Skip to main content

This Week in People’s History, Dec 5–11

Si, Se Puede! (in 2008), Exposing FBI Crimes (1973), Bartenders Win Half a Loaf (1948), Great Art at Greater Prices (1933), Don't Forget the Genocide Convention (1948), Don't Forget Human Rights, Either (1948), $1 Million Is Chump Change

Union pickets outside Republic Windows and Doors Factory
UE News

Si, Se Puede!

15 YEARS AGO, on December 5, 2008, in the midst of the 2008 financial meltdown, some 250 workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago began a successful sit-down strike against layoffs. The workers, members of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, had learned only days earlier that the factory was about to close and they were all about to be laid off without severance pay and without payment of what they were owed for accrued vacation time. Failure to pay 60-days severance and vacation pay would have been a violation of federal law.  When the workers began to occupy the factory around the clock, they were, in effect, holding hostage the plant and equipment, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of finished windows and doors that were awaiting shipment. The workers, most of whom were Latine or Black, had tremendous community support, which included the support of many local politicians, who pointedly warned the police to not intervene and let the workers and plant owners come to an agreement. Days after the workers occupied the plant, its owners agreed to negotiation with the union and with officials from the Bank of America.  Six days after the occupation of the plant began, the bankers agreed to lend the owners the money needed to pay the required severance and vacation pay. When the deal was presented to the workers in the plant, they approved it unanimously and marched out chanting Si, Se Puede!…

[The item below has been updated with additional information]
Exposing FBI Crimes 

50 YEARS AGO, on December 6, 1973, NBC became the first news outlet to disclose details about the FBI's hitherto top-secret counterintelligence program code-named COINTELPRO,

NBC's revelation was the result of reporter Carl Stern's diligent use of the federal Freedom of Information Act to explain a single reference to COINTELPRO that appeared on one page of a huge trove of documents that activists had stolen from an FBI in March 1971. When Stern first asked the FBI what COINTELPRO meant, the FBI director told him only “This matter involved a highly sensitive operation. It has now been discontinued” and that any further disclosures “would definitely be harmful to the Bureau’s operations and to the national security.”

That was when Stern filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain more information, which forced the FBI to disclose enough about the program to form the basis of Stern's report on NBC Nightly News, which was introduced with these startling words: “Secret FBI memos made public today show the late J. Edgar Hoover ordered a nationwide campaign to disrupt the activities of the New Left. He ordered his agents not only to expose New Left groups, but to take action against them to neutralize them.”   

COINTELPRO was a secret because it was the FBI's 17-year-old program of using brazenly illegal methods, such as burglary, forgery, perjury, illegal wiretaps, wrongful imprisonment and assassination. Its targets included a long list of individuals and groups that opposed the U.S. war against Vietnam or that sought to promote civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, union organizing, Black power, and the rights of Native Americans and Latinos. Also targeted were  organizations that favored radical change, such as the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, and Students for a Democratic Society.

As important as the NBC report was, it only scratched the surface of the FBI's COINTELPRO-connected lawbreaking, which was exposed much more thoroughly in 1976, when the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities released the results of its investigation. There remains a lot about COINTELPRO that is unknown, but for a sobering introduction to what is known, visit

Bartenders Win Half a Loaf

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

75 YEARS AGO, on December 7, 1948, some two thousand workers employed by 650 New York City bars, members of Bartenders Union Local 15, went on strike. They were asking for a 20-percent pay increase and the creation of a welfare fund. At the time, some 90 percent of the seven thousand bartenders in New York City were members of the bartenders' union.

The strike was long and acrimonious. All the struck bars remained open. The strike was settled after seven weeks, when the employers agreed to make monthly contributions to a new welfare fund, but refused to increase wages. The employers did, however, agree to a contract with an automatic cost-of-living adjustment.…
Great Art at Prices That Can't Be Beat

90 YEARS AGO, on December 8, 1933, at the depths of the Great Depression, the U.S. government established the Public Works of Art Project. The Project put nearly 3800 artists on the payroll, who together produced nearly 16 thousand paintings, murals, prints, crafts and sculptures for government buildings around the country. The government paid the artists a total of $1,184,000, an average of $75.59 per artwork, pretty good value even then.

Don't Forget the Genocide Convention

75 YEARS AGO, on December 9, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Genocide Convention is an international treaty that criminalizes genocide and obligates state parties to pursue the enforcement of its prohibition. It was the first legal instrument to codify genocide as a crime.…

Don't Forget Human Rights, Either

75 YEARS AGO, on December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines the rights and freedoms of all human beings.…

$1 Million Is Chump Change

55 YEARS AGO, on December 11, 1968, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), a group of radical Black auto workers in Detroit, denounced the Chrysler Corporation's "milestone agreement" to invest $1 million in Black-owned banks in Detroit, Atlanta and Los Angeles. DRUM declared that it was merely a milestone "in bullshit and nonsense -- since the combined population of those three communities is, roughly, two million Black people. This means that even if the money were to be divided equally among the Black people of the three communities, each person would get just 50 cents. If they should ever really want to do some good, perhaps some of the mini-brained executive pigs of Chrysler Corporation will devote some of their not-too-valuable time to correcting racist practices in their plants in Detroit and elsewhere, instead of using it to devise bullshit pacification programs that are nothing but rank insults to the Black community."…