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Gordon Haskell

Seamen Face Government-Employer Offensive

(21 June 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 25, 21 June 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SAN FRANCISCO – By the time this copy of Labor Action reaches the West Coast, the struggle of the maritime workers to retain their hiring halls and to improve their conditions will have come to ahead. On June 15 the waterfront will either be tied up by a strike, or a “compromise” will have been reached between the unions and the employers, or the workers will have bowed their necks before a strike-breaking government injunction.

The longshoremen and seafaring crafts whose contracts terminate June 15 face a united employer-government front which is determined to weaken them or break them once and for all. Truman’s “fact finding”board can have only one purpose: to render a decision which will put the unions on the spot before the public and which will give the government an excuse to issue an injunction under the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act. Throughout the “negotiations” with the unions, the employers have shown that they are determined not to yield an inch from their position against the hiring halls. They feel that the government is backing them,and even more important, that the unions are disunited and weak in their determination to put up an all-out fight.

The key to the whole struggle in maritime is the unity of all waterfront and seafaring unions. If these unions were united behind a policy of struggle, and if they had some assurance of support from the rest of the labor movement, they could, face the employers and even the government with confidence in their ability to win.

Evasion Fatal

These days the danger of strike-breaking by injunction hangs over the heads of workers in all major industries. The miners and the railroad workers have both experienced the heavy hand of the notorious Judge Goldsborough, whose injunctions are nothing but the voice of the employers speaking in deadly legal phrases. Both John L. Lewis and the railroad labor chiefs have cowered before the majesty of the employers masquerading as “the law,”and have retreated. Will the maritime workers do the same?

If the answer is “yes,” then a dark future opens up before every longshoreman on the West Coast and every seaman shipping out of a union hiring hall, whether he belongs to the NMU (National Maritime Union), Seafarers International Union (SIU), Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP), Marine, Cooks and Stewards (MC&S) or Marine, Firemen and Oilers (MFOW). For one thing is certain, the employers and their government regard the hiring halls as the chief bulwarks of union strength, and they are determined to undermine or tear down these bulwarks.

If the answer is “no” ... that is,if waterfront workers of all the unions involved stand solidly together and refuse to be blackjacked to work by a government injunction there will be a long, hard fight the result of which no one can guarantee. But it is only through this kind of a fight that the hiring halls can be kept under union control, and that the unions themselves can be preserved as organizations which are capable of defending and advancing the interests of their memberships.

If the leaders of the maritime unions really intend to save the hiring halls, they must know that in all probability this can be achieved only by striking, regardless of what the employers or their government may do. Every intelligent worker knew this weeks ago, and so did Harry Bridges, Bryson, Malone, Curran and Lundberg. Knowing this, it was the clear duty of these men to decide some time ago exactly what they would do, to sound out the rest of the labor movement for support,and to keep their memberships fully informed on all developments. Any attempt on their part to evade the issue of the probable injunction, or to act as if this were not the chief threat to the unions in their struggle with the employers meant that the unions would come to the June 15 deadline unprepared and unarmed for the struggle.

Real Unity Essential

Yet it is a well known fact that until two weeks before the strike deadline these men had not unified their strategy. Coming up to the eve of the strike, the unions were disunited. And the responsibility for this can be clearly laid, first of all,on the shoulders of the cliques in the leadership of the ILWU (Longshore Workers), MC&S and NMU which follow the line of the Communist Party (Stalinists). For years these men (Bridges, Bryson, the “hacks”of the “progressive caucus” in the NMU, and their cohorts) have played a rule or ruin game in the maritime unions. They have followed every twist and turn in the Stalinist party line as dictated not by the interests of the maritime workers but rather by the interests of the rulers in the Kremlin. This has resulted in confusion and division within the ranks of each union, and in constant friction and animosity among the various unions.

Bridges and his gang in the ILWU; Bryson and his in the MC&S and the Stalinists in the NMU always have the word “unity” on their lips. But for years every practical proposal for unity which has come from them has simply concealed as cheme to establish Stalinist domination over all waterfront and sea-going unions.

Harry Lundberg’s name was included in the above list not because his union is directly involved in this beef, but because it should be. He has used the disgust of maritime workers at the antics of the Stalinist cliques in the ILWU, NMU and MC&S to strengthen the hold of his own machine on the SIU-SUP, and to keep these unions isolated from the rest of maritime labor. The seamen in these unions have been lulled into a false sense of security by the contracts they have negotiated which seem to insure their retention of the hiring hall. But they are living in a fool’s paradise. If the unions whose contracts are terminating now lose control over their hiring halls either through a broken strike, or through yielding to a government injunction,the SIU-SUP will be dragged down in the general catastrophe, and that’s for sure!

Disunity is the great weakness of the waterfront. But it is a weakness which can and must be healed! Labor Action hopes sincerely that by June 15 the pressure of the memberships of all the unions involved will have forced their leaderships to close ranks, to plan a common strategy, and to initiate an all-out struggle which will strike the first and death-dealing blow to strikebreaking by injunction. If unity in this struggle is achieved by maritime labor, we are certain that workers in allied industries, that all good union men in all industries, will rally to the active support of their seafaring and waterfront brothers.

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