Angel Torres: Militant seaman, 1929-2003

Angel Rene Torres, a lifelong fighter for democratic, member-controlled unions, died in September. Torres was a Puerto Rican who born in New York. While only in his teens, Torres shipped out as an able-bodied seaman. He joined the National Maritime Union where he fought for seaman’s unity. He fought against racism on U.S. merchant vessels and for the 40-hour workweek.

Fifty years ago, Torres fought against registry of U.S. ships under foreign “flags of convenience” as a device to transfer American jobs to low wage countries. He ran for the position of vice president of the NMU and received 7,000 votes, no mean accomplishment.

Eventually, because of his militancy, he and other seamen were “screened” off of U.S. ships. The ship owners, the National Maritime Union leadership, and the FBI pushed the Coast Guard to do this. Torres appealed, and years later the U.S. Supreme Court found that the government had violated the Constitution and ordered that he and the other screened seamen get their shipping papers back.

During the Korean War Torres was drafted into the Army. As part of his induction he swore to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. When he refused to sign a loyalty oath, ordered by Harry Truman, he was again targeted for harassment. Despite one and a half years of unblemished military service he was given a less than honorable discharge. Again on appeal the Supreme Court found that the government had violated the Constitution, and ordered a new, honorable discharge.

Toward the end of his years, Torres undertook, with the assistance of his son Daniel, the creation of “The Doghouse Newsletter,” a monthly publication of opinions, comments and satire from rank-and-file labor and community activists.

Torres lived in New York for many years. He was a member of the Waterfront Section of the Communist Party USA and served on the New York CPUSA’s state committee. Like many Puerto Ricans he went “back” to Puerto Rico to live in the 1970s, then returned to the U.S. and lived on the West Coast.

Although Angel Torres will be missed, his example of courage in defending and preserving our nation’s Constitution during the McCarthy era remains with us. He is survived by his daughter Maria and his son Daniel. His ashes were scattered under the Golden Gate Bridge