Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Justice Demands Free the NASSCO 3!


First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 6, No. 23, June 15-21, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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SAN DIEGO, CA – On June 5, at 4:30 p.m., a verdict was returned in the case of the NASSCO 3. After a day and a half of deliberation, the jury found David Boyd, Rodney Johnson and Mark Look guilty of three counts of possession of explosives and one count of conspiracy to firebomb National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. (NASSCO) power transformers. The verdict against these three union leaders was totally unexpected as experienced courtroom reporters and even the prosecutor and judge expected a hung jury. The conviction, which go against all the facts in the case, is igniting a fire which is not likely to be extinguished for years to come.

Judge Leaves No Choice

The prosecution’s redbaiting legal strategy, Judge Edward Schwartz’s supression of vital evidence about the FBI’s, NASSCO’s and the San Diego Police Department’s union-busting activity and the judge’s vague instructions to the jury concerning the meaning of entrapment all combined to produce a conviction. According to Cindy O’hara, a paralegal aid to the defense who interviewed nine of the jurors, the jury tried not to discuss the Three’s political beliefs despite Prosecutor Michael Lipman’s constant references to them throughout the trial and in his final arguments. Their verdict hinged on when Ramon Barton became a government agent. Was he an agent when he informed on a 27 August 1980 picket line at a NASSCO official’s house, that is, before the alleged bomb plot? Or was he an agent only after he was paid by the FBI on September 3, after Barton initiated the alleged plot? According to the jury, when Barton became a government agent determined whether Boyd, Johnson and Loo were entrapped.

The judge left it up to the jurors to decide, not telling them of a legal precedent which supports the NASSCO 3’s contention of entrapment, and the jurors decided Ramon Barton was not a government agent when he initiated his alleged bomb plot.

But the jurors were uneasy with their decision. As the verdict was read, three women jurors cried. One juror, a Mr. Vaughn, said that, although he thought the Three were guilty, Ramon Barton was a bounty hunter and the Three should do no jail time. Four jurors initially thought the NASSCO 3 were entrapped, but without knowledge of the legal precedent they could not back up their opinion.

Tons of Files

The government and NASSCO coverup has not been unraveled in this case yet. Many facts are not yet available to the defense and may never be. Some things came out in the course of the trial, and their partial nature indicates that there are many more skeletons hiding in the government’s closet.

Prosecutor Lipman argued in his closing statements on June 2 and 3 that the defense was “throwing up smokescreens to confuse the issue in the case.” An examination of the facts shows who is hiding behind smokescreens and who is fighting to clear the air. Lipman revealed in the fourth week of the trial that contrary to previous testimony from the FBI and NASSCO, that indeed, NASSCO, the FBI and the San Diego Police Department met on August 22, long before any alleged bomb plot was discovered. Lipman admitted it had taken him one whole week to fix a date on the meeting.

His revelation contradicted FBI agent Schneider, supervisor of the NASSCO 3 frame up. NASSCO labor relations manager Carl Hinrichsen perjured himself when he denied knowledge of meetings among the three parties. Both Schneider and Hinrichsen attended the August 22 meeting.

The FBI claimed it was “not particularly interested” in the Communist Workers Party in San Diego, and had denied the existence of files on union activists, particularly CWP. Files surfaced later. They were explained away during the trial as “dead files” and “routine.” A file was opened November 1979 to investigate the CWP. A file on one of the defendants, Mark Loo, was also begun in 1979.

Another file was opened in July 1980, and in a third file, which began in August 1980, the “disinterested” FBI compiled a list of 32 “possible” members of the CWP in San Diego.

These files have been partially released to the defense. There are indications of many more files stuck somewhere behind the scenes, and much of the known files were held back to “protect the identity of another source.”

Immediately after the NASSCO 3’s arrests in September 1980, defense lawyers filed subpoenas for NASSCO’s records on active unionists, Ramon Barton and others. NASSCO refused. At the time, they said they had no records (a familiar company theme in this case). And even if they did, they said they would rather destroy them than turn them over. To this day, no NASSCO files outside of standard application and termination forms on agent provocateur, the NASSCO 3 or any other union activists were turned over to the defense.

