Good shoemaker and poor fishpeddler

IssueJuly - August 2007
Feature by Milan Rai

On 23 August, many anarchists will mark the 80th anniversary of the execution by electric chair of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two working class (male) Italian anarchist immigrants to the United States, whose fate seized the world's attention.

Peace News is marking the anniversary by addressing two of the issues raised by the Sacco and Vanetti case - the situation of immigrants in rich Western societies, and the question of violence in social change. Sacco and Vanzetti were wrongly convicted in July 1921 of an armed robbery and murder carried out in Massachusetts, on 15 April 1920. (They were effectively pardoned in 1977).

Every element of the evidence against them was distorted in court, and the (working class) eyewitness alibis they presented were ignored.

The miscarriage of justice was so blatant that, while they waited on death row during the appeals process, Sacco and Vanzetti gained the support of figures from around the world, including Albert Einstein, the dean of the Yale Law School, the President of the Reichstag, the Vatican, and many others.

On the day of their execution,there were demonstrations around the world. There was a general strike in Paris and a 5000-strong riot in Geneva. The next day, there were riots in Paris, London, and Hamburg, a vast procession in Sydney and a general strike in Buenos Aires.

In one of his final interviews, Vanzetti said: "If it had not been for this thing, I might have live out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure.

"Now we are not a failure.

"This is our career and our triumph.

"Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man's understanding of man, as now we do by accident.

"Our words, our lives, our pains - nothing!

"The taking of our lives, lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler - all!

"That last moment belongs to us. That agony is our triumph."