Joseph Filner

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H. Joseph Filner

H. Joseph Filner was a prominent communist, turned industrialist.

Divorced from his first wife, Sarah F. Filner, Joseph Filner was survived by his wife of 47 years, Doris. He was the father of congressman Bob Filner, Dr. Bernard Filner, a Maryland physician who specializes in pain medicine, a stepdaughter Nancy Stein who is associated with the Little Red School House of New York, and five grandchildren.[1]

Early life

Joseph Filner, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants, was born in Pittsburgh, PA, and used to work in his parents' bakery and drive the delivery truck. Concerned about the conditions of workers at other bakeries, he became involved as an organizer for the bakers' union and later for the Teamsters, Steelworkers and other industrial unions.

He enlisted in the Army for World War II, fighting with the 180th Infantry Regiment through North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. He was among the American soldiers who witnessed the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis at Dachau after his unit liberated the concentration camp.

Communist Party

In 1942, H. Joseph Filner was secretary of the Pittsburgh Communist Party USA.[2]


Joseph Filner was a close friend and business associate of secret Communist Party USA member, Stanley Levison.[3]

Business career

Following the war, Filner returned briefly to the bakery business, but thereafter recognized how important stainless steel scrap metal would become to American industry. He founded the Stainless and Alloy Corporation of America, eventually expanding its scope of operations worldwide. In the process he also formed and operated Considar Inc., Newmet Corp., and Project Development Inc.

Soviet Union

In 1990 Joseph Filner, an international trader based in New York, was described "marketing Soviet products in the West for 35 years".[4]

Backing MLK

According to congressman Bob Filner, his father Joseph Filner had read about Martin Luther King in the 1950s when the civil rights leader still was in the early stages of his career, while serving as a pastor in Montgomery, Ala. Filner telephoned the young minister and told him he was impressed with what he was doing.[5]

"How can I help?" Joseph Filner asked.

King said that the need to earn his salary made it difficult for him to travel too far from home. How much is that? Joseph Filner required. Shyly (as Congressman Filner remembered the tale), King said it was $35,000.

Joseph Filner said he would see what he could do. A successful scrap metals trader, Filner assembled some personal friends and business associates -- "most of them Jewish," the congressman remembered -- and told them about King and his work.

"They contributed over $100,000," the congressman said. "That money really helped King to put his Southern Christian Leadership Conference on a sound financial footing."

After Bob Filner became involved in politics, one of the people who campaigned for him was Andrew Young, then mayor of Atlanta, Ga. Young had been mentored by Martin Luther King, and he remembered Joseph Filner well. At one point, he told a campaign rally that he supported Bob Filner's candidacy not only because of their shared Democratic viewpoints, but also, quite simply, "because of his daddy."

Father's legacy

After Bob Filner became involved in politics, one of the people who campaigned for him was Andrew Young, then mayor of Atlanta, Ga. Young had been mentored by Martin Luther King, and he remembered, King's financial backer Joseph Filner well. At one point, he told a campaign rally that he supported Bob Filner's candidacy not only because of their shared Democratic viewpoints, but also, quite simply, "because of his daddy."[6]

Frieda Foundation

Filner created a charitable foundation, the Frieda Foundation, through which he gave to many leftist causes, especially programs to "rid the world of the threat of nuclear annihilation."[7]

Soviet metal coating process

Multi-Arc Vacuum Systems Inc., of St. Paul, Minn., which marketeted a Soviet-developed process for coating metals. The process was "discovered" in the late 1970s when Joseph Filner -- president of Noblemet International (later Newmet Corp.) of New York City - stumbled across it during a business trip to the Soviet Union. There he learned about a Russian auto plant that had had difficulties getting new machine tools when it needed them. Searching for ways to alleviate the problem, workers had found that a thin film of titanium nitride enabled them to work their old tools longer, harder, and faster.

Filner visited the plant and, in December 1979, negotiated a U.S. license for the technology. On the strength of that license, Noblemet and other investors launched Multi-Arc as a joint venture to sell the coating machines and related services. In just over two years, the company's annual revenues grew from zero to $5 million. By 1984, Multi-Arc had 80 employees, had set up a british subsidiary, and was about to begin licensing a service operation. Ironically, the process -- invented in a Russian auto factory -- proved most popular among tool makers supplying the U.S. auto industry. "It's an impressive, rapidly growing, successful business," says Jack Heule, president of Minneapolis-based Control Data Worldtech Inc., a division of Control Data Corp that does research and consulting on, and brokering of, technology transfers. Worldtech was a worldwide marketing representative for Multi-Arc.[8]

American Committee on East-West Accord

As at March 10, 1982, Joseph Filner, of Noblenet International was a member of the American Committee on East-West Accord. The ACEWA, based in Washington, D.C., was a tax-exempt "independent educational organization", with the stated aim of "improving East/West relations, with special focus on U.S.-Soviet relations." Joseph Filner also endorsed the Kennedy-Hatfield Nuclear Freeze Resolution which was introduced in the Senate on March 10, 1982.[9]

Marketing Soviet military technology

In May 1990, A high-ranking Soviet scientist Dr. Aleksandr G. Merzhanov, came to Capitol Hill recently to lecture members of Congress on why the United States should buy technology developed for the Soviet Union's military and space programs.

I don't think Dr. Merzhanov and his process would have been in the United States three or four years ago, said Peter Walsh, vice president of Project Development International Inc., based in New York, which marketed Soviet products and technology in this country. The Soviet Government is actively promoting defense-related technology.

Joseph Filner, the president of Project Development International, said a metal-coating process then being marketed in the United States by Multi-Arc Vacuum Systems Inc. of St. Paul had originally been developed for the Soviet nuclear program. The process increases the life of cutting tools like drills and mills as much as sixfold by depositing a thin layer of titanium nitride on the surface.

Researchers in the United States knew the advantages of titanium nitride, but the temperature of the process they had developed, more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, was so high that many of the tools became deformed, limiting their usefulness. Meanwhile, Soviet scientists had found a way to apply the coating at 800 to 900 degrees. We found they had better technology, so we bought it and brought it back to this country, Mr. Filner said. The treated tools, recognizable by the golden coating, are now widely used in American industry, including in military plants, and are beginning to turn up in consumer markets, Product Development officials said.

More recently, Mr. Filner found that scientists at the Riga Medical Institute in Latvia had developed a radiation detector - a crystal that has been treated with selected impurities - that is 50 times more sensitive than the one commonly used in the United States.

The Soviet aluminum-oxide crystal detector can measure one-tenth of a millirem of radiation, compared with a maximum sensitivity of five millirems for a standard lithium fluoride detector, said Arthur C. Lucas, vice president for technology at Victoreen Inc., in Cleveland.

Mr. Lucas said the devices may have been developed for the Soviet nuclear navy, but they are not saying and we are not going to ask. He said the quality of Soviet materials science was very good.

All they need is an economic structure that can take advantage of the advances they have made, he said.

The lack of commercial markets for much of the technology developed by researchers in the Soviet Union has been a big economic drag on the nation. Then again, Soviet scientists, free of the pressure to push technology into applications that improve quarterly profits, have been able to pursue projects for decades. The process that produces the superconducting powders and other materials has been developed over 20 years by Dr. Merzhanov, a physicist, and his wife, Dr. Inna Borovinskaya, a chemist.

Mr. Filner cautioned, however, that the quality of Soviet finished goods remained uneven and that some Soviet scientific claims tended to be exaggerated. They are converting a missile plant in the Urals to produce videocassette recorders, he said. I don't think we will be able to sell many Soviet VCR's over here soon. For the next 10 years their best exports will be brains and semifinished goods.[10]