Michael Withey

Union by Law, Filipino American Labor Activists, Rights Radicalism and Racial Capitalism

by Michael W. McCann and George Lovell (University of Chicago Press 2021)

Reviewed by: Mike Withey, Author of Summary Execution, the Seattle Assassinations of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes (WildBlue Press 2018).

Union by Law makes a major contribution to our historical understanding of the role of Filipino Labor activists, including Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, in the struggle for racial and social justice in the United States and around the world.

Michael McCann is the Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship in the Political Science Department of the University of Washington and George Lovell is a Professor at Law Society and Justice at UW. Both authors bring their experience and scholarship to a challenging topic: the conscription of Filipinos as agricultural and cannery laborers on the West Coast and subsequent confinement to these exploitative, racially segregated, low wage jobs as work options.

The authors describe the growth of the Labor and Employment Law Office (LELO) and the Alaska Cannery Workers Association (ACWA), as well as their developing strategies for combatting horrific racial discrimination and deplorable working conditions in the fields, construction trades and salmon canneries of Alaska. These workers and leaders organized and created political associations and reformed unions to fight for their rights. The focus of this book is the interaction between these fighters for justice and the often callous, but at times malleable, legal system.

One chapter, aptly titled “The Trials of Tragedy”, describes in detail the June 1, 1981 murders of labor activists Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, as well as the tortuous task of bringing the murderers to justice, not only in the criminal trials of the hit men but also by using the federal courts to achieve a landmark civil verdict against the Marcos dictatorship. It documents the work of the ACWA and the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes (CJDV).

This book is a must read for the many supporters of our justice efforts. The scholarship in this book is fantastic and its cogent analysis of the relationship between people’s/workers’ struggles and the legal arena should be required reading for every law school or political science class that deals with social change and the law. It gives better definition to the whole concept of a “people’s lawyer” amongst many other accomplishments.

This book does so much to honor the lives and work of Gene and Silme and the unbelievable dedication of Cindy Domingo, Terri Mast, the CJDV and so many others in the pursuit of justice. Thanks to Mike and George for making this history accessible. La lucha continua.

To order the book go to https://press.uchicago.edu/press/search.html?clause=Union+by+Law

Reviewed by: Mike Withey, Author of Summary Execution, the Seattle Assassinations of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes (WildBlue Press 2018).