A huge “thank you” to the Stanford Libraries recognition of the contributions that Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes made to the struggles of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for social and racial justice. We are looking forward to the 40thanniversary commemoration of their lives and work, sponsored by the Legacy of Equality, Leadership and Organizing (LELO) on June 26th at 6pm. Stay tuned for details!
Silme Domingo & Gene Viernes
“Silme and Gene were just ordinary people who became part of an extraordinary movement of young people in the Union of Democratic Filipinos that took on very powerful interests in order to lead in the reform of the Alaska cannery workers’ union and to contribute to the overthrow of the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.”
For their work in exposing racial discirimination in the Alaskan canneries, as well as their efforts towards reformation and anti-corruption in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes were assassinated. The investigation into their deaths ultimately linked Phillippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, to their murders and exposed a wider conspiracy between the canneries, union leadership, and the Philippines.[3, 4]
The canneries had for decades followed discriminatory practices involving housing, job placement, and promotion against Asian American and Native Alaskan workers. Domingo collected evidence of the discriminatory practices firsthand, by posing as a student from the University of Washington’s School of Fisheries and claiming to be working on a school project. In November 1973, the Alaska Cannery Workers’ Association (ACWA), an organization that Domingo and Viernes helped found, brought a class action lawsuit against multiple fish companies. The lawsuit, which included over 700 plaintiffs, demonstrated the first time that such a vast seasonal workforce was so well organized and represented. The ACWA won a multi-million dollar settlement in the case.
Domingo and Viernes won elections as officers of Seattle’s ILWU Local 37 in 1980. They ran anti-corruption and pro-union democracy campaigns and promised to end bribery, vote buying, violence, and intimidation in the union. Domingo and Viernes were firm believers in labor unions and democracy worldwide.
In April of 1981, Viernes took a trip to the Philippines to visit family and meet with Philippine labor leaders of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), May First Movement. While there, Viernes spoke at a rally and invited KMU’s resident to the ILWU international convention in Hawaii. As it was unsafe to travel, KMU’s Chairman instead requested that the ILWU send an investigative team to the Philippines to document the conditions to which workers were subjected under Marcos’ dictatorship. One month later, Viernes and Domingo would be brutally slain in their offices in Seattle.
“While Silme and Gene are not in this picture, in the struggle for justice women played the major role in all the work especially in the Committee for Justice and the union. Here is a picture of that leadership in a picture taken at the memorial for Silme and Gene after the murders. Terri Mast went on to lead the union, Elaine Ko and myself led the CJDV [Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes], Leni Marin and Emma Catague led the work in Seattle in the Filipino community.” – Cindy Domingo