[PAST] 5 minutes on Sacco & Vanzetti
Speech given by Pasqualino Colombaro on 8/23/07 at the memorial rally held at the Langone Park in the North End of Boston.
(Pasqualino is a union representative in Boston.)
The North End is where we can still hear the echoes of their steps and where for 7 years the mobilization in their defense was headquartered. A veritable global network of support and solidarity sprang out of here to block their execution and for their freedom. Hard to imagine it today surrounded as we are by a myriad mediocre Italian restaurants...
The North End is also where I come in my moments of discomfort looking for that 1% of Italianity that you can still catch here. A far cry from the bustling working class culture of the mostly native Italian population that lived here in the twenties...
Like Sacco and Vanzetti I too grew up in Southern Italy before immigrating to the US. It was during my teen years in Italy that I first heard the story of Sacco and Vanzetti, in the late sixties. I revisited that story many times over the years also thanks to my friendship with Bob D'Attilio, their preeminent historiographer. Each time I came away with new lessons and each time I was deeply moved by the tragedy and the glory of it.
Of course volumes have been written about those events and about the historical period leading up to their execution. I can't do justice to it here but I want to use my time to communicate to you what I think is the essence of their message and their sacrifice.
Suffice to say their execution marks the epilogue of 50 years of unprecedented worker and union struggles in the USA. Starting with the Great Upheaval of 1877 (with the great national Railroad Strike) and the first Red Scare, passing through the tumults of 1886 leading up to the Haymarket events of May 1st, the Carnegie Steel Homestead Strike of 1889, the meteoric rise and fall of the revolutionary unionism of the IWW and the systemic use of war abroad to justify the destruction of workers' power and the usurpation of their freedoms at home, what took place in those years was the historical, ruthless and bloody repression of the American movements for worker emancipation and workers' rights that eventually yielded the type of industrial relations that is still with us today, virtually unchanged.
Strong social, political and legal foundations were laid down for the close to absolute power that employers and managerial prerogatives enjoy today in the American workplace. The modern American industrial working class was thus forged and delivered to the world in its current docile and passive form and it was seemingly for ever excluded from participation in the determination of national policies and practices that were to affect workers' interests and destinies henceforth.
What Sacco and Vanzetti had so valiantly fought against in their time is still with us today and in spades. The injustices and indignities they suffered we suffer. The main difference is that even though we posses as a class the resources, the numbers, the knowledge, the know-how, the means, the right historical and material conditions to engage the powers that be in victorious confrontation we do nothing.
Despite the horrific, ruthless forms that worker repression took, Sacco and Vanzetti seized their time, stepped out of anonymity, studied, gathered around with their peers, organized, fought back, sticking to their love for Peace, Freedom and Social Dignity, for new, egalitarian forms of social and economic interaction, for their Anarchist ideal, to the bitter end. Today we know or should know that not only they were innocent, they had actually got it right! They were right to think what they thought and to fight who they fought!!
Every day and every moment we are faced in America today with analogous problems and analogous choices. Yet at every step, individually and as a class we choose to avoid taking effective action, to stand up for our principles and to fight back. We think we have something to loose. Indeed we do. No real gain comes free of charge. Today like yesterday, the issue is not whether we have nothing to loose but our chains but how we propose to break loose of those chains. Still we choose not to honor the sacrifices nor the vibrant struggles waged by the millions of ordinary workers (immigrant and non) that took place on this very soil continuously for half a century up until 80 years ago -- to the day. We rather forget about them on account that all of that is 'in the past'.
Unfortunately that past in its entirety is still with us... And what we do (or don't do) today will determine our tomorrow. By comparison our lack of action does not bode well for us as human beings.
We must ask ourselves: what's standing in the way? And proceed to remove all obstacles.
I close by extending to you this invitation: let's find the courage to fight for our principles!! Let's work together. Another world is indeed possible. The point is to truly wish its realization and go about building it according to our specifications. Let's create the alternatives that we seek conscientiously, without fear or compromise, and with the intelligence, the wisdom and dignity, that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti taught us with their example. The time is now! Let's step out of docility and do something 'left wing', however small, for a change.