2016 – ITF 120 anniversary
Presentation at the International Seamen’s Club Duckdalben, Hamburg, during the Antifascist Harbour Days 2016 by Hamburger Freundinnen und Freunde der XI. Internationalen Brigade
The mood on board a large steamer:
Anyone just looking at our vessel from the side of a foreign harbour would easily form the impression that it is a model Nazi ship. But the “hunger cross” on the stern is deceptive. Just as the few Hitler Youths who sometimes turn up to parade their flags only fool outsiders, behind the scenes of the Nazis’ display, something quite different is hidden.
Our ship has a crew of just under 200, of which exactly 14 are members of either the NSDAP (Nazi Party) or the SA (Storm Troopers). These 14 men take every opportunity to give the outward impression of the ship as being “Nazi Germany”.
But now the reality: 180 members of the crew are not Nazis! Despite the seafarers in Hamburg and Bremen being encouraged by every means to join the Nazi Party or the Storm Troopers, and despite it being made very easy for them to do so (for seafarers there is no barrier to membership), virtually no-one signs up. On deck and in the engine room, we need no special agreement to stand together against the Nazis.
Today we already grasp the importance of the tasks that we will have to perform tomorrow, in the struggle against the “brown regime” and the creation of something new that will come after Hitler has gone. Comrades (and sympathizers) understand more and more that the sudden outbreak of a war started by Germany will force those of us on ships abroad to take action. We and other ships will break out of the ring of German fortifications. For us then enough will be enough! Enough of this damned fascist yoke of slavery. Comrades on other ships! Shop stewards! Bring all your strength into play, prepare for action in the event of war! Build up revolutionary morale on board! Fly the flag high!
Down with the “hunger cross” and the criminal Nazi system!
Seafarers and Boatmen,
We see ourselves as part of the German working people, whose trade union and political organisations have been smashed! It is our colleagues, our brothers who in their hundreds of thousands fill the fascist prisons, jails and concentration camps. We have just one duty to those who have been murdered, beheaded by hatchets, and tortured in the Gestapo hell-holes to fulfil:
Fight fascism until it collapses!
For peace, justice and freedom!
Down with war!
Against Hitler and his murder system!
For a genuinely free and socialist Germany!
Seafarers, Boatmen, Harbour Workers,
The Federation is an illegal organisation, invisible to the Gestapo. It encompasses all anti-fascist revoluBonary workers on the seas, the inland waterways and the harbours in Germany.
We function without permanent branches, treasurers, membership cards, subscriptions, files or paid officials.
Our identity card is hatred of the “brown bandits”, the determination to destroy their system and to build in its place a beber Germany in which freedom, peace and justice will again prevail. We want a Germany in which everyone with a human face has the same right to the good things in life (as long as they have not forfeited that right during Hitler’s time in power). But not as it was from 1918 – 1932, when “all Germans were equal under the law” and “every German had the right to work”, but at the same time, the vast mass of people suffered in misery!
We want a Germany in which, in contrast to the Weimar republic, the Trades Unions are instruments of power in the hands of the proletariat, and this power is deployed to take complete control of the domestic, foreign and economic policies of the state.
We want no more divisions, and no more conflict between ourselves; we want to be a real, united, powerful, fighting trade union for all transport workers.
On the situation in Spain.
The struggle of the working people of Spain against the reactionary fascist military clique goes on. Every worker, every peasant, every seafarer and every salaried employee knows now what the war is about. The workers are fighting for bread and freedom, that is to say, for a socialist Spain. The rebel generals are fighting for the suppression of the workers and their trades unions and political parties. They want to combine the supremacy of profiteering capitalists and the reactionary landed estates with the power of the malevolent Spanish clergy within an anti-progressive dictatorship.
The German ITF group has given practical expression to the solidarity of all German seafarers and boatmen, by which ranks of its stewards and activists have gone to Spain, to take part in the fight against the fascists alongside the government of the Popular Front. German Seafarers!
Report all weapons shipments that are leaving German ports bound for the Spanish fascists! Stop these transports by any means!
Down with fascism!
Long live the victory of the Spanish workers and peasants!
Greetings from the Proletarian Front in Spain
Though announced and reported by German newspapers at least a hundred times, the capture of Madrid and the clearing of whole Spain from the so-called „red gangs“ by the rebel-generals did not happen,
As we have been absolutely made sure by information from German ports and ships Stettin, Lübeck, Emden, Hamburg und Königsberg have been left by 26 steamers carrying war-material of all kinds and troops (civilians, but Reichswehr-members) bound to Cadiz and Sevilla. These German ships have been accompanied by German navy cruisers and torpedo-boats while passing the English channel or Finistere.
The funnel marks of the steamers had been painted over, the crews were taken an oath for secrecy.
Germany makes war with Spanish workers and farmers In Spain!
