to uplift capitalism. They know that the day the working class takes hold of the reins of society they will be abolished, absorbed into the ranks of the workers, and they themselves will have to work for a living. Therefore, they are inventing all sorts of palliatives and all sorts of remedies, and inventing all sorts of methods to pacify these two conflicting classes in order that one would not take the upper hand on the other class.

We do not Believe in Social Pacification

The interests are diametrically opposed to each other. The capitalist wants to make as much money as he can and the working man wants to make as much money as he can. The capitalist wants the workingman to work as long as he can, and the workingman, on the other hand, would like to work, not eight hours, but six hours or four hours, and if they could not work at all probably they would like it much better, because, as you know, labor has always been considered as a curse from the Almighty on mankind, and every one of us more or less feels this curse. I do not mean intellectual labor, but manual labor, those men who have been put down to the same level as the brute.

Who Shall be the Arbitrator?

Who is going to say what is a fair share for the laborer? Who is going to say what is a fair share for the capitalist? Who is going to say how many hours one should work and the other should sleep? We must have a neutral judge, an absolutely impartial judge, who could go to work and regulate everything to the satisfaction of all. That is why we syndicalists, by following to the letter the doctrine that has been preached and heralded for so many years by the socialists of the various schools, have thought that the conflict must go on between those two classes until the workers have come into the full inheritance of what was originally their own and what is the product of their own sweat and of their own labor. We want to eliminate completely the middleman.

Ours is not a Gospel of Peace

It is not a gospel of pacification, it is not a gospel of harmony and brotherly love. So far as the economic conditions are concerned, ours is a struggle for the mastership and for the rulership of the earth. Ours is the gospel of the social war ours is the gospel of the individual that has labored against another individual, and the class that is laboring against another class. If we can obtain justice by good means let us have them immediately, but if in order to get justice we must have war and fight, then let us fight. If we have no other weapons we will use our claws and hands. Because justice is something which must be established firmly in all those who have for so many centuries lived on injustice. Justice is something that cannot be granted from above justice is something which must be fought out from below.

Syndicalism has very little to do with the expectation of what is going to happen tomorrow. Therefore, I cannot tell you how we are going to run the industries when syndicalism or socialism has been established, but I can tell you how that thing is to be established, and every one of you will be very much more interested in knowing how we are going to dispossess him than how we will run his business afterwards.

Having disposed of all this outside interference between these two classes, the capitalist class and the working class, standing squarely and uncompromisingly upon the ground of the class struggle, we simply face the capitalist class with the united power of our hosts. We tell the workers that they must unite together in one solid unit that they must develop in the ranks a spirit of solidarity, a spirit of interdependence that they must study more and more what concerns them directly, and that they must develop in themselves a spirit of self-denial and a spirit of sacrifice, which is the only thing that can keep them together and that can insure them a final victory. When we have a union of workers we know that in that union of workers there is a spirit of unrest, we know there is the spirit of revolt, and we go to the capitalist class and say, “They are not going to work any more for the conditions which they have faced before.”

Distinguished from Trade Unionism

Syndicalism — or rather, I prefer to use the word “Industrial Unionism”—is different from the other trade organizations. It does not belong in the sectional or factional or trade or craft division of the working class it belongs in the absolute unification of every man and woman and child who works with his hands and brain, no matter which, for the direct production of all that is necessary in society. Industrial unionism does not believe in nationality, does not believe in creeds, does not believe in political parties it simply tries to unite together in one solid amalgam all those forces of the working class and then pit them against the capitalist class. It does not believe in the trade strike it has a different method, it believes in the industrial strike. It believes that when the time of action has arrived the workers of a given industry will strike simultaneously, or, to put it with the phrase of Bill Haywood, “All together.”

Outside of the immediate industrial union we have a national industrial union, and then a federation of all these national industrial unions, which controls all the industrial workers of the world. We have no contract, because we refuse to sign any contract with the bosses, and by having no contract with the various trades or with the various industries we are in a way free at a moment’s notice to call a strike in which every industry will be affected throughout the State or nation, and by a series of strikes and by the enforcement of the boycott, whereby we can refuse to buy goods from an unfair firm, and by a rigid application of the label we can force the capitalist class to terms.

Strikes and the General Strike

Every one of us knows — and no man is more convinced of it than I — that the strike to a certain extent is very futile. When a strike is settled there is an agreement made between the boss and the workers in which the workingman pledges himself to work for certain hours, say for eight hours a day, and to receive for his labor, say, $4 a day. The boss, on the other side, does not pledge himself not to raise the price of the product that these workers produce, and naturally the next day, as soon as he finds that he has been hit very hard in his pocketbook, the boss immediately remedies his loss by raising the price of his products. Thus this seesaw movement continues interminably, until sometime the workers are going to put an end to it by making an actual dent in the profit of the boss. For making this dent in the profit of the boss one thing alone is necessary, to devise some means and schemes whereby the boss will be prevented from raising the price of the product. How are we going to do it? In this way: By striking simultaneously in all the industries, if necessary, and by forcing the label on the boss, and by telling him we are not going to buy any more of his goods unless sold at the same price as before.

