Sacco and Vanzetti Yesterday and Today's Immigrants

On August 23, 1927 Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were executed by the state of Massachusetts for, allegedly, the robbery and murder of two factory paymasters on April 15, 1920 in South Braintree, Massachusetts. In the eighty five years since the electrocution of these men, despite literally hundreds of books, articles and theses by journalists, scholars, attorneys authors and jurists neither the guilt nor the innocence of these men has been definitively established and probably never will be.

I am not going to focus on the facts of the case nor am I going to argue their guilt or innocence.

Rather, I want to examine the climate and the context in which the trial, the sentence and appeals took place, and their relevance to today.

Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian immigrants, anarchists and unskilled workingmen.

Three years before their trial an event occurred which sent tremors and shock across the entire western world, the Russian Revolution.

In the years immediately before the trial, a wave of massive strikes took place across the United States. Steelworkers, lumber and shipyard workers, miners and others went on strike. Here in Boston the police went on strike in 1919.

Although most of these labor actions were brutally suppressed, they provoked another great tremor. The ruling classes and their political allies hysterically denounced the Red Tide that was sweeping the nation. They were, of course, fully supported by the media, which declared that 'foreign agitators' were responsible.

This Red Scare meshed neatly with the xenophobes, nativists and reactionaries who loathed and feared the masses of immigrants coming from Southern and Eastern Europe. In the public view these were the 'great unwashed', Catholics, Orthodox and Jews, people who spoke no English, who had no skills or education, uncivilized heretics, pagans and Christ killers who would sap the few existing social services, cause taxes to rise and take jobs from the 'real Americans'.

Therefore, these two Italians were guilty even before the trial began. Judge Webster openly expressed his bias, as did prosecutor Katzman. While the defendants, during the trial, were confined in a barred metal cage.

A reporter for the Boston Transcript commented, "there's no story, just a couple of wops in a jam"! Some jurors, during the trial, openly expressed hostility toward the defendants.

In spite of worldwide protest at the unfairness of the trial, these men were put to death.

How strangely reminiscent are today's events. Arabs, Latin@s, Haitians and Caribbeans are kidnapped from their streets and confined in secret prisons where they rot without hearing or trial. We do not even need the sham trials of Sacco and Vanzetti.

In addition, our xenophobes in Congress and the press announce that yesterday's Italians are today's Latino, Haitian and Caribbean immigrants. They come here, we are told, to draw our resources, to burden our schools, to overwhelm our services and to collect welfare. Paradoxically these "lazy immigrants" are taking all of our jobs.

However, we do not hear about CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) and similar agreements which have a devastating impact on Latin America's economy, pushing tens of thousands into abject poverty, forcing millions of small farmers off the land driving them to leave home and family in order to survive.

In addition, we are not told that they pay taxes, provide necessary and mostly menial labor and contribute disproportionately little to social disorder.

Under the current administration ICE raids and deportations have increased sharply, and in many instances, leaving children without their parents, and women and men without their companeros/as.
And, to this day, the location and condition of more than half of the detainees are unknown to their families. Today's Globe has an article, which focuses on the deportation of minors numbering upwards of 11,000.

As Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois has said the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is "essentially a Gestapo-type agency where those who work the longest hours at the most undesirable jobs are treated like terrorists, simply for waking up and going to work".

Yesterday's Italians are this year's Latin@s, Haitians and Caribbeans.

As that great Philosopher, Yogi Berra, said "its déjà vu all over again".

We must demand:

  • An immediate halt to ALL raids and deportations
  • An end to the brutal separation of parents and children.
  • The Labor Movement rise to the defense, support and inclusion of ALL THOSE WHO COME TO THIS COUNTRY TO FIND WORK!
  • The President and the congress of the United States of America to ratify the "United Nations Convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families".

    This Convention has been ratified by over sixty nations. Please go online to sign, download/print and circulate these petitions. You can sign petitions online at www.bostonmayday.org

    In response to the increasing raids, deportations, anti immigrant legislation and related workers rights we must re-establish a rapid response hotline.

    Sacco and Vanzetti live in every immigrant/migrant worker, their families and in us. We too must continue to stand against the exploitation and oppression of workers until we are ALL recognized as "workers of the world" and travel across continents without barriers or walls to seek work and better lives!


    Boston, August 26, 2012