Sailors, stevedores and inland-navy-men!
The defeat of the fascist generals in Spain is the defeat of Germany and Italy!
The victory of the Spanish workers and farmers is our victory!
The next after Spain is Germany!
Long live free socialist Spain!
Dear comrade Fimmen!
We fight under the flag of I.T.F. and have kept healthy up to now … More soon.
Frente Aragona, December 5th, 1936
A letter from Spain addressed to ITF
To our comrades abroad!
In all countries there are innumerable anti-fascist and liberal comrades, who would like to join the great battle in Spain, where the international proletariat fights against the international capitalism, whether Spanish or foreign.
… In Spain there are men, but there is a lack of weapons, a sack full of wheat is more necessary than a man without arms!
Talking clearly: the front is not only at the bloody river of Manzanares, in the mountains of Aragon, before the walls of Oviedo. The fight is also in the fields and the factories, work and produce will determine success or failure. Economy in war is as important for us as it is for the supporters of counterrevolution.
Comrades abroad! We urge you to take place in this front!
We have to stop the enemy getting food, machines, paper, and fuels and so on. The proletariat must starve out the fascists just as the fascist and „democratic“ capitalism tries to block us – without success despite their efforts. So be militiamen abroad. Important as attacking a tank with dynamite and destroying is, it is just as important to work in the depots and railways, and in the ports stopping the weapons getting through to the enemy.
You have to prevent these reinforcements and supplies reaching the enemy or if possible redirect them to our centers.
In America they are making uniforms for the falangist and they send tons of wheat, meat, petroleum and gold. In France there are whole factories working exclusively for Burgos and in England the fascists get credit without limit. Fascist delegations travel all over the world creating points to enlist mercenary soldiers and collect a fortune in donations.
You, comrade, who offer your life despite of danger, you, who want to be useful here and cannot do so, why don ́t you be active for the case of freedom in your own country? You know that in your country the reactionary clergy, the national and international capital, all of the privileged are working for Franco ́s victory with all the power they have …
It is our task to make economic difficulties to fascism wherever possible. All you comrades, who cannot come to Spain, here it is up to you, fruitful work must to be done …
ONE OF OURS!
He reached the port with his ship, when part of our group was ready to travel to Spain in order to fight fascism with weapons rather than broadsheets or leaflets with our Spanish comrades.
Without thinking twice he left his Nazi-flagged ship and joined our group the same day. At the front he distinguished himself as a good companion and brave fighter for months till a bullet made him unable to fight on one day……
For 6 nights and 5 days he lay in between the lines of government troops and rebels in no-man’s-land. No food, nothing to drink. All he had to quench his burning thirst was some rusty raindrops found in empty cartridge cases. Fighting to survive the day light hours and at night crawling in direction to the own lines, dragging his smashed leg, 30 to 40 meters every night.
On the 6th day he joined the own lines. Nearer to death than life by starving thirsty and completely exhausted, his legs smashed and full of mites – but in right hand his rifle!
While waiting for his third operation – his leg had been amputated below first, then above his knee – I have visited Jack in the infirmary. Smiling, prepared.
„Victory will be ours! We shall defeat Hitler!
Jack, a German revolutionary Sailor, is one of OURS!
I.T.F. is proud of him!
To the year‘s turn
Again a year, dedicated to fight against the brown, fascist plague, passed. A year full of work, but full of results and encouragement as well.
The gathering of every class-conscious sailor , boatman and Docker, on the new Free Trade-Union‘s soil, the General Association, regardless of their former allegiance to a certain party or group, resulted in further visible progress…
In the Maritime and waterway transport all’s well as in the port companies, after 1933, we saw in practice that, particularly of those occupied in German waterway transport companies, 95% declined Nazism and brown dictatorship
Despite the smashed trade union and political organisations, despite the occupied and confiscated buildings of Trade Unions and political parties, there remained something, the Nazis could neither crush nor arrest, nor imprison in concentration camps and prisons: the consciousness of Germany’s working class…
In the past two years Gestapo was never able to carry a blow against our organisation. The new conspiratorial form, which the sailors, boatmen and Dockers created by them, made any penetration of spies a failure.
The system of the Stewards has proven itself, be it on the see, be it in the inland waterways transport. So, regarding the bygone year 1937 that it let us achieve a doubling of the numbers of Board Stewards…
A swiftly constituted German-Sailor’s ITF-group participated actively in the battles of the Spanish labour force against the fascist generals at the Aragon front. We were capable of performing other important duties to the Spanish freedom fighters as well.
Despite the miserable condition of the sailors traveling under the German Swastika ships we were able to collect a considerable amount of money to support the children of the fallen Spanish sailors.
A large part of the Hamburg Dockers are now working for the construction of airports or fortifications. All of them forced to work there after they were first excluded from the longshoremen exchanges.
