Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Vito Marcantonio Forum, Chelsea Rising Launch Reading Circle

The Algonquin Round Table by Robert Sherwood
Through his allies in the Puerto Rican nationalist movement, Vito Marcantonio was introduced to tobacco factories wherein the “tabacqueros” working them would choose one among their number to read news and literature out loud. Each day a different tabacquero assumed the duty.

This practice of “La Lectura” impressed the radical congressman.

In the tradition of La Lectura, the Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF)and the anti-gentrification group Chelsea Rising have launched a reading circle currently considering the text, “I Vote My Conscience: Debates, Speeches and Writings of Vito Marcantonio.”

According to the VMF's website, the text, edited by Marc's colleague Annette Rubinstein, “is an invaluable source for all those interested in studying the life and work of seven-term American Labor Party congressman Vito Marcantonio, who courageously represented East Harlem and the entire American left.”

The book is available for a trifle at $10 from the VMF Book Shop on its website at http://vitomarcantonioforum.org

The next meeting is June 21 at 6 p.m., in Penn South's “community room,” at 339 West 24th Street (between 8th and 9th avenues). It will focus on Marc's congressional speeches and debates from the early part of his House career.

Penn South
The chosen venue is apt, Penn South being a project developed by the United Housing Foundation, brainchild of a former Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union official by the name of Abraham Kazan.

His projects tended toward cooperatively owned apartment buildings with lots of common spaces and social activities to encourage communal interaction. When it was inaugurated in 1962, Mayor Robert Wagner, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller and garment union leader David Dubinsky were joined by none other than President John F. Kennedy in the festivities.


Penn South stands as an example from a time identified by Joshua Freeman, author of “Working Class New York,” when, “the labor movement played a huge role in housing New Yorkers, massively intervening in a social sphere previously deemed the domain of the market.”

The reading circle is convened the third Wednesday of every month.

There have been two meetings thus far. Laura Kaplan, a participant in the sessions said, “I'm getting so much inspiration from reading about this remarkable, courageous, articulate man. He is truly a model of a leader for our times.”
"La Lectura" in a tobacco factory

The readings are guided by VMF co-chair, professor Gerald Meyer, author of “Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician,” whose “expertise and lectures during the reading group,” said Kaplan, “add to the depth of knowledge and context which increases my appreciation of Marcantonio's speeches.”

Chelsea Rising's Lizette Colon said, "I am simply in awe with the depth of Marcantonio's speeches, his sharp use of humor and, moreover, the relevance of his positions to issues and concerns we are still dealing with nowadays in the mainland and in my beloved Puerto Rico." 

Aldolph Freda, another reading circle participant and frequent attendee of VMF events, claimed to be impressed with the clarity of Marc's thought after considering speeches from his second congressional term.

“I was impressed, in addition to what he had to say, with his style. Everything he wrote was clear and unambiguous,” said Freda, who likened Marc's prose to what he called the “Attica Style” of 18th century Enlightenment writers, who strove for the clean prose typical of scribes from that ancient Greek city-state.

“They tried to write everything in a clear and lucid way, with a lack of ambiguity,” said Freda. "They would say, 'Ce qui ne se concoit pas clairement ne peut pas s'exprimir clairement,' or 'Whatever is not thought out or clearly conceived cannot be expressed clearly.'"

“In Marcantonio's case," Freda added, "I can say everything was clear without having to re-read anything. You know what it is that he is trying to say.

In the spirit of Freda's comments, in the spirit of La Lectura, and in the spirit of the VMF/Chelsea Rising reading circle, what follows are three posts treating pieces of Marcantonio's writing to a deeper consideration. Enjoy.

I Scribe Marcantonio (I) Pamphleteer

The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti by Ben Shan
After serving one term in Congress, Rep. Vito Marcantonio was swept away in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1936 re-election king tide. 

Yet, even with powerful waves rolling Democratic, Marc's opponent Jimmy Lanzetta barely prevailed by a vote of 18,772, to 17,212. Marc would win the rematch two years later.

In “Vito Marcantonio: Radical in Congress,” Alan Schaffer posited that the freshman representative's downfall could be blamed, in part, on his rift with Luigi Antonini, leader of the the powerful Italian Dressmakers Local 89, International Ladies Garment Workers Union.  

The one-time allies split, Schaffer asserted, when Marcantonio's efforts on behalf of the anti-fascist struggle in Italy led to increasingly constructive contacts with communists.  

