Working Class Hero
- News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
October 8, 2008
Maimed By Cops, Charged With Felonies
Working Class Hero: Alexandra Svoboda
By DANIEL GROSS
A peaceful union march is brutally attacked by police. A union
activist’s leg is horribly disfigured and nearly amputated. Maimed
possibly for life, she is charged with multiple felony offenses.
The battleground is not the coalfields of Harlan County in the 1930s or
1970s; it's not an example of anti-union violence in Colombia or the
Philippines. Our setting is present day Providence, Rhode Island.
On that brilliant Saturday, August 11 of 2007, Alexandra Svoboda didn’t
do what she was supposed to do. She didn’t stay home and watch TV. She
didn’t go shop at her local Wal-Mart. She didn’t waste away hours on
That beautiful Saturday afternoon, Alex chose action. A twenty-two year
old worker, student, and union activist, she had heard the call for
solidarity from a group of immigrant workers organizing at a Queens, New
York sweatshop. The sweatshop, known as HWH-Dragonland Trading,
distributed restaurant supplies and maintained labor conditions
horrendous even by the abysmal standards of the sector.
Some of the workers at the company joined the Industrial Workers of the
World (IWW), the union which Alex is a member of. The workers were fed
up with rampant abuse, stolen wages, and work weeks over 100 hours.
When it became known that the sweatshop sold supplies to a restaurant
chain with a location in North Providence, Alex and her fellow IWW
members in Providence knew they had to act. They were motivated not by
some notion of charity, but by a belief in solidarity and mutual aid.
That is, the concept that as workers we all benefit when we stand
together no matter our race, immigration status, gender, or sexual
As the mostly young IWW workers marched toward Jackie’s Galaxie
restaurant to raise awareness about its relationship to the Queens
sweatshop, North Providence police officers began their attack.
Inexplicably, three police officers singled out Alex and violently
dislocated her knee as they threw her into the ground. A cop then sat on
the horrifically injured Alex and handcuffed her. Meanwhile, fellow IWW
member Jason Friedmutter was taken down, cuffed, and arrested as well.
Other peaceful marchers were pepper sprayed. (Graphic photos of the
brutal police assault are available here:
After the attack, doctors conducted an emergency surgery on Alex’s leg.
Had the surgery not succeeded, they would have proceeded with amputation
plans. Three more surgeries, unspeakable pain, and countless hours of
physical therapy followed. The police had torn the popliteal artery in
Alex’s knee, fractured her tibia and fibia, and caused meniscus as well
as ligament tears. Because of her injury, Alex hasn’t been able to work
in over a year. Her life will never be the same.
Communities of color, low-wage workers, and other groups familiar with
police brutality know that criminal charges or innuendo against victims
is the norm following police aggression. The case of Alex and Jason is
no different. Alex was charged ridiculously but not surprisingly with
three felony counts of assaulting a police officer as well as
misdemeanor resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Jason was charged
with obstruction of justice. Though Alex’s felony charges have now been
downgraded to misdemeanors, the pair still face a criminal trial in the
Confronted with the determined resolve of Alex and her fellow unionists,
Jackie’s Galaxie ultimately cut off all ties with the HWH-Dragonland
sweatshop. HWH-Dragonland has since reportedly gone out of business.
While a union shop with quality wages and working conditions would have
been a better outcome, at least there's one less worker abusing
sweatshop on Planet Earth and one more example of the consequences of
union-busting for other sweatshops.
Alex Svoboda joins a long line of working class heroes who have been
severely wounded or killed struggling for justice against the
capitalists and their unchecked corporate power. In Thomas Paine’s
phrase, she “dare[d] oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant.” By
engaging in direct action on behalf of her class, she aroused the ire of
the State and suffered terribly for it.
Revolutionary change comes about through the everyday hard work and
sacrifice of people like Alex. She was out there for us that fateful day
--- all of us who have felt the sting of indignity at work and who
believe that working people deserve better.
Let’s be there for her now. Alex and Jason need financial and moral
support to have their innocence affirmed at trial. You can e-mail
providenceiww@... for details on how to lend a hand.
When you stand firm in your life not just against exploitation, but the
exploiter-corporations themselves, I hope you’ll be strengthened and
inspired by Alex’s example. I know I am.
Daniel Gross is an organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World
and the founding director of Brandworkers, a non-profit organization
protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food chain employees.
He is the co-author with Staughton Lynd of "Labor Law for the Rank and
Filer: Building Solidarity While Staying Clear of the Law," just out
from PM Press. You can contact him through http://www.Brandworkers.org .
My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
"From the point of view of the defense of our society,
there only exists one danger -- that workers succeed in
speaking to each other about their condition and their
aspirations _without intermediaries_."
--Censor (Gianfranco Sanguinetti), _The Real Report on
the Last Chance to Save Capitalism in Italy_