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STATEMENT OF THE OPPOSITION OF THE MEMBERSHIP OF THE SAILORS UNION OF THE
PACIFIC TO THE PROPOSED SENATE BILL 3078 TO AMEND THE MERCHANT MARINE ACT OF 1936
The membership of the Sailors Union of the Pacific sent me to Washington, D. C., to voice their opinion and sentiment against the proposed Mediation Act for Seamen.
We have analyzed Maritime Commissioner Joseph P. Kennedy's report to the Senate and House committees and we would like to state our reaction to these statements.
In order for the Congressmen and Senators to get the right slant on our side of the question, it is necessary that we bring in a little back history.
HISTORY The Sailors Union of the Pacific is the oldest maritime union in the field. It was organized in 1885 in San Francisco. From 1902 to 1921, the Sailors Union of the Pacific was recognized by the shipowners as the bargaining agency for the sea men. Our organization had direct negotiations for the seamen with the shipowners. During this time, practically all of the shipping of seamen was done through the offices of the Sailors Union of the Pacific. In 1921 the wages established through direct negotiations between the union and the shipowners was $90 per month, $1 per hour overtime, and an 8-hour day-the highest wages seamen had ever had.
At that time, in 1921, the United States Shipping Board was the largest shipowner in the country. They, together with the other shipowners, made drastic demands for the cutting of wages for the seamen. When the seamen refused to accept these wage cuts, the Shipping Board and the shipowners locked out the set men. This lock-out lasted from the month of May to August; this lock-out was also on a Nation-wide basis. Through the combined efforts of the United States Shipping Board and the shipowners, the seamen beaten and the imions were crippled.
During this period the shipowners, the Pacific American Steamship Association, together with the Ship Owners Association of the Pacific, joined the Waterfront Employers Union and started operating what they called the Marine Service Bureau, an employment agency which furnished strike breakers during the lock-out. After the lock-out was over, the unions crippled, and the men forced to flock back to the ships, they found out that some of the most militant men were blacklisted through this so-called Marine Service Bureau which demanded that every semin register through this so-called fink hall before they could get employment.
From that time on and up to 1931, the shipowners had things their own way. During this period wages and conditions went from bad to worse. The establ:shed 8-hour day was done away with and wages were cut time and time again. Shipping was done through these fink halls and conditions going to sea got so bad that a lot of good seamen, real seamen, stopped sailing. The policy of the shipowners in operating these halls was not to question the ability of the men, or their background, but rather their one question was: "How cheap will you work?” Thus lots of bad elements got into the industry and bona fide seamen either left the sea or the ones who stayed had to keep their mouths shut for fear of getting blacklisted.
In 1924 the Sailors Union, together with the International Seamen's Union, attempted to alleviate their conditions by political action and backed La Follette in his campaign for the Presidency. When this attempt failed we took our case to the courts. All to no avail.
During this period men were driven away from the union and were demoralized by the conditions under which they had to work. These conditions existed during the so-called boom years—1924 to 1929—when wages in all other industries had risen to their greatest heights. Living costs had risen accordingly and seamen had to meet the rising cost of living with decreased wages, due to the fact that they had no economic weapon—a strong union to protect them.
In 1928 the Jones-White bill was passed by Congress which gave the shipowners large loans from the Government at a very low rate of interest, in order that they might build ships. After the ships were built Congress gave them large mail subsidies. During this time Congress passed laws to help the shipowners to build ships and giving them fat subsidies, but nothing was done for the seamen.
The shipowners, on the other hand, were using the cheapest kind of labor, regardless of whether they were qualified as seamen or not. And we can safely say that in those days we didn't see any headlines in the newspapers about how inefficient the American seamen were or how badly they behaved themselves; when as a matter of fact, during these years some of the worst elements that ever sailed were manning the ships. A man could get a job on board a vessel as long as he took the coolie wages offered by the shipowners. We can say that during this period, from 1921 to 1934, as far as the seamen and their conditions were concerned, Congress, the lawmakers in Washington, didn't care whether they lived or died and neither did the shipowners. indirectly the Government helped the shipowners keep these conditions for the seamen.
