Monday, May 27, 2019


Photographs and text by David Bacon
The Progressive, 5/27/19

Editor’s note:  These photographs, shown in the halls of California oil workers and longshoremen, revealed to them how their counterparts in Iraq were treated, often by the same oil monopolies.  We’re delighted to share the second of a multi-part series from the archives of photographer David Bacon. A former union organizer, Bacon’s thirty years of photographs and writing capture the courage of people struggling for social and economic justice in countries around the world. His images are now part of Special Collections in Stanford University’s Green Library. Part Two tells of his visit to the oil fields of post-war Iraq and what the refinery workers told him about how they forced Halliburton out of Basra—one of the first big victories of the time for Iraqi unions.

As millions of people marched against the invasion of Iraq in the early 2000s, many carried signs pointing an accusing finger at Dick Cheney and Halliburton - "No Blood for Oil!"  But seeing that oil was a motivating factor for the war did not necessarily mean that people understood much about Iraq as a country, the role oil plays in its national life, or about the workers who pump it from the ground and refine it.

In 2013 I went to Baghdad with a longshore union leader, Clarence Thomas, to learn how the occupation was affecting Iraq's workers and unions.  I documented factory life, and took photographs and talked with workers in the Daura oil refinery.  There I began to see oil's central role in Iraq's life.  I realized that further documentation meant going to southern Iraq, where most of the industry is located.

A year after returning from Baghdad I met oil workers in London, and Hassan Juma'a, president of their newly-reorganized union, asked me to come to Basra.  With the help of Ewa Jasciewicz, in 2015 I arrived with several British activists, there to attend a conference organized by the union to oppose handing over the country's oil industry to the giant oil monopolies.

In Basra workers told me that in the occupation's first year, Halliburton, the company formerly headed by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, had been given a contract to take over all the financial operations of the civil administration in the south, including paying the wages of oil workers.  If you worked on a rig or in the refinery, you had to hand in your time sheet at the Halliburton office to get paid.

Yet people in the U.S. and Europe were generally unaware of this corruption, and knew almost nothing about the workers who make the oil industry function.  I went to Basra determined to take photographs and record interviews that would pierce this invisibility.  I wanted to give unions and workers in the U.S. a sense of who their brothers and sisters were, and how they were affected by the occupation.

Originally organized under the British in the early 1920s, the oil union was always the heart of the country's labor movement.  Iraq's two biggest strikes, in 1946 and 1952, were organized by oil workers, and helped build the movement for Iraq's social revolution in 1958.  The reorganization of the oil union in Iraq is a heroic story, one that we told in The Progressive in an article I wrote after my return:

In that article I recounted what the refinery workers told me they did to get rid of Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR.  At the Basra refinery a small group took a crane out to the gate, and lowered it across the road.   Behind it, dozens of tanker trucks began stacking up, unable to leave with their loads of oil and gasoline.  Sonn a heavily armed military escort pulled up to get Halliburton's oil moving again.

"At first there were only 100 of us, but workers began coming out," I was told by Faraj Arbat, one of the plant's firemen.  "Some took their shirts off and told the troops, 'Shoot us.'  Others lay down on the ground."  Ten of them even went under the tankers, brandishing cigarette lighters.  They announced that if the soldiers fired, they would set the tankers alight.

The soldiers did not fire.  Instead, by the end of the day, the workers had been paid the wages Halliburton had been withholding.  Within a week, everyone at the refinery had joined, and. the oil union in Basra had been reborn.  Finally, oil workers took action to stop Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR from raking off profits from their wages.  They stopped work.  Three days of paralysis in the oil fields was enough to force Halliburton out of Basra - one of the first big victories of Iraqi unions.

I came back with stories like these, and photographs showing what life in the oil fields was like for the people working there.  US Labor Against the War then managed to get visas for a handful of Iraqi union leaders to come to the U.S. and tell their stories in person.  Two spoke to audiences on the east coast, and another pair went to the midwest.  Oil union leaders Hassan Juma'a and Falih Abood traveled the west coast from southern California to Washington.

In Los Angeles the U.S. oil workers union gave the Iraqis laptop computers.  An exhibition of photographs in the oil workers' and later the longshoremen's halls showed California workers how their counterparts in Iraq were treated, often by the same oil monopolies.  Iraqis explained that they saw the country's oil as the people's property - the only resource that could pay the enormous cost of rebuilding their country after decades of war.

In city after city, audiences rose to their feet applauding when Hassan Juma'a and Falih Abood walked in to speak.  The relationships they built then with U.S. unions have endured through the years since.

Another Iraqi union leader from Basra, Hashmeya Muhsin, the head of the electrical workers union and first woman to lead a national union in Iraq, came to the U.S. in the years afterwards.  By the time she arrived, some union women here already knew her from the photograph I took of Hashmeya at a union meeting in Basra.  I hope  the photograph helped inspire the invitation to come and speak.

