Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Erin White

NASSCO 3 Sentenced to 2 Years A Miscarriage of Justice

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 6, No. 28, July 22-July 26, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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SAN DIEGO, CA – On Tuesday afternoon, July 14 at 3:30 the NASSCO 3 were sentenced. The three defendants were given two years for each of the four counts they were convicted on. They will have to spend six months in jail and spend three years on probation. They all remain out on probation pending appeal.

The sentencing shot home to supporters of the three men and to supporters of constitutional and political rights the implications of the case. While the broad support which has been generated for the three forced the government to back off the maximum sentence of 35 years, the fact that they were convicted at all is still the deepest travesty of justice.

The probation department recommended that the three be barred from union politics for the duration of their probation. Again, it was the pressure put on the judge by the broad support which kept him from imposing that condition.

Set up and entrapped by the government because of their success in organizing their unions at National Steel & Shipbuilding Company, their conviction and verdict has implications for all those who work to organize militant trade unions and for all those involved in organizing people for their basic rights and needs. “This is the first time that we know of where the government has used an agent to engage in acts which could be dangerous to innocent third parties,” said Leonard Weinglass, defense attorney. “A dangerous precedent was set by the jury’s decision. The entire case absent Ramon Barton, would not have happened.”

How far government agents can go in conducting their dirty work for the U.S. capitalists is now undeterminable. This decision, combined with the pardon of those agents who conducted the black bag break-ins during the Nixon Administration makes it clear that the government is willing to go to any lengths to stop unions that are too successful and popular movements that have gained too much support among the American people.

In court, the defense presented motions calling for dismissal of the charges due to outrageous government conduct and prosecutorial misconduct, and motions for a new trial because jurors were forced to decide on a matter of fact a question that is really a matter of law – when Ramon Barton became a government agent. It was clear that the judge had already made up his mind to deny the motions, as he denied them one after another. But he did allow Eugene Iredale to present the motion for outrageous government conduct.

Legal Precedents

Historically, the government has used legislation and legal cases ostensibly designed to counteract hated groups like the KKK, or Mafia or dishonest politicians to attack all the American people. The Smith Act was originally passed because it purported to investigate the Ku Klux Klan. However, the McCarthy era saw it viciously used against the very people who had devoted themselves to fighting the KKK, other fascist organizations, as well as the government. Thousands of communists, progressives, and liberals were persecuted or scared into silence by the McCarthy campaign.

The McDonald Amendment, which has yet to become law, is ostensibly focused against the legal rights of homosexuals. However, should the amendment be passed and gay people denied the right to legal aid, the government has set the precedent to decide who in society is fit to receive legal aid or other services on the arbitrary basis of sexual preferences. As in Hitler’s Germany, when laws were passed to deny Jews rights because of their religion, this act points the way to depriving other groups of people in society their rights because of their religion, color or creed.

Abscam was used in the same way. Most people consider almost all politicians corrupt and don’t like them. Thus it was easy for the government to get over with entrapping crooked politicians and convicting them of accepting bribes in a situation the government set up. But now, those precedents are being used against labor activists and trade unionists.

The NASSCO 3 were entrapped by a government agent who was paid over $7,000 in cash and services by the FBI and San Diego police to get the NASSCO 3 to make bombs. The sentences imposed on the Three are only an attempt to diffuse and break up the struggle to free the Three. The bourgeoisie, in a highly sophisticated move, hoped that people would be so relieved by the relatively light sentences, they would forget the deeper implications of the verdict and be willing to give up the fight.

While supporters, friends, and relatives of the Three were glad that the men would not have to spend much time in jail, and that they would be able to be with their families, outrage and grief were visible in the courtroom as people filed out after the sentencing. “The only justice would have been no trial at all. The only good sentence would be no sentence,” said one supporter.

Judge’s Hypocrisy

Disassociating himself from the prosecution and NASSCO, and admitting the political nature of the case, Judge Schwartz said, “I have no particular grief for NASSCO. It’s not my purpose to defend or castigate them. In areas where safety procedures need reexamination, I hope they take action in that regard. I have no arguments with the defendants. Everything that happened was the result of their deep concern and their involvement and probably was affected and aggravated by the deaths of Beebe and King.”

But no matter, what the judge’s closing remarks were, which indicates the effect the trial had on him, he will still go down in history as the judge who set the precedent which allowed the government agents to engage in illegal and dangerous activity which could harm third parties. He was still an active participant in the government conspiracy to frame the NASSCO 3 and stop the union struggle at National Steel.

March & Rally

Support for the NASSCO 3 has reached such broad proportions that people like former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Dr. Benjamin Spock have endorsed the Committee to Defend NASSCO Workers. Group after group in San Diego has come out to show their support. In a march and rally held July 11, over 100 people marched and over 170 people rallied to demand that the judge listen to the motions on outrageous government conduct. Speaker after speaker representing labor, gays, women, health care workers, supporters of the Irish struggle against England, anti-nuclear activists, and churches, called for justice for the NASSCO 3 and stop government repression.

“We are just beginning to fight,” said Paulette Miller, a state executive board member of Service Employees International Union Local 535 and a local organizer for her union. “All around we have to stand together to survive. The government is out to bust us. They don’t care what it costs. You’re the public and you’ve got to pay for it. They use your own money to fight you. We have a long way to go, and we have to start right here with the NASSCO 3. It’s vital to our cause and vital to our country that these men don’t go to jail.”

Kevin O’Connor, President of the Irish Rights Committee, noted that Reagan’s economic policies closely parallel Prime Minister Thatcher’s of England. He also warned that increasingly people would be arrested and tortured for union organizing and political beliefs.

Support Stays Full Weight

Local supporters also conducted a 24-hour justice vigil the day before the hearing and sentencing, again calling public attention to the mockery of justice and the persecution of labor unionists standing up for workers’ rights. People packed the courtroom all day long, watching the government expose itself more and more as it rushed to sentence the three. Scores of letters were sent to the probation department by friends and acquaintances of the Three attesting to their good character and strong desire to improve social conditions. A statement of support was sent by Dan Luria form the UAW research department.

“Today’s NASSCO defendants are victims of an obvious frame-up. This tells us something about how threatening a strong movement of organized workers is to NASSCO and other corporations, not to mention the police and FBI that protects NASSCO’s interest.”

NASSCO 3 Speak

“We all have to be more careful,” said defendant Mark Loo. “Barton is the exception that proves the rule. We shouldn’t let what happened intimidate us or cause us to stop. Which is what certain people wish would happen.”

“Another thing which really concerns me,” said Rodney Johnson, “is what happened to us. A precedent was set with Ramon Barton. It has tremendous implications for other trade unionists. It is a dangerous precedent in terms of my own political beliefs and personal beliefs. I’m concerned about what it means for all of us.”

When asked by the judge if he had anything to say David Boyd’s strong stand with the working class and continued concern for workers at NASSCO shone through. “The media asked me what I would do differently. That’s always a hard question to answer. But when I went home in August to bring my fiance back here, I should have stayed. If I’d come back a week after the strike, I’d still have my job, I’d still be shop steward. I’d have run that safety check like I always do and maybe they would (Beebe & King) still be alive today. I don’t think that’s beside the point. I think that is the whole point. The working class is the class. We should have our rights and be able to stand up for our rights.”