The matter is open to dispute. Some say Marc could never have withstood the Roosevelt landslide,  but in any case, his next move was to assume the presidency of the the International Labor Fund (ILD).

In “Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician,” professor Gerald Meyer describes the ILD as brainchild of Joseph Brodsky, legal counsel to the Communist Party, to which the organization was tied.  

Marcantonio's defeat, Meyer wrote, influenced his decision to become president of the ILD.

According to Meyer, it was a role in which Marc's congressional experience enhanced the outfit's infrastructure for influencing public policy. 

Marc's work with the ILD involved him in high-profile cases of the day, such as that of labor activist Tom Mooney, wrongly jailed for bombing a World War I “Preparation Day” parade in San Francisco. Marc joined the defense of West Coast longshoremens union rabble-rouser Harry Bridges, whom the government wanted to deport to Australia. He fought dictatorial Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague over union and civil rights alike.  

The ILD post, Meyer wrote, “catapulted Marcantonio into the position of national spokesman for the left and deepened his relationship with the Communist Party.”  

In 1937, as International Labor Defense chairman, Marcantonio penned the pamphlet, “Labor's Martyrs.” 

The document was published with an introduction by William Z. Foster, a prominent American communist: “The militant trade union movement of today,” Foster wrote, “heading towards a broad People's Front, is the direct lineal descendant of the great strike movement of the 1886 Chicago martyrs.” 

Foster is talking the "Popular Front" policy of international communists in the 1930s, which called for collaboration with other forces on the political left to fight spreading fascism.


“The Chicago martyrs” he is linking the policy to were those hung for the Haymarket Affair and it is with that historical event Marcantonio begins his discourse. The second part deals with the saga of Sacco and Vanzetti.  

Entitled “Labor's Martyr's,” labor, the organized kind, is the text's primary focus. 

Marcantonio suggests that organized labor is American as apple pie, is in the country's DNA: “Noble attempts to build [the labor movement] had been made in the days of our Revolutionary forefathers,” he writes.  

The Haymarket Martyrs
And Marc, a man who drew logistical support and droves of votes from the union rank-and-file, knew his syndicates. 

He notes that Albert Parson, one of the Haymarket defendants [Marc prefers the term “victims”], “was a printer, a member of the powerful International Typographical Union which, even in those days, had over 60,000 members.”  

Membership counts are the currency of the union movement and source of their leverage in collective bargaining and street action alike. A consummate political operative, Marcantonio probably knew the rank-and-file tallies of the many unions blossoming across the country at the time.  

With color and pace, the phenom from East Harlem recounts the Haymarket debacle in a prose colored by a sense of great grievance and a promise that labor's part of the fighting has just begun.  

The text recalls the May Day strike of 1886. August Spies, a German metalworker and union organizer was invited to speak at the McCormick Reaper plant in Chicago. Police rushed the assembly with guns and clubs and scores were brutalized. A bomb was set off.

“Chicago papers were quick to point out that 'only' two had lost their lives!” Marcantonio's exclamation point underscores the purpose of this particular ILD production, which is to tie labor's contemporary battles to prior confrontations. To tell a longer, more emotional story.  

In “Labor's Martyrs” Marc is less the journalist and more the instigating pamphleteer. The text is a call to action rather than an academic or purely historical work. 

And it is a youthful work. Marcantonio died at the age of 51 and accomplished his many achievements as a young, brash and precocious force of life. He is just 35 years old at this point in his truncated, yet breathless career.  

Vanzetti and Sacco
Marcantonio writes that Spies rushed back to the German radical paper “Arbeiter-Zeitung,” which we highlight simply because he does not run from the word “radical” the way most American politicians did and still do. 

Authorities hung the bombing on eight anarchists making them a part of labor history in the process. 

“What the press made of it is one of the rawest frame-up trials in American history,” he writes, factually, vintage Marcantonio, who often resorted to expressions like “rawest” and “frame-up,” because of whom he chose to defend and the kind of battles he was obliged to fight. 

“The newspapers from coast to coast, our worthy 'New York Times' not excepted, howled for their blood, raved about an Anarchist plot to blow up Chicago, seize the government, murder, arson, pillage, rape – the whole program which William Randolph Hearst has made only too familiar to the American public.” 

Marcantonio had a special axe to grind when it came to Hearst, whose newspapers relentlessly attacked the congressman.