These photographs were documentation with a purpose.  Photographers often speak about "putting the human face" on a particular social problem or movement.  These images certainly introduced the human faces of Iraqi oil workers to workers here.  They also helped to bring them to the United States where they could speak for themselves, finding common ground with the workers of the country occupying theirs. So if they helped to encourage peace and solidarity, the photographs served a good purpose.

In the years since they were taken I've written many other articles about Iraq and its workers.  The latest, about the political alliance formed by Iraqi unions and left activists in the 2018 election, can be found here:

A worker in the Basra oil refinery. 

To see the complete set of images, click here.

Read the first installment in this series here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019



COACHELLA, CA - 2007 -A crew of farm workers harvests romaine lettuce for Pamela Packing Company near Mecca, in the Coachella Valley.  This crew cuts and packs the lettuce into boxes on the ground, the way lettuce harvesting was organized until the 1990s.  This system gave lettuce workers control over the speed of the work and the amount cut.  Growers replaced this work system in most places with lettuce machines, to end control of the harvest by workers.

Stanford CA - Stanford Libraries has added the work of David Bacon, a Bay Area-based photographer, author, political activist and union organizer, to its photography collection. Bacon has been documenting the lives of farm workers since 1988, and his archive joins a robust and growing collection of photography archives at Stanford.

"David Bacon's career as a photojournalist and author represents working class history and social justice movements that transformed political landscapes internationally," said Ignacio Ornelas Rodriguez, Ph.D., a library specialist at Stanford who worked closely with Bacon on the acquisition of his archive. "David's work highlights communities that are often ignored by mainstream media and brings them from the margins of society to the forefront."

Bacon has dedicated most of his career to documenting labor history. His work captures critically important aspects of the civil rights movements and consists of film negatives, gelatin silver prints, digital images, digital prints, and audio recordings and files. During the month of May, The Progressive, a national publication devoted to amplifying voices of under-represented groups, will feature a multi-part series focusing on Bacon's photography and work globally. Part One documents Bacon's visit to Iraq to determine how workers were faring in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion. 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 2018 - After 61 days on their picketlines, Richard Mason, a union member at the Saint Francis Hotel, celebrates the end of the strike and the agreement on a new union contract.  Workers protested low wages that force many to work an additional job besides their job at the hotel.

Bacon was a factory worker and union organizer for two decades with the United Farm Workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers. "David's photographs document the changing conditions in the workforce, the impact of the global economy, war and migration, and the struggle for human rights," said Roberto Trujillo, associate university librarian and director of Stanford Libraries' Special Collections.

Bacon's images complement the contents of the Bob Fitch Archive that contain iconic images from the civil rights movements of the mid to late 20thcentury. According to Trujillo, the Bacon and Fitch archives will provide scholars and students access to nearly 400,000 images spanning the history of labor movements in the United States. 

In addition to his photography, Bacon has written several books and numerous articles about migration, including:  The Children of NAFTA (University of California Press, 2004); Communities Without Borders (ILR/Cornell University Press, 2006); Illegal People - How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008); and The Right to Stay Home (Beacon Press, 2013). His most recent book of photographs and oral histories, In the Fields of the North/En Los Campos del Norte, was published by the University of California Press and the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Tijuana), 2017.

Bacon's photography has been exhibited widely in the United States, Mexico, and in Europe, including at the Oakland Museum of California; the University of California at Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Merced; the National Civil Rights Museum; DeSaisset Museum, Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography; Queens College; the Church Center of the United Nations; the Museum of Mexico City; the National Autonomous University of Mexico; the Autonomous University of Mexico City; IG Metall Galerie in Frankfurt; Galerie Unterhaus in Passau; and the Kulture AXE in Vienna.

Last month, Stanford Libraries launched a Photography Initiative, which is dedicated to creating a strong photographic collection that represents the archives of photographers across a broad range of photographic practices including fine arts, documentary, and photojournalism, among others.

"The David Bacon archive is a wonderfully rich teaching and research collection," said Trujillo. "David's approach to become part of the communities he documents not only gives students a unique first-hand account of the human stories comprising these larger movements, but allows for those stories to continue to be shared and studied."

DELANO, CA - 1995 - Dolores Huerta, vice-president and one of the founders of the United Farm Workers, talks with group of workers from one of the world's largest rose growers.  The workers had voted for the union, and Huerta, who was negotiating the first labor contract, was reporting to the workers about the bargaining.

Dolores Huerta, American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Cesar Chavez, is a co-founder of the United Farm Workers, noted the significance of Bacon's archive finding a home at Stanford.

"The preservation of David's work is critical to our history," said Huerta who is also president and founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. 

"I applaud Stanford's continued commitment to archive the history of Mexican and Mexican Americans in the United States. David Bacon's archive acquired by Stanford will assure that our history is not lost."