EXPERIENCE WITH ARBITRATION
In 1934, the seamen having by that time been driven to desperation, and failing to get any redress for their bitter grievances, they finally woke up to the fact that in order to better their own conditions they would have to take the one atcion which would force the shipowners to listen. They walked from the ships, to a man, on the Pacific coast. After the 1934 strike was over, we went back to the ships under the condition that we would negotiate our differences, wage Claims, etc., with the shipowners. However, nothing was done and the Government appointed a Longshoremen's Board, who in turn appointed another board to arbitrate the matters in dispute: wage claims, conditions, etc.
In April 1935, after 9 months of deliberation, this arbitration board handed down a decision. In the meantime, during this 9 months of delay, the men got very impatient and took matters into their own hands. By refusing to sail ships under prevailing conditions they established liigher wages and better conditions. By the time the arbitration board handed down its decision, the seamen had already obtained better wages and conditions than those contained in the ruling of the board. The seamen were then convinced that arbitration boards could be of no benefit to them, that they had to depend upon their own economic strength, the strength of their union, in order to better their conditions or obtain any benefits whatsoever.
This long-delayed decision of the arbitration board, which didn't give the seamen anything they had not already obtained for themselves, increased the resentment of the seamen toward arbitration boards. They felt that their problems had not been given the consideration they deserved—the decision of the arbitration board decided nothing. The seamen felt that they, and only they, who worked in the industry, could come to an agreement with the shipowners that would be satisfactory. They felt further, that no board composed of people, no matter how just, fair, and impartial, could come to a valid decision in regard to the wages and working conditions of the seamen, when they had no first hand knowledge of the situation.
The period immediately following the decision of the board was marked by a great unrest amongst the men. This unrest grew until in the fall of 1936 the seamen felt it was necessary to do something in order to obtain the conditions they had asked for in 1934 before they went on strike, and which had not been granted by the arbitration board.
THE STRIKE OF 1936-37
In August 19:36 the seamen's union asked the shipowners to meet with them and discuss a new wage agreement. This the shipowuers refused to do and stated that they would submit the matter to arbitration. Their interests han Dieen so well served by the arbitration board after the 1934 strike that they were perfectly willing to submit to arbitration :gain. On the other hund. the seamen having gotten a raw deal, were willing to submit to this method of settling their differences,
The seamen took a strike vote in the month of September 1936: the vote for the strike was 99 percent in the sailors' wion. After the vote was taken the Department of Labor and the Maritime Commission, which had been newly formed by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, asked that the strike be delayed for 2 mouths. It was finally agreed, although strongly opnosed by the seamon, to postpone action for 15 days; this was later increased to 30 days. During this :?0-day period there were frequent conferences with the Department of Libor and the representatives from the Maritime Commission who was sent to the ('mast from Washington, D. (. The only concrete suggestion made was that action be delayed so that an investigation could be made by the Maritime Commission. Nothing of a concrete nature could be promised, and the seamen, whose living conditions and economic status were in question, would not consent to wait for an indefinite length of time, especially since it was more than possible that nothing would be gained in the end.
The strike was called in October 1936. After the strike began it was again proposed that the demands of the seamen be submitted to arbitration. The seainen again refused to submit to arbitration; it was their firm conviction that the only way their differences could be settled to their satisfaction was by direct negotiations with the shipowners through their own duly chosen representatives. Only by making their own agreements could they guarantee that the agreements would be kept. We finally met with the shipowners in January 1937 and negotiated our own agreement, which was accepted by a 90-percent vote of the membership.
In the agreement with the shipowners, we set up jointly what is known as a port committee to settle disputes which might arise under the agreement. This port committee set-up was introduced by the sailors' union and had been used by the sailors' union and the shipowners from 1902 to 1921, when relations between the sailors' union and the shipowners had been most satisfactory. The port committee is composed of an equal number of representatives from each union involved and the shipowners. In the event of a deadlock, provision is made for calling in an impartial person to act as referee. This port conmittee has been functioning very effectively since the termination of the 1936-37 strike. In the sailors' union 100 percent of the grievance cases have been settled by this method, without calling in a referee, to the satisfaction of both the sailors' union and the shipowners.
