Labor's Mutinous Mariners
On shipboard as well as on the waterfront, the powerful unions of seamen and dockworkers manage to dominate the American merchant marine and control the commerce on our docks. The rivalry between Joseph Curran of the National Maritime Union and Paul Hall of the Seafarers International Union, which has often resulted in strikes, is here revealed by A. H. RASKIN of the New York TIMES.
ON THE teak-paneled wall of one of New York’s most sumptuous executive suites hang the wheel and brass nameplate of the old cruise ship California. In an equally posh conference room a few yards away is a laminated copy of a letter from the Panama Pacific Line notifying its agents that the March 21, 1936, sailing of the California was being canceled because of a mutiny by some of its seamen in San Pedro Harbor. “With all the efforts that are being made by the shipowners and the United States Government in the interest of safety at sea, we cannot entrust our passengers and ships to men guilty of mutinous conduct,” the notice said. Chief among the men blacklisted as mutineers was the man in whose office the wheel and letter now repose, Joseph Curran, president of the National Maritime Union.
He was a boatswain on the California then, a giant with iron fists and a nose scalloped by repeated fractures. When the head of the corrupt old International Seamen’s Union telephoned an order to the crew to go back to work, it was Curran’s flinty voice that snapped the reply, “Go to hell; you sold us out.”
How far Curran and his union have come in the twenty-eight years since the N.M.U. was born out of penury and revolt is reflected in the glistening new headquarters building on Seventh Avenue, where the mementos of its early privations are now displayed in such proud incongruity. Built at a cost of $6.5 million and designed by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, the structure dwarfs in spectacularness and price even the Taj Mahal that houses the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Washington.
The N.M.U. is the whale among the unions whose members man the American merchant marine and control the flow of commerce across the nation’s docks. These unions of ship and shore are a strange lot, fascinatingly diverse in a period when blandness and conformity are melding most other labor organizations into homogenized sameness. Their feuds and the willfulness with which they apply their great power are a constant torture to the government, the shipping industry, and the merged labor federation. They use strikes to record their dislike of foreign governments or to force changes in official United States policy. The State Department ranks as excess cargo in their evaluation of world affairs. They can match the smuggest of the old-line building trades in self-idolatry. Yet there is in all of them a restlessness that immunizes them against total surrender to the torpor that afflicts labor generally.
Two unions of unlicensed seamen, each with its own constellation of satellites among unionized ships’ officers, dominate the merchant marine. They are the N.M.U., led by Curran, and the Seafarers International Union (S.I.U.), under the leadership of Paul Hall, who slugged his way up from an engine wiper’s job in the black gang of a freighter. Both Curran and Hall are vice presidents of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, but their interpersonal relations range from coolness to active hostility.
Curran’s union-and the completeness with which it is his union is symbolized by the decision of its members, by referendum vote, to name the new headquarters for him — vastly exceeds the S.I.U. in strength. The N.M.U. has most of the subsidized shipping lines and thus can count on a cushion of government cash to help its employers underwrite their wage and benefit agreements. The S.I.U. job empire has shrunk under the impact of low-wage foreign competition and the resulting preference of many American companies to operate runaway fleets under foreign flags.
Yet, for all the N.M.U.’s dominance afloat, there exists, even in the inner councils of the Curran union, a sense that the Triton who will eventually rule all ship and dock labor is the imaginative and aggressive Hall. At fifty, he is eight years younger than Curran, just as strong-willed, and much more skillful in building alliances in the federation’s power structure. There is no chance that he will dislodge Curran in a direct contest, but the expectation is that he would move in to take over whenever death or ill health should force Curran out.
On the waterfront the two dominant unions are as dissimilar as those on shipboard. They are the International Longshoremen’s Association (I.L.A.), with a stranglehold on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and the Great Lakes, and the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union ( I.L.W.U.), colossus of the West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii. The I.L.A. is back inside the House of Labor after six years of exile on charges of domination by corrupt elements. The I.L.W.U., headed by Harry Bridges, is still outside, fourteen years after having been cut adrift for subservience to Communism.
Given this background, the approach each union has taken to automation might seem paradoxical if it were not for the contradictory character of almost everything that affects union policy on the docks. Bridges, the erstwhile engineer of general strikes, target of repeated government deportation attempts, and still a partisan of pro-Communist causes, has signed a pioneering agreement to facilitate the introduction of more efficient shiploading equipment. The five-and-one-half-year pact, which gives the employers a free hand in exchange for a share of the profits to purchase job security, wage guarantees, and more generous pensions for the longshoremen, is widely regarded as a model of labor-management statesmanship in an industry little noted for its contributions to responsibility.
