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Filipino labor activists Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo are slain in Seattle on June 1, 1981.
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On June 1, 1981, Seattle-based Filipino American labor activists Gene Viernes (1951-1981) and Silme Domingo (1952-1981) of Local 37 of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union(ILWU) are murdered near Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. They were attempting to reform the union, which they thought was corrupt, and were calling for better working conditions in the canneries.
Viernes died instantly, but Domingo lived long enough to identify the murderers before he died 24 hours later. Police arrested two cannery workers, Pompeyo Benito Guloy Jr. and Jimmy Bulosan Ramil. They were found guilty of aggravated first degree murder on September 24, 1981, and sentenced to life in prison. A third suspect, Fortunato "Tony" Dictado, leader of the Filipino street gang "Tulisan," was convicted on May 12, 1982 of ordering the murders and he too was sentenced to life in prison.
Police also questioned Local 37 president Constantine "Tony" Baruso (1928-2008), who owned the gun used in the murders. He was was not charged at the time, but in 1990 he too was convicted in the murder of Viernes (but acquitted of Domingo's killing) and sentenced to life in prison.
Gene Viernes was born in Yakima on August 16, 1951, the eldest of nine children born to Felix and Betty Viernes. Felix had emigrated from the Philippines in the 1920s. He was a fruit picker and also worked in canneries. His son Gene grew up picking fruit before going to school.
Gene joined Local 37, ILWU in 1966 at the age of 14, after lying about his age and paying a $50 bribe to a cannery foreman. He spent many summers as an "Alaskero," working in the Alaskan salmon canneries along with his father and brothers.
In the 1970s, he met Silme Domingo and they became close friends. Together they formed the Alaska Cannery Workers' Association, a workers' legal advocacy group. Within Local 37, Gene Viernes played a crucial role in the formation of the Rank and File Committee, the group that spearheaded the reform movement in 1977.
Silme Domingo was born in Killeen, Texas, on January 25, 1952. His father had emigrated from the Philippines in the 1920s, and had joined the Army and fought in the Pacific during World War II. Silme was the third of five children born to Nemesio and Adelina Domingo. He grew up in Texas and Germany in accordance with his father's military career, and the family moved to Seattle in 1960. Silme attended Ballard High School and graduated with honors from the University of Washington.
Silme, following his parents' social activism, participated in the effort during the 1970s to save Seattle's International District, and joined the work to establish social services for people in the district. In 1974 Silme joined the Union of Democratic Filipino (KDP) and established the Seattle KDP chapter, which organized the first protest in Seattle against the Marcos dictatorship.
He was best known for his work in the Alaska Cannery Workers Union. He was survived by two children, Ligaya and Kalayaan.
Mark Lampson, From Profanity Hill: King County Bar Association's Story (Kirkland, WA: Documentary Book Publishers Corporation, 1993), 91; Ron Chew, "Jury Convicts Dictado of First Degree Murder," International Examiner, May 19, 1982, p. 1; Sue Chin, "Jury Convicts Ramil and Guloy of Murder -- Meanwhile, Grand Jury Investigates Gambling," International Examiner, October 7, 1981, p. 1; "Carlos Bulosan Exhibit," Historic Eastern Hotel website accessed on August 24, 2005 (http://www.bulosan.org/html/organizers.html); State v. Baruso, 72 Wn.App. 603 (1993).
Note: This essay was expanded on August 24, 2005, and was corrected and updated on February 10, 2014.
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