NASSCO took 400 photos of union activists leafletting the company’s front gates, speaking at rallies or of different political groups selling their papers to NASSCO workers. NASSCO sent copies of the photos to four different law enforcement agencies suspected to be the FBI, San Diego Police, National Security Administration, and Naval Intelligence) and the Todd Shipyard in neighboring Los Angeles. The FBI, “disinterested” in labor militants and political activists at NASSCO, never returned any of the photographs.

Judge Suppresses Truth

Witnesses who have detailed first-hand knowledge of NASSCO’s activities through last summer’s heated labor battle, have either had their testimonies severely limited, have been kept out of court altogether, or have disappeared from sight. Michael Contreras, former NASSCO labor relations officer had evidence that NASSCO planned to hire a goon squad to beat up labor militants in an effort to stop them. He himself hired labor spies (a violation of labor law) and told defense attorneys outside of court that recruiting spies was a policy of the labor relations office. The judge only allowed Contreras to testify about his personal actions and not about company policy.

A former NASSCO security department manager, Richard Bradford, stated in a sworn deposition that he knew of at least 17 incidents when NASSCO attempted to recruit different workers as company spies. His deposition was not allowed as evidence in the court. The judge refused to subpoena him, stating that the deposition “did not have enough evidence” in it to warrant a subpoena. Bradford currently resides in another state, which is why the judge has to approve a subpoena.

NASSCO vice-president Joe Flynn, who personally hired Barton and was also present at the August 22 FBI/ SDPD/NASSCO planning meeting is on an “extended vacation.” FBI agent Debra Findlay, the FBI agent in charge of compiling the list of “possible” CWP members in San Diego and a conspirator at the August 22 meeting, has been transferred to an undisclosed FBI office on the East Coast.

Ironworkers International union officials who seized all Ironworkers Local 627 records, have also been “out of town.” The International has consistently refused to back the NASSCO 3 and fight union busting in the yard. The records it holds and refused to make public help prove there was no alleged bomb plot.

Lipman: “We’ll Use Archbishops”

Countering this weighty evidence of an official frame up, Prosecutor Lip-man said that if the government had really been involved in a plot to frame the NASSCO 3, it would have used a real agent or someone more reliable than Ramon Barton, someone “like an archbishop.” Actully, Ramon Barton is a very likely candidate for the leading role in a government plot. He worked in the yard and had contact with all the workers and their leaders. Without any feelings of remorse or regret – “I’ll say anything when I’m playing a role,” he testified – he lied to union leaders and to people who considered him a friend. Furthermore, he prostituted himself to the government for $7,000, a new identity and a new job at another shipyard. Barton was working under the alias Ray Dixon at Louisiana Avondale, a New Orleans shipyard.

During the great industrial union drives of the 1930s it was common practice for companies to use spies cut from the same mold as Barton. To keep their workers from organizing, the Ford Motor Co. had one spy for every ten workers on the line. During the McCarthy Era the government used the Catholic clergy and religious figures to break the workers’ resistance. Today, considering the opposition to the U.S.’s role in El Salvador and the rest of the third world, the FBI would have an extremely difficult time finding a reliable archbishop.

No archbishop would participate in a dishonest scheme like the NASSCO 3 frame up, and any worker with even an ounce of principles would be ashamed to entrap their union leaders, who were responsible for saving literally countless lives in the yard. That is why, during the trial and despite government harassment and pressure, only one out of 6,000 workers at NASSCO testified for the prosecution.

Union Busting Up

“If they can do this to us,” said David Boyd, “It can happen to everyone out there. We are just the first dominoes falling. If we don’t stop it, all of us will tumble, one after the other. Keep up the spirit, watch out for your backs. Anyone could be next.”