Gerald Meyer writes that Hearst's “Daily Mirror” described Marcantonio as a “political maggot” who “must feed on decay and corruption to survive.”  

Marcantonio continues: “The judge, Judge Gary, gave one of the most shameful performances that this country has ever seen, and it has seen plenty from its judges.”

Marc, that ambitious first generation son of Italian immigrants, loves America when it fulfills its promise, but his brand of patriotism does not preclude the telling of a true, people's history.  

That people's history he told had words of the following kind: “The bigoted speeches of the prosecutor Grinnell, and his aides, are equaled only by the speeches of the prosecution in the Mooney case, the Herndon case, the Scottsboro case. In other words, they established a fine precedent for all anti-labor prosecutions.”  

Marcantonio knows of what he speaks, because he served as an assistant U.S. attorney, a primarily prosecutorial post. He is writing on behalf of the International Labor Defense, a legal outfit, and as the lawyer chosen to spearhead its political efforts. 

The focus is legal and his point is that “Labor's Martyrs” were created as much in courtrooms as in the streets or on the shop floor. There is more than a chronicle going on here. There is this larger question of labor's role at the crux of 1930s social change and revolution.  

After the Haymarket convictions, Marcantonio wrote, “Chicago papers collected a purse of $100,00 to divide among them as reward for work well done.”  

He doesn't offer any evidence. If Marc seeks a more just labor law, he is not beyond spinning a bit of labor lore in that effort. 

“And then came the appeal to the United States Supreme Court,” he forges ahead. “Old as they are, none of the present incumbents were then sitting on the bench. But their worthy forerunners were equally reactionary.”  

A keen sarcasm laced with indignation was a tool Marc used for slashing the arguments of opponents from the House well, or the East Harlem street corner. It was not academic talk. It was a popular lexicon he could employ at will, without condescending, because it was his own organic idiom. 


“They did not die in vain,” he rallies. “Taught by the lessons of the Haymarket tragedy, such an organization as the International Labor Defense has been built by the workers and progressive people of America, to stand guard and prevent such legal murders today.”  

“Legal murders.”  

Marc as master of the subversive sobriquet.

Sacco and Vanzetti


Marcantonio Scribe then recalls, “two other labor martyrs who must be honored at the same time as the Haymarket heroes. The tenth anniversary of their death coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the former I
n this year 1937.” 

Here he is writing of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Marc begins with a quotation from the latter.  

“I am suffering because I am a radical, and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I was an Italian, and indeed I am Italian; I have suffered more for my family and for my beloved than for myself; but I am so convinced to be right that you could execute me two times, and if I could be reborn two other times I would live again to do what I have done already.” 


It is a generous passage granted by the writer; gives voice to one unjustly silenced, in their own chosen words.

“To me these words are particularly poignant,” writes Marcantonio. “For I am an Italian, and proud to be of the same people that produced such a great spirit as Vanzetti, the descendant of Garibaldi, the forerunner of those heroic anti-fascist brothers who are today fighting Fascism and Mussolini in Italy and Spain.”  

Marc positions himself firmly along the historical leftist continuum; openly links himself to men executed for murder by the state. And he joins that tradition to the Italian spirit for the benefit of his constituents who were subject to a career-long history lesson from the settlement-house-teacher-cum-congressman.


Marcantonio writes of Sacco and Vanzetti, as workers and organizers.  

“Both found only hard knocks. Sacco was a shoe worker. Vanzetti had followed many trades after his arrival here in the summer of 1908. He worked in mines, mills, factories. Finally he landed in a cordage plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts. That was the last factory job he held. For here, as in all the others, he talked union and organization, and organized a successful strike. After that, he was blacklisted for good and had to make a living peddling fish to his Italian neighbors in the little town known as the cradle of liberty.”  

Marc sees, not just victims of legal murder, but heroes in their own right, beyond their victimization: “The tragedy of their untimely and cruel death is still an open wound in the hearts of many of us who remember them as shining spirits, as truly great men such as only the lowly of the earth can produce.”  

For Marc, this is the meaning of Sacco and Vanzetti.  

The Lowly of the Earth. These were Marcantonio's chosen constituency. His decision to join forces with the ILD rather than hang around Washington D.C., and peddle his influence in some lucrative fashion, says all that needs to be said about his motivations. 