The I.L.A., once ready to surrender any interest of its members if the employers paid a high enough price to its satraps under the bargaining table, has been adamant against any reduction in gang size or other concession that would permit the shipping companies to install new loading devices and derive benefits comparable with those made possible by Bridges’ contract for the West Coast. This was the central issue in the five-week strike that paralyzed Atlantic and Gulf ports two years ago, and the employers lost. In this year’s negotiations a federal manpower study provided a key to modernizing East Coast practices and chipping away some of the encrusted waste. But even with that government assist and a willingness by the employers to provide ironclad job assurances and a guaranteed annual wage, the automation talks could not avert a strike, and once again the President had to go through the dreary routine of invoking the Taft-Hartley Act.
Aboard ship, too, automation is creating new contract problems, but with few signs of major union holdback. New cargo vessels now under construction will be like floating warehouses, with electronic controls governing all operations belowdecks, from the stowing of cargo to the running of the engines. Union leaders insist that they have no intention of seeking to featherbed the manning schedules for these ships; they already have worked out arrangements for advance training of union seamen in the techniques necessary to sail them. But manning scales are not subject to arbitration under the union agreements, and the industry has its fingers crossed about what difficulties it may run into when terms must be fixed for whatever crew is needed to staff the ghost ships of tomorrow.
A few complaints have already been made in cases where the unions have accused the operators of using automation as an excuse for cutting out old work rules without cutting out any of the old work. “One company wanted to take away relief time for its deck watches, an N.M.U. official reports. “The only automation involved was that the line had given the man on the forepeak a thermos bottle of coffee; they said that meant he didn’t need the usual relief man so he could leave his post for a coffee break.”
LIFE has changed for the seaman in ways that go beyond coffee breaks. When Curran and his fellow rebels struck on the California in 1936, they were seeking a $5.00 increase in a contract calling for a basic wage of $57.50 a month. The seaman’s standard work week was seven days — fifty-six hours — and there were no employer-financed pension or welfare benefits. Sailors slept in the glory hole, a long open dormitory, not too different from the flophouses where they went to sober up after a shoreside bender. Their bunks had straw mattresses and blue linen that was unchanged from one end of a voyage to the other. The food, in Curran’s words, “was not fit for the rats that used to race us for it.”
Today’s N.M.U. contract calls for base pay of $389 a month for five days—forty hours — and overtime normally adds at least $200. Union members are eligible for a pension of $125 a month after twenty years at sea, no matter how young they are. Next June 15 the retirement payment will go up to $150. Paid vacations come to sixty days a year, and welfare benefits range from free eyeglasses to a maximum allowance of $1420 for hospital and surgical payments.
Even more startling have been the improvements in food and quarters aboard ship. The union’s aim has been to end the “two pot system,” and it has largely succeeded. The food is now the same for officers and for seamen, the quarters only slightly different. On most ships two crewmen share a cabin, but on the newest each has a room to himself. The N.M.U. menu guides specify meat twice a day, and at least once a week a good cut of steak, with quality and thickness prescribed. The union is just as demanding about ice cream, fruit, and vegetables. The bedding must be changed weekly, the pillowcases twice a week in the tropics. If the ship’s laundry doesn’t supply the changes, the crew gets two hours’ overtime pay each week for washing its own linen.
The N.M.U. not only has transformed the lives of its members afloat and ashore; it has also taken good care of its president. “Plumber-machinist or President, N.M.U. men go first-class,” boasts a picture caption in the Pilot, the union’s biweekly paper. The picture shows Curran’s outer office on the top floor of the Joseph Curran Building. No shipping tycoon can boast a more impressive penthouse, from the verdant plants and flowers that grow out of an indoor stream to the pebbled terrace outside the glass walls of the executive suite. Barrel-shaped chairs of green leather, broadloom carpeting in seagreen, a huge circular desk, all add to the sense of opulence that marks every part of the building.
You feel it in the two huge hiring halls, with their electronic posting arrangements and a closed-circuit television system that links this heartland of the union with the command posts on the top deck. Checkerboards of paneled lights glow throughout the building; the office equipment is the ultimate in automation; modernistic chairs and tables bespeak good taste and high cost.