Government union-busting has sharply increased over the last few years. In the shipbuilding industry alone, there have been four major instances. At General Dynamic’s Electric Boat Division in Groton, Ct., Peter Fisher was fired for opposing nuclear weapons. A leader of Trade Unionists for Democratic Action and a member of the American Friends Service Committee, he fought for his job and sought to keep his security clearance. His case is in limbo now and the investigators of his case have labeled the AFSC “communistic.” At the Todd Shipyard in Seattle workers were fired for passing out leaflets outside the gates on their own time. At the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, friends and supporters of the Socialist Workers Party were battling for their jobs as they were fired for then-political beliefs. At the Louisiana Avondale yard, the company called in Ramon Barton to stop a union drive. Two workers suffocated in the hull of a ship there because of unsafe working conditions, much the same way that Michael Beebe and Kenneth King met their deaths at NASSCO soon after union leaders were fired.

The government has for years been going for the United Mine Workers of America’s throat. When in 1977, President Carter failed to break the will of the union with the Taft-Hartley Act, it tried more covert methods. Court decisions against the union scrapped the automatic union recognition clause in the contract, giving the operators a free hand to hire scabs. The FBI admitted to spying on the union during the height of the rank and file reform movement. Supposedly the Feds were looking for communist influence and have stopped their investigation, but the informers’ names have never been revealed and they are still in the coalfields.

The NASSCO 3 case is another link in a long chain of government sorties on the workers and oppressed. Cuts in Social Security which will put the elderly on a dog food diet, cuts in food stamps which will take food out of strikers’ families’ mouths, cuts in federal protection of workers’ safety and health, cuts in education, transportation and unemployment benefits – all this plus inflation and layoffs have the working class boiling. Spontaneous unrest is abundantly evident as is shown in the gigantic May 3 protest at the Pentagon and the mushrooming budget cuts coalitions around the country. The only way this unrest can sustain itself is if the workers and their trade unions get involved. The fighting leadership of the fighting Ironworkers Local 627 at NASSCO showed what the workers’ organizations are capable of. That is why NASSCO, the police and the FBI conspired to bust the unions in the yard (particularly 627) and frame the NASSCO 3.

Support Blossoms

The NASSCO 3 will be sentenced on July 14. The judge may also consider a motion to dismiss the charges due to “outrageous government misconduct” on that day. Should the motion be denied, the defense team will file an appeal on the case. The 3 may be in jail for about a month until all the formal papers on the appeal are processed. The judge also has the option to double the bail for each defendant. Currently, the bail stands at $40,000 each.

At a hastily organized press conference on Saturday, June 7, close to 100 people came out to show their shock and outrage at the unjust conviction. Gunnar Waage, a member of the NASSCO Workers Defense Committee expressed the sentiment of the community. “The depth of my concern is expressed by the fact that I hate to speak publicly. I view the August firings and September arrests, not just with the sense of disbelief, but with de-ja vu. It seems that whenever the voice of change burns strong and effectively, the opposition will react, becomes desperate. In all good conscience, I feel obligated to speak here today because 3 union leaders face 40 years in jail when in fact it is the government and NASSCO who should be found guilty of a bombing conspiracy in the trial.”

The supporters of the NASSCO 3 are determined to continue the fight to recruit more and more people in the struggle to free the NASSCO 3. The workers at NASSCO are continuing to fight for their union. In only one week, 700 of the 800 needed signatures have been collected so they can vote to decertify sell-out Ironworkers International they are stuck with bringing in the newly formed United Shipyard Workers Union.

The Committee to Defend NASSCO Workers calls on all supporters for the three defendants, all people opposed to government interference in labor disputes, and all those concerned about the deterioration of our democratic and constitutional rights to write Edward Schwartz expressing your concern about the trial and union busting.

Address letters to, the Honorable Edward Schwartz, c/o Eugene Iredale, Federal Defenders Inc., Central Federal Building, 225 Broadway, Suite 855, San Diego, Calif. 92101.

The Committee to Defend NASSCO workers originally anticipated $50,000 in legal costs. Now they estimate it will take at least $150,000 to go through the appeal. Tax deductible donations can be sent to the Clarence Darrow Foundation/NASSCO, c/o the Committee to Defend NASSCO Workers, P.O. Box 8383, San Diego, Calif. 92102. People who wish to get direct contact can call the Committee at (714) 563-0149.