With “Labor's Martyrs,” and his wider activities for the ILD, Marcantonio demonstrated how his electoral defeat in no wise diminished his fight for that constituency. Being a congressman was just one way to achieve the same ends.  

Marcantonio was not a career “politician,” so much as a dedicated advocate for the Lowly of the Earth.



I Scribe, Marcantonio (II) Battling Bureaucrats

Marc speaks at a "Wallace for President Rally," Yankee Stadium 1948

Friends is Friends.

Vito Marcantonio was a hands-on people's representative not above stepping into the small-life affairs of his constituents in a personal way. He had a biting, city-boy sense of humor and a lawyer's tendency to block each argument presented to him and with these tools did he wage verbal battle on behalf of the poor.  

His streetwise approach to administrative and official matters, his unequivocal advocacy on behalf of constituents, and his familiarity with the conditions by which they lived, are all on exhibit in an exchange archived with the Marcantonio Papers at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. 

The written salvos took place between Marcantonio and Arthur McDermott, director, Selective Service for City of New York. 

A Marcantonio collaborator, Tony Ribaudo, had been drafted into World War II and apparently requested the congressman's assistance in getting off the hook, given that he was the sole provider for his ex-wife, their child and his mother. 

Marcantonio's opening request is not available in the file, but McDermott's caustic response of Nov. 12, 1942, is. 

The conscription chief notes that Ribaudo has been, “a paid organizer for the Communist Party since Jan. 5. 1942.” He further observes how Ribaudo,“became separated from his wife and four children on Jan. 7, 1942” [perhaps hinting at a link between joining the party and unjoining his marriage].

The draft chief points out that at the time of his filing, [Ribaudo] and his family were on home relief, and had been so for five years previously.

McDermott notes that Ribaudo claimed to live with his daughter by a first, deceased wife and his mother, and accuses him of trying to, “bring himself within the rule that provides that a registrant who lives in a bona fide family relationship with his child, is entitled to a dependency deferment.”


Supporters at the Lucky Corner
Anthony Ribaudo does not seem to rank as someone “important” in the congressman's constellation. He appears more akin to the neighborhood “characters” Marc prided himself on not forgetting as he rose to prominence. Men such as Anthony “Kid” Lagana, a secretary of Marc's who was fished out of the East River, or prize fighter Dominick Petrone, a district captain and alleged “gibbone” body guard. 

They served him as ward-heelers, spotters, messengers, organizers and he gave them the respectability that came when one worked with a member of Congress. 

Ribaudo makes a few appearances in the file the Federal Bureau of Investigation kept on Marc...the Marcantonio File.

An Aug. 2, 1946 “teletype” U.S. Department of Justice memo has Ribaudo working as a go-between Marcantonio and U.S. Communist Party secretary general Eugene Dennis. It refers to Ribaudo as a “campaign manager” for the congressman. 

“Dennis was advised that Marcantonio is in Washington D.C., and returns to NY each evening about Nine O-Clock,” the memo informs. [He did this on Fridays, not every day].

An Aug. 9, 1946 FBI office memo details two communications, “which reflect on how the Communist Party reaches Congressman Vito Marcantonio."

Once again Ribaudo's name pops up as someone “describing himself as being with Marcantonio calling Communist Party headquarters trying to reach Dennis with a message that the congressman wanted to talk with him about the “Brooklyn situation” on the afternoon of July 16, 1946.  

The Brooklyn situation was unknown to the Feds, according to the memo's author, J.C. Strickland, “although it possibly pertains to the support publicly offered by Marcantonio to Congressman O'Toole, which was a surprise to Communists in the New York City area since their favored candidate from the same area had to withdraw. This was Douglas McMahon, reported Communist who is an official of the Transport Workers Union – CIO.”  

“It might be noted,” Strickland wrote, “that the Bureau has conducted an investigation of Ribaudo who in the past served as section organizer for the East Harlem Section of the Communist Party in the New York City Area.”

The second interoffice FBI communication appears to refer to the same facts as contained in the first.  
Italian Neighborhood Life

In any case, McDermott imparts to Marcantonio that Ribaudo's induction into the wartime army shall proceed apace. That communists are good as anybody else when it comes to canon fodder. Given that the above memos discussing his role as a Marc go-between are dated from 1946, we can assume Ribaudo survived and made it home hale and hardy.

Hostos Community College professor Gerald Meyer notes that the Communist Party encouraged its members to enlist. "It's support for  Tony Ribaudo's exemption indicates that they valued his work very highly." 