Take it or leave, were they told until last year, accept this work or starve without unemployment benefits. Since several weeks, since the new Hermann-Goering- Law has come into effect, things are different.
The Dockers receive an employment office postcard: they have to report there at a compulsory time. Having arrived they are ordered to arrive at the railway station some days later, supplied with warm underwear and waterproof overalls.
They threaten them with five years confinement in a penitentiary, in case of refusal, and dismiss them with a call-up order.
So, at the fixed days, hundreds of longshoremen ride from Bremen, from Hamburg, from Flensburg, Lübeck, Stettin etc. to the fortifications’ construction sites at the French, Belgian, Luxemburg and Dutch Border.
We, the Dockers, stopped speaking of the war threat. War has already started for us. When we learned about exiled parties, still wanting to perform foolish peace campaigns, we laugh in unbelief about such Idiots who still do not know what’s going on in Germany.
But the laughter has a dangerous tone that has emerged in the past five years of brown Fascism; this dangerous laughter of the Dockers in Germany’s ports. They don’t apply it exclusively to the Nazis, but to everything that was before.
In Francohafen (Franco harbour), the harbour in Hamburg Waltershof, every 5 days, a vessel, loaded with war equipment and troops leaves for Sevilla. Tanks, cannons, airplanes, ammunition and troops have become export goods. The harbours Dockers are sworn and steadily sworn on. Nobody can approach the harbour. Waterside as well as landside is controlled very strictly. This port is already a war zone. State of siege! Peace campaign will end in the middle of nowhere. The brown, heavily armed Fascism will not be thrown out of the saddle by absurd peace rallies which are, by the way not appreciated by anyone.
This war, the outpost bables of which have already started, must become the death of fascism. Making the war what it is, now is the task of the enslaved German workers, Dockers, longshoremen and sailors! This is our peace campaign!
All measures of the Organisation aims at the brown terror-regime’s downfall. We demand the improvement of employment and wages to have a decent living finally, knowing that we through this minimize the transporters‘ profit and complicate the payment of donations to Nazi organisations for the entrepreneurs.
We demand an improvement of our rations, while performing such hard work and know, that, in case our pressure is hard enough and we succeed, that the swastika’s Masters must provide money for foodstuffs, this currency is missing in the war chest. This will make it difficult for the Nazi system to conduct its war plans.
The Free Trade Union as instrument of the class struggle will and has to be the lever which raises capitalism in Germany from its hinges. But one task will be the very first: the Brown Fascist’s downfall!
There, under the cruel Fascist terror nothing will be achieved with the old pre-Hitler methods of fighting. Fort he Nazi leaders a worker’s live is not worth a damn.
With as lible sacrifice as possible, abaching to the demagogic promises of the Nazi leaders, trade-unionist fight today must be fought, developed and raised to a political level which will be able to fight for the overthrow of this felonious system.
We are a new, intentionally revolutionary Unit within the entire German Watertransport! We are a proletarian unit!
This particular character of our organisation is already giving us today our particular steadfastness and will improve our momentum the very day we will take action. There is no need for us to take care of social strata that do not belong to the class of the exploited. If, by the way, a member of those strata also will strive for Hitler’s overturn, we can walk with him a part of the way, but without making special arrangements.
We are not interested in a fight that only implies the reconstruction of he conditions we were in from 1918 to 1932, i.e. a democratic but capitalist Germany.
Our goal is more ambitious! We want a Germany where the organized labor force itself will decide by its self-formed organs, the revolutionary foremen, domestic and economic policy.
This Bourgeoisie which is to meet with Hitler, this Bourgeoisie which watched Hitler’s terrorist regime without taking action as long as it didn’t turn against them, must perish with Hitler! A free Germany of working men cannot tolerate any parasites.
Every day everyone within his own circle must create new bases, must enlist new reliable comrades to work. All this has to happen in the same careful and diplomaBc way we worked the past two years. It is not an art to end up in a penitentiary or concentration camp, it is an art to stay out there!
Any useless risk has, for all work’s sake, to be avoided absolutely. Especially within the – threatened by Gestapo – Waterways and port companies, comrades will have to continue working with utmost precaution. Many small units are beber than big, strong groups because they can disguise themselves better. So it will be almost impossible for Gestapo agents to infiltrate groups of three or five. Until then we will perform our duty unflustered, day-in, day out. Within every day’s running bable on board and in port we are standing together.
Time Warp 1945
May 8th 1945 could have at last fulfilled the transport workers‘ hope for a free and socialist Germany. Already three days later the Socialist Free Trade Union (SFG, Sozialistische Freie Gewerkschaft) was founded. In a few weeks there were in Hamburg roundabout 50.000 Membership applications. 41 days later, this trade union was forbidden by the British occupation authority.