In December, Justin Ravitz died. He was the judge in 1974 who tried to jail the Chrysler workers who led the Mack Avenue Sit-Down strike. In August 1973, 350 workers seized the plant after a comrade was fired for his role in an anti-racist health and safety struggle, and reported to work the next day, refusing to leave.
Chrysler security was driven out of the plant, and the next day, the workers faced off against the Detroit police chanting, “FIGHT BACK! – FIGHT BACK!” It finally took 1,000 thugs organized by the UAW, just about everyone on the payroll and many KKK members, to violently retake the plant for the bosses. A white comrade and a black worker who gave crucial leadership to the action were arrested and each charged with two counts of felonious assault.
Ravitz had a reputation as an anti-racist lawyer and criminal court judge. He was involved in the legal dismantling of STRESS, a police undercover unit that murdered 20 people, 17 of them black, and fought to have more black people on juries. He called himself the only Marxist judge in the U.S., banned the American flag from his courtroom in protest of the Vietnam War, and refused to stand for the pledge when he was sworn in. But when it came to prosecuting PLP and communist-led workers, Ravitz was on the side of Chrysler, the UAW leadership and the Detroit police.
At the time, the bosses were still trying to retake control of the major cities, after the armed rebellions of the late 1960’s. Henry Ford and the New Detroit alliance of bosses, bankers and politicians were calling the shots in Detroit, pulling the strings of Coleman Young, a former Communist Party auto organizer and Detroit’s first black mayor, and a City Council of preachers and fake radicals.
PLP relied on auto workers and youth to wage a political defense around the city, exposing Ravitz and the bosses he served. Every notice posted inside the plant soliciting prosecution witnesses was torn down in minutes. Literature saturated numerous plants, Wayne State University, and unemployment and welfare offices, calling on workers and students to defend PLP, the Mack Sit-Down and exposing Ravitz, the UAW leaders, and the rest. Many supporters attended the trial, and many more gave money. The black worker who was arrested, a Vietnam vet, joined the Party on the very day he was called to testify.
Ultimately, the case was tossed out. There was a provision in the law at the time that the prosecution had to produce witnesses from a cross section of the population that witnessed the alleged crime. The Chrysler bosses, UAW and the Detroit police could not produce one Chrysler production worker to testify against the defendants. Not one. Case dismissed. Ravitz was beside himself, and scolded the cops and Chrysler bosses for failing to make their case.
A lot has happened since then, and today Detroit is a shell of what it was. Every anti-racist “reform” has given way to more and deeper racist oppression, from mass unemployment and poverty to crumbling schools and over-crowded jails. The infant mortality rate here is comparable to that of the poor countries in the Caribbean. This is the legacy of the reformers like Ravitz, who above all else were loyal to the profit system until the end. And we are better off for having fought them.
Mack Ave. Defender