Marcantonio returned fire on Nov. 4. In his letter, the congressman does not evade the Red charge or even dispute it. The tactic was old news to him, what he called, “the red herring that hid the fact there was no pork chop.”  

Marc challenged inaccuracies in McDermott's letter as to Ribaudo's support payments to his wife [they were larger].  

Furthermore, Marcantonio noted, “There is nothing strange or unusual for one that becomes separated from his wife to want to live with his mother and his child.”

But Marc was forced to relent, saying he expected no satisfaction from McDermott, thanks to his political prejudices. “I am certain that if [Ribaudo] were not a communist, the decision would be otherwise. The contents of your letter proves it.”  

Marcantonio's street-speak sparring skills translated well to his written output, his scripted word as sharp as the spoken barbs he launched at congressional colleagues.

“Ordinarily,” wrote McDermott, “I would have been amazed that a public official had attempted to intercede on behalf of a registrant whose case obviously had so little merit, were it not for the fact that you were the Congressman.”  

To which Marc responded, “I would ordinarily resent the attack contained in your letter if it were not for the fact you had made it.”















I Scribe, Marcantonio (III) Letters to the Editor

It was the worst of times or, perhaps, worst of “The Times.”

In “Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician,” professor Gerald Meyer notes that, “Marcantonio's Radical positions and affiliations engendered extraordinary opposition. He was subject to campaigns of vilification in the press.”

Meyer noted that, among these, was a series of editorials published by “The New York Times,” in the heat of Marcantonio's 1948 re-election campaign. The congressman promptly launched the written counterattack under consideration here.

It was a difficult campaign. Two years prior, opponents had latched onto the beating death of Republican district captain, Joe Scottoriggio, and mercilessly tarred Marcantonio with responsibility for the fatal dumping and with mafiosi collusion to get it done.

Neither the mafiosi nor Marcantonio were ever found guilty of anything and numerous investigations into Scottoriggio's death were inconclusive. East Harlem was effectively occupied by police forces and street sweeps were deployed for weeks after the murder in Marc's district.

There was blood in the water and the sharks were circling. Marcantonio put paper to pen and addressed, in the required stately terms, “The New York Times'” charges against him.

“The Times” had, he wrote, “seen fit to devote three editorial columns in the issues of Oct 12, 14 and 15 – to urging my defeat...”

The newspaper daily, he continued, “has told its readers that my record in Congress is one of having consistently, 'accepted, spoken for and voted for the Communist line during the last decade.' 'The Times,' says the issue facing the voters of my district is 'whether they are going to vote Russian or vote American'.”

Marcantonio admitted that he had indeed been consistent, “yes, consistent in the fight against reckless profiteers and their marches to war; consistent in battling for fair wages, price controls, decent housing, national health, freedom for labor, an end to religious discrimination, Jim Crow and the like; and for the civil rights of all Americans.”

Having put his campaign platform in Gotham's most important daily, Marc next wrote that he, “bowed to the felicitous phrasing of 'The New York Times' editorial, however cynically the phrase may have been meant.”

Marcantonio spends a good amount of ink explaining his shift in position regarding U.S. entry into the European theater. At the war's outset he would tell crowds “The Yanks are not comin'!”, but once German Chancellor Adolf Hitler violated his nonaggression pact with Russian Premier Joseph Stalin, he saw reason enough for entering the conflict.

“It is not hindsight for me to say now,” he asserts, “that if there had been a majority of Marcantonios in the days of the appeasement of fascism and Hitlerism, in the days of the sabotage of collective security by the capitalist democracies, in the days of the massacre of democratic Spain by the Hitler-Mussolini axis – if there had been a majority of Marcantonios in those years to call a halt to the fascist march on the world, there would have been no World War II and millions and millions of lives would have been saved to enjoy a world at peace.”

His change of heart occurred, he explains, “when it became a war for the defense and security of the American people, did indeed become a true anti-fascist and anti-imperialist war.”

Yet the war the U.S. started out with was not the one it ended. Stewardship of the war mattered, he intones, for with President Franklin Roosevelt's passing, “Wall Street and the imperialist forces of Britain took over the war, perverted the objective of the peace.”

His complaint to the editors brings into full relief the effort of international capital at the time to settle the territories of a flattened European continent and quell revolutionary situations flashing from the embers of war.