The David Bacon Archive is not yet processed. Researchers interested in accessing the collection should contact the Department of Special Collections. Once the collection is processed, Stanford Libraries intends to build an online exhibition of Bacon's Archive, which will be accessible to all with an internet connection.


Gabrielle Karampelas | Stanford Libraries
office: 650.497.4414 |  cell: 650.492.9855

Monday, May 13, 2019


Photographs and text by David Bacon
The Progressive, 5/13/19

Editors note:  We’re delighted to share the first of a multi-part series from the archives of photographer David Bacon. A former union organizer, Bacon’s thirty years of photographs and writing capture the courage of people struggling for social and economic justice in countries around the world. His images are now part of Special Collections in Stanford University’s Green Library. Part One tells of his visit to Iraq to find out how workers were faring in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion.

In 2003, as people began to realize that the Bush Administration intended to invade Iraq, demonstrations of hundreds of thousands filled streets around the world. I joined them as an activist opposed to a war that seemed inevitable, and as a photographer documenting movements for peace and human rights.

These marches included people from many unions, including my own—what was then the Northern California Newspaper Guild (now the Pacific Media Workers Guild), CWA Local 39521. One of our members, Henry Norr, was even fired by the San Francisco Chronicle after he was arrested on the first day of the war, along with 1400 other demonstrators, in the streets of the city’s financial district. They’d all blocked traffic in the city’s downtown business district, vowing to halt business as usual. Some brave souls even signed a petition in the paper's newsroom, arguing for Henry’s right as a worker and union member to participate in political activity.

I went into the streets, photographing street life from demonstrations of the unemployed to children sleeping on the sidewalk.

The involvement by workers and unions led to the formation of U.S. Labor Against the War, which quickly grew to include labor organizations and activists across the country. One of the first questions on our minds was how the war would impact Iraqi workers. We knew that the country had one of the oldest and most radical labor movements in the Middle East, driven underground by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. US LAW asked me and Clarence Thomas, a leader of the San Francisco longshore union, ILWU Local 10, to go to Baghdad and get some answers.

Just after the occupation began, Medea Benjamin and Code Pink set up an office in Baghdad, called Occupation Watch. Staffing it was a Polish/British activist, Ewa Jasiewicz. With their assistance Clarence and I visited activists in several unions, and through them were able to go out to Baghdad's refinery and several factories. I interviewed and photographed the workers and their workplaces. The impact of the war on ordinary people was everywhere, and I went into the streets, photographing street life from demonstrations of the unemployed to children sleeping on the sidewalk.

In each workplace, workers had reorganized unions that had been illegal under Saddam Hussein. The U.S. occupation authorities, however, denied these unions their legal right to exist. Occupation czar Paul Bremer published lists of factories, most of which had been publicly owned, and invited private foreign investors to buy them at auction. While the union activists we talked with were glad Saddam Hussein was gone, they said the occupation had thrown most people into poverty, failed to pay wages, and treated them as enemies.

While the union activists we talked with were glad Saddam Hussein was gone, they said the occupation had thrown most people into poverty, failed to pay wages, and treated them as enemies.

After returning to the U.S. Clarence and I described what we’d seen and heard, first at a national US LAW conference in Chicago. Then, in a tour quickly put together by USLAW organizer Michael Eisenscher, and coordinators Gene Bruskin and Amy Newell, Clarence and I spoke in union halls and churches across the country. We used these photographs to help audiences understand the real impact of occupation on Iraqi people. A report and photographs, published in The Progressive and the ILWU Dispatcher exposed the corruption of the privatization plan and attacks on workers. It won the Max Steinbock Award.

A leather goods factory and a factory making plastic bottles

The women in the leather goods factory were deaf and mute. Since the days of Iraq’s radical government of the late 1950s, these women and others like them were given preference for jobs in factories like this.

To see the complete set of images, click here.

For images of May Day in Oakland, click here and here.

Monday, May 6, 2019

MAY DAY IN OAKLAND 2019 - Part Two: Sin Fronteras Immigrant and Community March

MAY DAY IN OAKLAND 2019 - Part Two: Sin Fronteras Immigrant and Community March   
Photographs by David Bacon

The Sin Fronteras coalition of immigrant rights and community organizations organized the annual May Day march through downtown Oakland, with over 1000 marchers.

To see the complete set of original color images, click here.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

MAY DAY IN OAKLAND 2019 - Part One: Longshore and Construction Workers

MAY DAY IN OAKLAND 2019 - Part One: Longshore and Construction Workers         
Photographs by David Bacon

Dockworkers, members of the Inteernational Longshore and Warehouse Union, and supporters rallied and marched in the Port of Oakland on May Day, to protest the plan to build a ballpark and luxury housing on port land, jeapordizing the port's operation and dockworker jobs.

Building trades workers in downtown Oakland celebrated May Day for the first time in memory, protesting the growth of non-union construction.  In Oakland, suppossedly a union town, 90% of the many new office and condo buildings are now built without union workers.

To see the complete set of original color images, click here and here.