The council room is almost as oppressively judicial as the Supreme Court. Among the portraits on its rounded wall, there is one which seems to stare quizzically at the richness all about. It is the picture of Andrew Furuseth, the tall, gaunt Norseman who founded the Sailors Union of the Pacific nearly eighty years ago. When they came to tell him in the early years of heartbreak that he might have to go to jail for violating a no-strike injunction, Furuseth looked around the roach-ridden hall bedroom that was his home. “You can put me in jail,” he said. “But you cannot give me narrower quarters than as a seaman I have always had. You cannot give me coarser food than I have always eaten. You cannot make me lonelier than I have always been.”
Austerity is well wrapped in nostalgia at the N.M.U. now. “Remember the days of Eleventh Avenue, Joe?” an old-timer asked at the building dedication in May. That was where the N.M.U. had its first offices, near the Hudson River piers — a shambles of a place, always waist-deep in paper, with a couple of battered typewriters and a mimeograph machine as lineal forebears of the vast panoply of cybernetic equipment that fills the new headquarters.
In those days the N.M.U. subscribed to the theory that the wages of the union officers should not be higher than those of its members. Even in 1946, when war-risk payments and other extras had accustomed merchant seamen to earnings much higher than any they knew before World War II, the N.M.U. executive pay scales were among the lowest in labor. Curran himself was getting only $5000 a year in that immediate post-war period.
As recently as 1956, after the merger of the AFL and CIO, Curran was even more vocally scornful than Walter Reuther of the AFL’s old practice of holding its midwinter executive council meetings in Miami Beach. He lost no opportunity to announce that he was staying at a modest motel because he found the official convention hotel too palatial. But somewhere along the line this dislike for luxury seemed to desert him. His salary — fixed by referendum vote of the membership-is now a net of $40,000 a year after the union has paid all his taxes. He travels about in a chauffeur-driven Cadillac and has accepted many other badges of affluence he once derided.
But good living has not softened Joe Curran, nor has a severe heart attack that immobilized him for many weeks in 1953. He remains as bellicose as he was when a black knit cap and spray-stained dungarees were his go-to-meeting clothes. He took on the Communists, who had been even more influential than he in creating the N.M.U., and drove them out when he became convinced after World War II that they were more interested in serving the Party than the membership. The inheritors of the old Wobbly tradition of permanent revolution, chafing under the dull comfort of “pork chop" unionism, walked the plank behind the agents of Moscow. Today Curran stands watch alone; all the rest of the union’s founding fathers, the nonideological as well as the ideological, are out of positions of leadership.
Curran fought them all down in open debate on the floor of membership meetings. He never pulled back, even when bottles flew around his head or when insurgents seized the national headquarters in a brief putsch in 1949. His margin of victory in rank-and-file referendums has kept growing until now there is no effective opposition to combat. He does most of his battling these days with the leaders of other unions, with the shipowners, and with government officials of all ranks. His refusal to comply with no-raiding decisions under the AFL-CIO internal disputes machinery has caused the federation to pronounce the N.M.U. a persistent violator not entitled to the machinery’s protection if raids are made against it.
AT THE root of much of this bickering is the rivalry between Curran and Hall, a 245-pounder, whose speech is a curious blend of sewer and seminary. Hall uses four-letter words with the abandon of a beat poet, but he is capable of imagery that does not rely on scatology for its vividness. Still given to wearing black sweater-shirts of the kind he once wore at sea, he is as fond of battle as Curran is and as slow to surrender.
His S.I.U. used to be a main source of militant manpower for other unions engaged in strikes. When an infant union of AFL brokerage clerks sought to shut down the New York Stock Exchange a dozen years ago, Hall sent a brigade of whitehatted seamen to man the picket lines and tangle in fierce combat with the police. When David Dubinsky’s garment workers found themselves powerless to contend with the terror tactics that gangsters were using to keep the union out of their protectorate on Seventh Avenue, it was the S.l.U. that supplied the muscle to defend the sewing-machine girls and shipping clerks. And in 1953, when the AFL ousted the International Longshoremen’s Association for underworld control, Hall became the spearhead of the federation’s attempt to supplant the I.L.A. on the docks with a union dedicated to higher standards of morality. The attempt failed, but it did come within 150 votes, out of a total of 18,500, of winning in a government-supervised election.
