The Militant (logo) 
   Vol.66/No.11            March 18, 2002 
'Bring this struggle to thousands
more workers and fighting youth'
Socialist Michael Italie fights
political firing by Miami garment boss
MIAMI--Thousands of working people, students, and others have signed petitions, sent letters, and made donations across the United States as part of the fight to defend workers' rights in the case of socialist worker Michael Italie. The Committee to Defend Freedom of Speech and the Bill of Rights has forwarded hundreds of petitions filled with signatures demanding Italie be reinstated at his job as a sewing machine operator at Goodwill Industries in Miami to the city's mayor and Dennis Pastrana, the company's CEO.

"Given our success so far," Italie said in an interview, "we want to ask all supporters of this fight to use the case to systematically talk to co-workers, union members involved struggles against the bosses, and working people and youth who join protest actions against police brutality, to defend immigrant rights, and other actions.

"Ask them to sign a petition, send in a letter, or make a contribution to this effort," he said. "Many will be outraged by my firing and want to talk about the issues around which I was fired, such as the Cuban Revolution, the imperialist assault on Afghanistan and working people here at home, and the need for workers and farmers to fight to take power out of the hands of the wealthy capitalist minority."

Italie added that he has found discussions with workers and youth people about his fight one of the best ways to introduce them to--and encourage them to join--the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists.

"Under capitalist justice the law of the land is what is known as 'employment at will,'" the socialist worker said. "What this means is the boss can fire a worker for any reason, or no reason at all. It is only when there is a specific law against their action--such as discrimination or involvement in a union organizing effort--that a firing becomes illegal under the law.

"Goodwill bosses told me and the Miami Herald that they fired me for the political view I voiced as the SWP candidate for mayor of Miami during a televised candidates debate," he said. "My defense of Cuba and opposition to Washington's war against Afghanistan as a candidate in Miami was not their idea of the kind of worker they want around."

The only way working people have expanded workers' rights in relation to the boss, Italie said, has been through struggles to form unions and battles to oppose racism and discrimination against women, among others. This has curbed the employers' unlimited "right" to hire and fire whomever they want and has led to the expansion of democratic rights for all. "That is what this fight against Goodwill is all about," he said.  
Invitation from meat packers
"Perhaps the most important invitation I have received was from members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) who work at Wolverine Packing in Detroit," said Italie. Written in Spanish and signed by 10 meat packers, the February 12 letter states, "We have learned about the injustices committed against you, and we hope to count on your presence here in order to analyze this and to accept our modest help for your struggle to express your ideas." The meat packers promoted the meeting among co-workers, and the discussion was held at the home of one of these unionists.

"The workers wanted to learn about my fight, but soon began raising ideas about broader political issues," Italie said. "The majority of the nine or ten workers there that evening were of Mexican background, and one brought in an issue of Time magazine that reflected some of the debate in the ruling class in this country about 'what to do about immigration.' We discussed why bosses promote anti-immigrant bigotry in order to divide the working class. We went on to discuss the newest Pathfinder Press title, From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution, by Victor Dreke.

"When I encouraged everyone at the gathering to get a copy and read the book because it explains so well what the Cuban revolution stands for and as an example of what we can do here," Italie said, "one worker pulled out his copy of the book to show he had already started reading it." Two of the workers from Wolverine wanted to follow up this discussion and came to the public program held in Detroit three days later. Meat packers from the plant contributed $120 toward the tour expenses.

The effort to win support for this fight, said Italie "is financed by workers, who drop some money in the bucket when it gets passed around at meetings or put a check in the mail. No corporate funds or grants have contributed a dime to this fight."  
Signing up co-workers
A railworker in Washington is setting a good example of what can be done to win support among union members and workers, Italie said. This union member has sent the committee in Miami one or two petitions filled with 18 signatures of co-workers every few weeks for the last several months.

"When I arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, in January," Italie reported, "supporters of my fight turned over petitions filled with signatures of textile workers who work at the Pillowtex plants in Kannapolis." The plants are organized by the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).

"There had been several unsuccessful union organizing drives at this plant over a 25-year period before the workers scored a victory in 1999," he said. "The bosses hoped to prevent a union victory by hiring large numbers of immigrant workers in order to divide the workforce, but instead many immigrant workers took the lead in joining the union organizing campaign and helped to assure its victory. So it was no surprise that among the many signatures gathered in the plant for my fight, there were many from immigrants from Latin America."

In addition to the petitions that workers have gathered around the country protesting the firing, workers have sent letters to the mayor of Miami. A coal miner from Colorado sent the following: "I'm a coal miner, member of the United Mine Workers of America and vocal in my union. If Mr. Italie can lose his job for voicing an opposing opinion, I feel that I and all of my fellow workers can lose theirs for voicing their opinion. Even though I oppose his views on Afghanistan, I feel that he has a right as an American to publicly voice his political views without losing his livelihood. As mayor of Miami, representing all the people of Miami, it is your responsibility to address this wrong."

Several workers at a Goodwill facility in Connecticut also sent a letter of support, explaining the conditions they face at the company in that state.

Students have also been important supporters of the fight, Italie noted. "At campus events from Muncie, Indiana, to Seattle, Washington, to Tampa, Florida, and Brownsville, Texas, students were eager to work through many issues," he said. Among the questions asked have been how a company like Goodwill gets away with paying disabled workers less than the minimum wage; is it possible to speak out in support of the Palestinian struggle at a time when there are so many attacks on Arabs and Muslims in the United States; and what can be done in the face of all these injustices. "The national speaking tour," said Italie, "demonstrates the growing opportunities to build the communist movement, and win fighters to the ranks of the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists. In response to the question 'What can we do in the face of all of these injustices?' I say: join the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists, the revolutionary organizations that are fighting for a world where freedom of speech is a reality, and the capitalist system of war, racism and brutality is wiped off the face of the earth for all time. Workers and young people have been joining the communist movement from Muncie to Miami, and we'll work to make the list grow. I encourage all supporters of this fight to organize a tour in your area."
Related articles:
Meat packers welcome Italie in Detroit
Protest condemns political firing at Macy's  
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