“The bipartisan policymakers seek to rebuild the Germany which has made war on this world twice within twenty-five years,” he continues his condemnation of the post-war policy consensus. “They exculpate and pardon the gas-chamber assassins of nazism and restore them to power. They favor the 'return of colonies' to Italy and protest is heard faintly over the din of war-making from the self-same Ethiopia which was the first victim of fascism's last march. They provide arms and money for Greek to kill Greek, for the thieving and fratricidal Chang Kai-shek to suppress his peasant people.

“And in this very month, the bipartisan policy which 'The Times' defends is now seeking to maneuver the admission of the Spain of Franco – the Fascist, Falangist, anti-semite butcher – into the United Nations.”

It is election season, and Marcantonio does not let pass an opportunity to defend and identify fully with his constituency and ethnic cohort:

“I am taxed by 'The Times' for demanding the world relief be administered through the United Nations rather than as the spearhead of a new policy of economic imperialism by American big business. 'The Times' calls the attention of my 'Italian constituents' to this.

“Waste no more words on this matter: my constituents of proud Italian birth or descent know well and applaud my consistent opposition to the use of American taxpayers' money to interfere in the Italian elections, as well as my genuine concern for the restoration of a democratic and self-sustaining Italy.”

Marc then switches from responding to charges, to further elucidation of his own political program. The following paragraph has the feeling of a controlled rant. It is delivered with an anger-harnessed rhythm and matches descriptions of his staccato style of public speaking:

“I have consistently fought for price controls and the rationing of scarce commodities. I have supported every decent housing measure and introduced some, hoping to give not only the veterans, but all our people decent homes to live in (without racial discrimination, incidentally). I have consistently fought against Wall Street and the monopolies. This has included my opposition to their entrenchment in the government as ordained by Mr. Truman and promised for the future by Mr. Dewey, whom 'The Times' supports.

“I have fought against the tax measures that 'rob the needy to help the greedy,' as FDR so aptly said.”

From there his politics become more a specific vision for the country, a nuts-and-bolts enumeration of what America might be.

“I am against universal military training and peacetime conscription,” he wrote. “No veteran need have this explained, nor any son, wife, or sweetheart, and yet 'The Times' attacks me back for adhering to this historically American position. I oppose the regimentation of Americans and the entire American economy for the purpose of badgering any country which may resist the economic aggression planned by the 'bipartisan' Wall Street gang that now controls the Government.”

War and profits are continually linked throughout the congressman's screed.

And of course, there was his role as the last and final bulwark of trade union rights, something that movement has too easily forgotten where Marcantonio is concerned. Moreover, although Marc was not always the most accurate prophet – there was no great move towards a third party in the U.S. as he predicted – his words about the fate of organized labor ring only too true.

“I am against the Taft-Hartley Act, 'The Times,' supports the act. The act is a deliberate and proven instrument of destruction of labor organizations, according to Mr. Green, Mr. Murray. Mr. Lewis and all other leaders of the working people of America. Is it 'Russian' to be against Taft-Hartley and union-busting? Is it patriotic to be for it?”

He continued his painting of a hopeful and progressive portrait, ever vigilant of the civil rights that empower his beleaguered constituencies, and mindful of McCarthyism.

“I am against turning my country into a police state. I adhere to the constitutional principle that an accused man must have an opportunity to hear his accusers and cross-examine them. Do Mr. Truman's 'loyalty' purges include this procedure? Is it 'blindness' to demand justice and fairness for all alike?”

Here he adopts and almost plaintive tone. Marcantonio does not come to the politics of poverty through a fashion, or academia. He lives it with those around him in East Harlem and when he makes his case here, he's making their case. Yes, he's writing in election season in defense of his good name, but he employs the occasion to take another at bat for his constituents, his people.

“However much the views and actions of mine may resemble the 'communist line' in the opinion of 'The New York Times,' I nevertheless, stand by them. I am confident that history and the final judgment of the people will support me in the future as they had so consistently in the past.”

Marcantonio would win that year, yet again, despite the specter of Scottoriggio and a nationwide Republican sweep.

If Marc's response had an impact at The Gray Lady, it was not enduring. In 1950, 'The Times' again targeted him in an editorial tuned to the same key: “We shall limit our advice in the congressional elections this year to the special case of Vito Marcantonio...his views seem to be so remarkably compatible wit the view of Moscow...It has long been obvious that Mr. Marcantonio's views did not represent American thinking.”