The S.I.U. headquarters is a few blocks from the Brooklyn waterfront in an old public school building that dates back to the Civil War. Its central feature is the rotary hiring hall, from which men are dispatched in strictest order of priority to fill open crewjobs. For both unions the hiring hall is the organization’s chief reason for being, its most substantial contribution toward emancipating seamen from the degradation of the old crimp system in which flophouse keepers, saloon owners, and other land sharks acted as shipping masters and in which sailors found themselves shanghaied aboard ship with pockets empty and a mortgage on their future earnings.
In the S.I.U. building, the union runs its own Port o’ Call bar to help keep down the cost of liquor for its members ashore. There is a cafeteria and what amounts to a seamen’s post exchange, but it all looks a little down at the heels by contrast with the N.M.U. The offices overflow into a halfdozen converted garages and stores on the blocks nearby. One of the outbuildings houses the Andrew Furuseth Training School, where neophytes get lifeboat drill or toughen themselves up by instruction in judo and boxing. “It keeps them out of gin mills,”an S.I.U. official explains. It also gives Hall a fresh phalanx of hard-muscled young men he can call on whenever it seems important to send out flying squads to fight the Seafarers’ battles, or someone else’s.
The last such occasion was in 1961 — at the very moment of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration as President — when a strike by 633 members of Hall’s union on railroad tugs and ferries in New York Harbor had cut off all main-line service on the New York Central and the New Haven and was threatening to shut down the Pennsylvania as well. The whole blockade was enforced by a handful of Hall’s bullyboys spread thin over the vast rail network. Hall sent special heating units, Arctic underwear, and mobile canteens to guard his pickets against the January blizzard, then negotiated a peace settlement with Secretary of Labor Goldberg, Governor Rockefeller, and Mayor Wagner.
Neither Hall nor Curran is overawed by government. Quite the reverse; both are openly contemptuous of most of the federal agencies with which they deal. Indeed, they often seem to treat them as representatives of a hostile power. Hall warns his colleagues in labor’s high command to beware of “seduction by luncheon at the White House.” He fears that most unions are yielding to the complacency of “coupon clipping and too frequent visits to the White House,” and he calls labor’s underuse of its ability to put pressure on government “probably the greatest waste of power in the history of mankind.”
Curran is just as forthright. When President Johnson sought to end marine labor’s embargo of Soviet wheat shipments last winter by giving his personal assurance that half the grain would move in American ships, Curran told George Meany the unions ought to get the pledge in writing. Meany’s reply was that no one did business with the President that way, and the boycott was called off. Two years earlier, when the White House Advisory Committee on Labor-Management Policy recommended that the President be given greater authority to halt national emergency strikes, Curran denounced the committee’s labor members for going along with what he termed a “death warrant” for free unionism.
Complications in the Canadian branch of Hall’s union brought relations between the United States and its northern neighbor to the explosion point earlier this year. The storm center was Hal C. Banks, the high-living, tough-talking head of the S.I.U. in Canada, whose rule of the organization prompted an official government report that declared: “Banks is the stuff of the Capones and the Hoffas, of whom the dictators throughout history, from the earliest times to the totalitarian Hitler and Stalin, are prototypes.” Out of the report came parliamentary legislation, backed by the rest of Canadian labor, to put the S.I.U. and other maritime unions under government trusteeship.
The stringency of the legislation brought protests from Hall and Meany which were backed up by Secretary of Labor Wirtz. The resulting indignation in Canada necessitated a peace conference between President Kennedy and Prime Minister Pearson. In the end the danger of a diplomatic rift between the two governments and of a severing by Canadian labor of its bonds with the AFL-CIO was averted by Hall’s unexpectedly docile acceptance of a modus vivendi with the trustees. The parent union acquiesced in Banks’s removal from active control, and some skeptics suggested that Hall was not unhappy to see his imperious aide pushed aside as a possible future rival. Hall denies any such concern; he insists the S.I.U. “fought like tigers” to upset the receivership but got too little help from anyone else in labor. Banks has since been sentenced to five years in jail for conspiring to beat up a union foe in 1957, but he continues to draw $20,000 in pay from the international while he appeals the sentence. Hall himself gets no salary from the S.I.U.; his pay as head of its Atlantic and Gulf district is $27,000 a year.
