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B.J. Widick

Refuse to Shoulder Burden of Boss War

Seamen Insist on Extra War Pay; S.U.P. Plans Real Fight

(29 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 74, 29 September 1939, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The general flare-up of seamen throughout the world against sailing in war zones unless given bonuses and special insurance marks a new stage in labor’s struggle to prevent all war burdens from falling on its shoulders.

Recently, ship owners took as a matter of course the announcements of underwriters that all insurance rates would be boosted tremendously for all craft shipping in danger zones. Property must be protected.

A similar demand for adequate protection of human beings on these ships was distinctly disregarded by the operators. Crews of Irish, British, Dutch and American ships were forced to tie up the vessels in order to obtain even a consideration of their demands.

Refuse to Sail

In America, seven liners were tied up by members of the National Martime Union who refused to sail for Europe unless their demands were met.

The sympathetic strike of British sailors and the complete tie-up of all ships involved gave promise of a real victory for the NMU despite government attempts of intimidation against strikers through false arrests.

However, the NMU officials are dominated by the Stalinist fakers, and a poor compromise agreement resulted which has intensified rank and file dissatisfaction and resentment.

So strong is the feeling of the NMU ranks that Curran and company are finding it difficult to get crews for the ships. The men just won’t sign up under the terms negotiated by Curran. This boycott is what the newspapers have been calling a “shortage of labor.”

Original demands of the NMU included $250 a month bonus, $25,000 insurance, a 40 per cent increase in personnel.

When Joe Curran got through negotiating for the strikers, they sailed with a 25 per cent increase in wages, payment of up to $150 for possessions lost if the ship sinks, continuation of pay in event of internment in a foreign country, and a promise to negotiate on the main demands.

After the ship owners had stalled for over a month on these demands, and the ships are out at sea, one can hardly expect them to suddenly capitulate to the NMU demands, especially since Curran did not obtain an agreement that the terms of any settlement would be retroactive.

As usual, the real fight for maintaining the union conditions and protecting the interests of the American seamen will fall on the Sailors Union of the Pacific.

The SUP enters this battle with its militant banner waving high over the victory it achieved against the Maritime Commission and its fink halls.

Despite all federal government threats and maneuvers, Maritime Commission ships sailed last week with full crews out of the SUP hall! “You can’t fight the government,” Curran and his Stalinist henchmen told the seamen of America when the fink hall issue arose. “We’ll protect our hiring hall rights,” Harry Lundeberg, secretary-treasurer of the SUP replied, backed by this militant union.

Is it a wonder that government officials are taking the SUP demands for bonuses and insurance ten times more seriously than all the speeches of Curran and company?

The SUP demands, voted by the membership on a coastwise scale, include: A 100 per cent increase in wages and overtime for crews on ships sailing to and from ports in war zones; on those vessels carrying munitions and contraband, the wages shall be the standard West Coast scale, plus 200 per cent increase; a $10,000 life insurance policy; $25,000 cash for permanent disability; $250 for loss of clothing; wages if interned; transportation expenses if occasion demands; and an increase in personnel.

The state department was asked to give its interpretation of war zones, and negotiations with the Matson line, which sends ships to Australia, have begun.

While the SUP begins negotiating with the usual handicap of combating the lower standard agreements that Curran and the NMU crowd sign, the whole tradition and superior conditions of the West Coast Sailors are a good indication that once again the SUP will come through with a victory for the American seamen.

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Last updated: 6 March 2016