We can be certain they knew well his views, because they knew well his concise and cutting style of writing. 'The Times,' simply chose to ignore the contents of its own publication.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sandlot Baseball Central Park

His figure could have been cut out and pasted into the scene. But he belongs, this guy in a suit not afraid to get dirty. As perfect a metaphor for the political life of Vito Marcantonio as might be captured. The broad-shouldered ballplayers towering over his slight frame will not mistake him for some lightweight politician. Not with this throw. Marc grew up on the streets of East Harlem. He plays to win. The face is wrenched with exertion. Maybe he imagines the catcher's mitt as Mississippi John Rankin's head. The congressman's form has him doing what he should, bringing his throwing shoulder forward so that his chest fronts home plate. His release point is true; is that place at the top of his motion where a small orb of luminescent energy is ready to burst forth like some superhero's fireball. His left hand seemingly upholds his entire body, sustaining energy in motion on four fingertips. He is with black men in a time when black men are being lynched at a fairly brisk pace around the country. They play baseball in their own black leagues, because the white leagues won't have them. Marc would help change that with a call for congressional hearings on racial discrimination in major league baseball. He was not just around for the photograph, which depicts an Italian, showing off his chops at the signature American game, surrounded by what appear to be Cubans. This is Marcantonio's multi-colored counter-narrative to received American history, a story in which he was at ease and at play.



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Remembering is Empowering: The 106th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

A Unionized Garment Shop by Ralph Fasanella.















O Girls Girls! Teenage immigrants
Tell me where did you go in the fire?
(Tessie! Caterina! Antonietta! Somebody tell me)
I jumped to the street
Where my bones and concrete meet.
The sewer my blood runs through.

                  Annie Lanzillotto (click)


The 106th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire will be remembered with a multi-genre program March 24 at New York Univerity's Casa Italiana. The address is 24 West 12th Street, New York City, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The program will include a performance by Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF) founding member LuLu LoLo Pascale of an excerpt from her play, “Soliloquy for a Seamstress: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.”

The VMF recently affiliated with the coalition and members will also participate in the event.

Costanzo Quatriglio's documentary, “Triangle,” will also be screened. It tells the story of a similar event that led to workplace deaths in present-day Italy.

Professor Mary Anne Trasciatti, chair, Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, will present an update on the effort to establish a permanent memorial.

Vito Marcantonio would have been nine years old in 1911 and, in all likelihood, painfully aware of the fire.

Although the inferno happened downtown, and Marcantonio's Little Italy was found uptown on the shores of the East River, the event sent shockwaves through immigrant communities.

In her 2010 essay, “Chalking Back Through Time” author Elissa Sampson proposed that, “This still salient loss took place in less than 20 minutes, 146 people died, overwhelmingly young women. Many jumped from the locked ninth floor after the elevator failed due to the weight of those escaping the eighth floor. The tenth floor mainly made it out to the roof.”
Marc's Congressional investigation. Her three sons died from silicosis.

The only compensation ever dispensed with was $75 to the families of 23 victims.

Among the tragedy's more enduring legacies, Sampson noted, “The Triangle Fire for Jews and Italians marked the entrenchment of labor politics since the sweatshops remained critical to their economic sustenance.”

Marcantonio's politics both supported and drew support from those newly emboldened unions; were forged in that environment. He was a kind of last line of defense in the battles that would ensue to liquidate that power: the anti-communist purges and passage of the Taft-Hartley Act.

His role as a spokesperson for workplace issues, and workplace safety in particular, extended well beyond his East Harlem bailiwick. A trip to West Virginia early in his congressional career spurred Marc to conduct a House investigation into the silicosis epidemic that was laying thousands low there.

Today, Sampson wrote of the Triangle fire, “[T]his tragic event is now seen again as pivotal in interpreting the city's labor, industrial and immigrant history and in having brought New Yorkers together to meet the most urgent social justice challenge of their times.”

The event is cosponsored by Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, Italian American Writers Association, Remember the Triangle Coalition and National Organization of Italian American Women.

The program, sponsors say, is intended to, “keep alive the memory of what happened in 1911 and of its significance for the history of the U.S. labor movement. Art also reminds contemporary audiences of the symbolic and political value of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in generating a discourse about workers' rights and dignity, and about illegal situations of the exploitation of labor in the U.S. and abroad.”