John Tisa

JOHN TISA was born in April 6, 1914 in Philadelphia, PA to Sicilian immigrant parents Benedetto and Maria Tisa. The family, which included brothers Dominic, Charles, and Joseph Tisa, lived at 1040 Reese Street in Philadelphia when the Census was taken in 1920. The Tisas subsequently moved to Camden where in 1930 they lived at 214 Benson Street. He graduated from Camden High School in 1933, where he was known as the class socialist, his ambition then was to travel the world.

John Tisa was a member of the Young People’s Socialist League, the Socialist Party and various other socialist and communist movements. He was a union organizer at the Campbell Soup Company and took part in the abortive strike of 1934.

John Tisa studied at Brookwood Labor College and the Charles Morris Price School of Journalism in Philadelphia. In 1936 he took a job with the WPA but continued his union activities at Campbell Soup. In November of 1936 he was sent as a delegate to the American Federation of Labor National Convention in Tampa FL. It was here that he heard about the struggle of the Republicans in the war against the Fascists in Spain.

John Tisa left for Spain in January of 1937 to join the American Lincoln Brigade. He fought at the battle of Jarama and later became the editor of Volunteer for Liberty, the official English-language brigade publication. At the defeat of the Republicans, he remained in Barcelona to help collect documentation on the International Brigades. He continued his documentation efforts in Paris, returning to Camden in 1939.

Upon his return, John Tisa renewed his efforts to organize workers at the Campbell Soup plants and help organize and win the first union contract for Local 80, United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America, UCAPAWA-CIO. He next went to Chicago to help organize a similar plant, then returned to Camden to help organize unions at the La Palina Factory of the Consolidated Cigar Company, the Siegel Cigar Company, the Knox Gelatine Company, and tobacco companies in Trenton, Philadelphia, Charleston SC, and the middle west.

He served from 1942 through 1945 in the armed services. Because of his service in the Lincoln Brigade and membership in Communist and Socialist organizations, he was refused promotion and overseas service.

After the war, he returned to union organizing and was elected president of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers Union of America (FTA) local in Chicago (formerly the UCAPAWA). During the 1940s and 1950s he continued his work in the trade union movement and helped organize leaf tobacco workers in the South and fruit and vegetable packers in California.

At the CIO convention in December 1948, CIO President Philip Murray charged that the FTA consistently supported Communist Party interests rather than those of the CIO. Although John Tisa and other union officers filed a non-Communist affidavit in August of 1949, the FTA was expelled from the CIO in December of that year. The remnants of the union merged with the Distributive Processing and Office Workers of America, an amalgamation of several Communist-dominated unions expelled from the CIO.

In 1952 John Tisa was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee but refused to answer any of the question put to him. Finally forced out of his union position, he opened a pet shop in Merchantville which later moved to a location on Route 38 west of Mansion Avenue in Pennsauken NJ. In 1981 he moved to Florida with his wife May, where he resided until his death on December 12, 1991.

During his time in Spain, John Tisa kept a diary to contribute to the Republican forces’ program of tactical documentation of analysis. After retiring to Florida, John Tisa wrote Recalling the Good Fight, an account of his time in Spain. He described the training, or lack of it, of new recruits and recalled his experiences in battle and as historian and editor attached to the International Brigades headquarters. The book was published in 1985. He also edited a collection of propaganda posters, The Palette and the Flame : Posters of the Spanish Civil War.

John Tisa also donated a collection of pamphlets, books, and periodicals relating to his Spanish Civil War and trade union experiences to the Rutgers-Camden Library. These items are now housed at the Camden County Historical Society in Camden NJ.

Antoinette Tisa, the wife of his brother Dominic, was well known in Philadelphia, Camden, and South Jersey as an opera singer during a career that ran from the 1940s through the 1960s. Dominic Tisa owned and operated the London Barber Shop on South 3rd Street in the 1940s and 1950s.

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    John Tisa

    John Tisa was a member of the Young People’s Socialist League, the Socialist Party and various other movements, including leading union strikes in Camden.

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