How We Shall Deal with the State

Then in this mighty struggle between the workers and capital we find that we are hampered in making clear cut the class divisions. We find that there are some impediments that stand between the army of the capitalist on the one side and the army of the workers on the other side. If these two armies were on a war footing and were just one against the other, with their artilleries in shape, I think that the social question would have been settled long ago. But there is something else which stands in the way, and that something is the State, it is the power of government. It is what is supposed to be the instrument of the will of the people. The State has its soldiers, it has its policemen, it has its laws, it has its legislative assemblies, it has its judges, it has its jails, it has its hangmen and executioners, and all these various elements which constitute the government are all directly interested in keeping society as it is now. Now, you may transform it as much as you want to, you may modify it and modernize it, but the fact remains that this State exists because these classes exist, and if you are going to put these classes up or down this State will eventually disappear. That is what we syndicalists say. We say that the State is the great impediment to the solution of the social question.

And here is where our attitude differs from the attitude of the socialist and from that of the anarchists on the other side. The socialists say that the root of all evil is the State the anarchists say likewise that the root of all evil is also the State. But the socialists say, “Let us capture the State and by capturing it we will remedy everything.” The anarchists say, on the contrary, “Let us destroy it, and by destroying it we will also remedy everything.” Now, we syndicalists say that we are going neither to capture it nor to destroy it, but to gradually absorb it into the working class.

“Direct Action”

Let me tell you how we are going to do it, and how we are doing it. All of the functions of the State are gradually being transformed to the working class. There was a bill for an eight-hour law a few years ago in this country, and I think it passed the Congress and the Senate, — I don’t know whether it was the Federal Congress or Senate, — but it had been passed practically in seven or eight States, and then this law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and was never put into effect. Then the workers took this law into their own hands. They assembled in their convention halls and they passed an eight-hour law right then and there. They have struck for this eight-hour law and they are going to get it. And if they do not get it just now they will get it later on. But that is the only way to get it, simply by taking it into their own hands. This is what we call direct action. Therefore one function of the State, so far as the industry is concerned, has been taken away from it, it has been transferred into the labor union.

Syndicalist Schools

Also, other attributes of the capitalist State are gradually taken by the workers themselves. One of the most necessary functions of the State is the question of education. It has been said that the State was going to educate every citizen and give every citizen a liberal education. Well, we syndicalists have come to a different conclusion we are not satisfied with the way our children are taught in the public schools we do not want them to go any more to the public schools we are going to build our own socialist school, our liberal school, where we are going to teach them truth, science, and everything that makes for the uplifting and for the betterment of mankind. We are not going to read them the Bible every morning we are not going to make them sing about the American flag and how beautiful it is to get slaughtered to defend one’s country we are not going to tell them that the American people are the greatest people in the world we are not going to tell them that in case of war it is a great and beautiful thing to go and be shot to pieces simply to defend the pocketbook and the commerce of the master class but we are going to tell them and educate them along class lines.

We are going to give them a one-sided education, but this one-sided education consists in instilling into their hearts the most strong dislike and the most bitter hatred against all form of oppression. Therefore, against this last rampart, this last bulwark of capitalism, we are going to oppose the Modern School, for which Francisco Ferrer was shot to death four years ago in Spain.

An Issue Forced

And then when we have done all these things you will naturally see that all the other classes will have been compelled to take sides or issue either with one class or the other class. When the lines are sharply drawn between these two classes, then, ladies and gentlemen, it will come to the question of a test of force, to a test of power. I do not mean necessarily violence, but I mean power. Because all the evangel of the Industrial Workers of the World and the syndicalist movement all over the world is this: that there is no such thing as right without a good solid force to back it up.

A New Social Order

It is a new State in society that we are going to have just now it is a movement upward, it is not a movement downward. It is the next degree in the tragedy of social and human evolution, it is something that will grant to every individual the full product of his labor and guarantee to him the most complete expression of his own individuality. For I claim that syndicalism is not the “slavery” that Herbert Spencer called socialism. Syndicalism is something more powerful than that. It does not believe in the almightiness of the all-powerful capitalism that has had to dispense welfare to every member of the community by keeping them in subjection and slavery. It is a new individualism not the individualism of the economic man as the capitalist understands it, but the individualism of the complete individual, the one that feels first of all the power of his own personality and believes that he must develop himself in order to develop the environment in which he is, and then he knows that he is a unit of this mighty whole which goes forward toward a definite goal which some of you might call the Kingdom of God and which I prefer to call the Kingdom of Man.

Sagamore Sociological Conference, Sagamore Beach, Massachusetts, 1907: 35-42.


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