SPECIFIC OBJECTIONS TO S. 3078
We, the Sailors' Union of the Pacific, object to the establishment of a mediation board, as recommended by Commissioner Joseph Kennedy and proposed by Senator Copeland, in S. 3078, for the following reasons:
1. It takes from the workers their most im ortant means of protection-strike action.
2. It delays for months the settlement of grievances.
3. It will ultimately put the sailors in the same category as the seainen of Italy, Germany, and Russia, whose right to economic action has been completely taken away from them, and consequently their conditions are not what they want but what have been forced upon them by edict.
4. We, as seamen, believe we should have the same right as other American workers, the right to have a direct voice in the determination of our own working conditions.
5. Seamen are entitled to the prompt adjustment of grievances by means of direct negotiation. But all experience has shown that negotiations can be fruitful only if the unions have the power and freedom to back up reasonable demands by strike action. This proposal would tie up the adjustment of the inost pressing grievances in so much red tape and involve so many delays as to be tantamount to a virtual stoppage of the right to strike. The American seamen can never agree to such an infringement of their rights.
6. Furthermore, the adoption of this proposal, with its provision for endless delays, would involve the industry in prolonged periods of uurest aud uncertainty injurions to normal functioning and to the morale of the seamen. Drawn-out delays in the adjustment of grievances would tend to demoralize the workers and lead to all kinds of sporadic actions beyond the control of the unions.
7. In any case, a proposal of this kind could have a reasonable chance of suc('ess in practice only if all parties agreed to it. I cannot speak for the other industries and other unions, but I do know the situation in the maritime field and the temperament of the seamen. They look upon this whole measure with hostility. The sentiment of my organization is unanimous in opposition to such measures. An attempt to impose it upon them. against their will, will only worsen the situation and not improve it.
In the last few months the seaman has been constantly accused of lack of discipline, insubordination, and bad performance aboard ships. This publicity
has been carried on through the newspapers, leading magazines, and statements by various people in public office to such an extent that by now the front pages of the Nation's papers are covered with stories about the "undisciplined" American seamen, etc., which in their language is ruining the American merchant marine. We know that these stories are not based on facts but on assumptions.
As a matter of fact, the United States Federal laws take ample care of the handling of "undisciplined" seamen. If a man refuses duty on the high seas on American ships he can, according to the laws, be prosecuted for mutiny, which carries a sentence of from 3 to 5 years. Secondly, before an American seaman goes to sea today, he must sign articles before the United States shipping commissioner with a Government certificate, called the certificate of efficiency. We quote you section 13 (h) of Merchant Marine Act of 1936, 8957 :
"SEC. 13. (h) That all certificates of service or efficiency issued by the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation shall be subject to suspension or revocation on the same grounds and in the same manner and with like procedure as is provided in the case of suspension or revocation of licenses of officers under the provision of 4450 of the Revised Statutes."
Revised Statutes, section 4450 :
“Investigation of conduct of officers: The local boards of inspectors shall investigate all acts of incompetency or misconduct committed by any licensed officer while acting under the authority of his license, and shall have power to summon before them any witnesses within their respective districts, and compel their attendance by a similar process as in the United States circuit or district courts; and they may administer all necessary oaths to any witnesses thus summoned before them; and after reasonable notice in writing, given to the alleged delinquent, of the time and place of such investigation, such witnesses shall be examined, under oath, touching the performance of his duties by any such licensed officer; and if the board shall be satisfied that such licensed officer is incompetent, or has been guilty of misbehavior, negligence, or unskillfulness, or has endangered life, or willfully violated any provision of this chapter or chapter 14 or 15 of this title, they shall immediately suspend or revoke his license.
