Biographical / Historical
Born Giovanni Santo Buscemi in Mazara del Vallo, Italy, in 1902, Vanni Buscemi Montana, a name he assumed to protect relatives still in Italy, emigrated to the United States as a political refugee from Mussolini's dictatorship in 1928.
An enemy of fascist absolutism in his native Sicily, Montana fled first to Belgium and then to Paris, where he studied political science and journalism at the Sorbonne, organized Italian immigrants, and urged resistance to fascists. A member of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in Sicily and in Paris, Montana continued his antifascist activities with the Italian socialist Federation after emigrating to the United States in the late 1920s. He was city and labor editor for Il Nuovo Mondo and then La Stampa Libera, two Italian antifascist daily newspapers, from 1930 to 1933. He also contributed to La Parola, an Italian antifascist weekly.
In 1934, Luigi Antonini, founder and general secretary of the Italian Dressmakers' Union, Local 89 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU)--the largest local in America--hired Montana as publicity and educational director. ILGWU president David Dubinsky also employed Montana as assistant editor and then editor of Giustizia, the Italian language organ of the ILGWU, a post he held for the next thirty-four years. Additionally, Montana became a broadcaster at Radio Station WEVD, hosting "The Voice of Local 89," a program that featured talks by Luigi Antonini.
In response to Mussolini's declaration of war against the United States in 1941, Montana and Antonini, along with other Italian-American leaders, formed the Italian-American Labor council (IALC). Montana served IALC as press director and writer from 1941 until 1973.
During World War II, Montana served on the board of directors of the Mazzini Society, New York Branch, a group that included Carlo Tresca, a prominent leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and a well-known antifascist and anticommunist. Montana secretly corresponded with Ignazio Silone, Italian author of Bread and Wine and a leading member of the Italian Socialist Party, on political activities in fascist Italy. This correspondence made Montana useful as a political consultant to U.S. State Department officials and determined the substance of his shortwave broadcasts to Italy during World War II.
Dubinsky sent Antonini to Italy in 1944 to prepare Italian labor unions for the post-war period. Montana later followed Antonini to Italy and became highly critical of Antonini's support and signing of the "Pact of Rome." Vanni Montana served as executive secretary and coordinator of European activities of the Italian American committee for Just Peace for Italy organized in 1946 by Don Luigi Sturzo, a Sicilian priest and founder of the Catholic Italian "Partito Popolare," to attend the Paris Peace Conference. The committee contributed to efforts to prevent post-war Italy from being punished by the Allies.
From 1946 onwards, Montana published many articles in the New Leader, L'Umanita, Giustizia, Sindacalismo Libero, and other publications in an effort to prevent splits in the Italian Socialist Party and movements toward unification with the Communist-dominated CGIL. In these articles he described and clarified the complexities and development of Italian labor and political parties following World War II. The faction of Pietro Nenni, who was accused of aligning his politics with Palmira Togliatti (head of the PCI), controlled the PSI. Another faction led by Giuseppe Saragat withdrew from the PSI and formed the Partito Socialista Lavoratori Italiani
(PSLI); Matteo Matteotti, son of Giuseppe Matteotti (murdered by a fascist gang in 1924), was also one of its leaders. Both Saragat and Matteotti were invited to New York to speak at the ILGWU Convention. Montana escorted and translated for them during their American tour.
Two programs offered by the Americans, the Atlantic Pact (later NATO) and the European Recovery Program (or Marshal Plan), became points of controversy. Montana and other democratic Socialists urged the acceptance of these programs; however, the PCI-led CGIL opposed military and economic alliances with the United States, positions that caused Giulio Pastore to withdraw from CGIL in August 1948 and to form in October 1948 a rival labor confederation, the Free CGIL (or LCGIL), a Catholic-dominated labor confederation. Later in 1949, two other groups led by Giovanni Canini
(Socialist) and Enrico Parri (Republican) split from CGIL and united to form a third labor confederation, the Italian Federation of Labor (FIL). The two confederations eventually merged in May 1950 to form the 1.6 million-worker Confederazione Italiana Sindicati Lavoratori (CISL), led by Giulio Pastore and later by Bruno Storti. As a result of the proposed merger, Autonomous Socialists, together with independent unions, founded the Unione Italiana del Lavoro (UIL), led by Italo Viglianesi and Della Chiesa.
Into the 1970s Montana continued to write about proposed mergers of CGIL, CISL, and UIL. In assessing his political career in The Shambles, Montana wrote that his "bitterest disappointment was not seeing, after World War II, a united Italian labor movement, free from political domination rally around the banner of freedom that Bruno Buozzi carried until he was murdered; and not seeing a united Italian socialism around the banner of Giacomo Matteotti--both as instruments for serving the advancement of Italian democracy as a free and independent part, with the United States of America, of a world democracy unthreatened by any kind of totalitarian despotism or oppression.”
After his retirement in 1968 from Local 89 and Giustizia and encouraged by friends, family, and his wife Hèléne Barton, Montana began going through his papers. This work resulted in the 1976 American publication of his political autobiography, Amarostico, written in Italian. An unpublished English translation is in this collection.
Montana and Hèléne had two American-born sons, Victor B. Montana, a physicist, and John B. Montana, a physician. Vanni B. Montana died in Manhattan on November 3, 1991.