This in itself takes care of any undisciplined crews. In fact, in our opinion, as we stated when we appeared before the House Committee on Mechant Marine and Fisheries last year, this is too severe a law. This takes care of discipline on American ships, which is left entirely in the hands of the Government Bureau of the Steamboat Inspection Service, under the Department of Com
We maintain that the department of Steamboat Inspection Service has more than enough power to invoke discipline under this act, and that thereby anyone accusing the seamen of lack of discipline is in reality accusing the Department of Commerce of failing in its duties.
We have been told that we have been accused by certain parties and all the newspapers that the trouble in the shipping industry lies entirely with the sea
This we believe is just a camouflage to cover up the real reason for the sickness of the American shipping industry. We believe that, instead of investigating and curtailing and passing laws to chain the seamen, the Maritime Commission would do better to investigate the capabilities of various concerns in the shipping industry.
It seems peculiar that other nations' ships can sail out of American ports year in and year ont, good years and bad years, as they call it, with full cargoes, while American ships, our shipowners claim, cannot operate except at a loss.
At one time during the shipping era the United States was leading the world in shipping, with some of the fastest ships in the world—the Yankee clippers and held their own and better against any nationality afloat. Those days the American shipping lines were run by people who knew the score. Today the American ships, especially the freighters, are some of the slowest ships afloat, while most of the foreign freighters running out of American ports are modern vessels, making from 18 to 20 knots' speed, while the American freighters, on an average, are making a speed of about 10 to 12 knots.
The American bankers, who, we believe, control most of the shipping companies in this country, should have used some of the money and profits which have been given them from time to tiine by the Government, through mail subsidies and practically gifts of various ships, to build up the American merchant marine. They could have done this if they had had the interest of the
shipping industry at heart, instead of big bonuses and the coining of millions of dollars when going was good. Now, when shipping is slow, they are again calling on Congress for additional appropriations.
The seamen have been singled out as the sole cause of the so-called "sick maritime industry.” Perhaps it would be well to look and see who really is to blame for this "sick industry." We certainly are not. We believe that certain unscrupulous bankers are the ones who are really to blame for the conditions prerailing today in the maritime industry. And we don't think we should be made the goat.
We believe that your honorable committee should investigate this matter of publicity in order to find out whether or not this propaganda which is spread against the American seaman is not only a blot against the seaman but also one affecting the American merchant marine as a whole.
We believe that there may be a possibility that certain foreign shipping interests are paying people in the United States to start this propaganda in order to wreck the merchant-marine industry, which it will ultimately do with such propaganda.
HARRY LUNDEBERG, Secretary-Treasurer, Sailors' Union of the Pacific. The CHAIRMAN. Mayor Carson, you have been very patient this morning. We shall be glad to hear from you now.
STATEMENT OF HON. JOSEPH K. CARSON, MAYOR OF
Mr. Carson. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I am not here representing any union or any group of men, nor any shipowners, but I am here representing the people of my State and my city, who, ever since Oregon has been a State, have had to depend on water-borne commerce to take the heavy and raw products of Oregon to the intercoastal ports, the coastwise ports, and into the foreign markets.
There is one thing that came out here that it seems to me would bear investigation, and that is as to whether or not, in some of these matters, ship masters, and other members of the crew are free to tell the truth, free to testify, or whether or not they would be blacklisted so that the crews would not sail with them if they came in and told the truth concerning a situation. That has been so currently rumored that I think it is something that should properly be investigated.
I have a letter here which I should like to read into the record. It was left at the hotel for me on Sunday by a man who had to leave.
You may say for the fruit and allied industries of the Pacific Northwest :
1. We are dependent for our very existence on a free movement of our perishable products to export markets.
2. Thirty-five percent of our production of apples and winter pears must be exported in order to maintain any semblance of a domestic market, and that this much or more does normally move to export.
3. The large producing districts of Medford and Hood River in Oregon and Yakima and Wenatchee in Washington are dependent upon the ports of Portland and Seattle to move these goods. I suppose he means to include Tacoma also.
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4. At great expense modern facilities have been provided in these ports and producing areas to permit the proper and prompt handling of our highly perishable fruits-such as cold-storage plants at point of production; and similar facilities in the ports.