On the United States labor front the warfare between Hall and Curran has repeatedly resulted in crippling strikes and in headaches for George Meany. Once, when Curran felt Meany was too partial to Hall in a particular dispute, the exchange grew so heated that he told Meany he would climb across the table and push his teeth down his throat if he were ten years younger. In 1959 Meany thought he had arranged a permanent accord between the contentious sea chiefs. An arrangement under which they would work together in the federation’s Maritime Trades Department, of which Hall is president, was proudly announced. But it was shipwrecked before it ever got off the ways. The tie-ups for extended periods last year of the nuclear ship Savannah and the liner America were among the many devious expressions of the interunion feuding that has stemmed from the Curran-Hall estrangement.
Both leaders acknowledge that there ought to be only one union for seamen. The problem is how to put them together, or, more accurately, who would be on top. Eight years ago Curran sent an emissary to explore with Hall the idea of his coming into the N.M.U. as executive vice president. Nothing ever came of the project. Curran associates say Hall can still have the number two spot whenever he wants to arrange a merger. Hall’s response is that the problem is not one of jobs. A single union for seamen is the desired end, he says, but a strong Maritime Trades Department embracing all the ship and dock unions from masters to longshoremen is an essential first step. He blames Curran for the impossibility of accord on that point.
However, there have been some recent signs of a lessening of intransigence on both sides. Part of this is Meany’s doing. Hall has always been a staunch admirer of the AFL-CIO president; Curran has been just as ardent a nonadmirer. Some of the chill vanished, though, when Meany showed a proper appreciation of the new N.M.U. building. He made a glowing speech at the formal opening, then gave an even more enthusiastic account to the AFLCIO council at a meeting in Washington a few weeks later. Meany called the structure a fine example of labor’s progress in community uplift. The atmosphere of good feeling grew so warm after his report that Meany offered Curran a lift in his Cadillac when the council went to Attorney General Kennedy’s home in Virginia for lunch. The fact that Curran had been publicly denouncing the continued attacks on Jimmy Hoffa by Meany and Kennedy as a “vendetta” did nothing to diminish the cordiality of the lawn party.
THE chances of a rapport and even an alliance between Hall and Curran derive principally from the identity of their interest in a larger merchant marine and in having more American cargo move in American bottoms. Less than one tenth of United States foreign commerce is shipped under the American flag, one third the ratio that prevailed in 1936 when the Merchant Marine Act was passed with the explicit purpose of raising the share of goods that sailed American.
It is no secret to either Hall or Curran that one explanation for the shrinkage is the disparity between American labor costs and those on foreignflag ships. Even among nations with relatively advanced labor standards, the contrast is startling. A Maritime Administration survey in 1962 showed a base wage of $384 a month for American seamen, as against $127 on Danish ships, $108 on British, $93 on Italian, $81 on West German, and $31 on Japanese. Operating subsidies neutralize these differences for the fifteen American lines that share in such federal payments. About eighty cents out of every subsidy dollar goes to ship crews. Lines without subsidy have had to rely on such special protective legislation as the requirement that 50 percent of foreign aid cargo go in American ships, regardless of cost differences.
What has now brought Hall and Curran into at least temporary harmony is their joint desire to see such preferential arrangements extended as a means of safeguarding jobs for their members. The shutdown of Russian wheat shipments — a rebellion in which Curran and Hall formed a united front with the I.L.A.-grew out of union charges that the government was not fulfilling a White House commitment for a fifty-fifty split of grain movement between United States and foreign-flag ships.
At President Johnson’s instigation a Cabinetlevel committee was set up to work with the union heads in adjusting this and all other cargo preference problems. The first meeting gave both Hall and Curran an opportunity to tell off everyone on the government side of the table; that left them feeling so good they forgot how little they liked one another. In June the President appointed both of them, along with Thomas W. (“Teddy”) Gleason, president of the I.L.A., and Lane Kirkland, Meany’s executive assistant, to a tripartite committee that will survey all the problems of the merchant marine and make recommendations for revised government policy.
Hall promptly announced that he thought it was “terrible” to include among the committee’s management members the head of a Standard Oil subsidiary with a hundred tankers operating under flags of convenience. Curran contented himself with an expression of happiness and hope that the committee could provide helpful answers to the industry’s chronic problems. The shipowners have the same hope. They are further encouraged by the fact that the N.M.U. signed last year a master agreement designed to ban strikes until the middle of 1969. It also joined with the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, long an S.I.U. ally, in signing an arbitration pact that may contribute materially to reducing the damage done to the industry by interunion conflicts. Out of all these recent developments has come a glimmer of optimism that a new era of cooperation may be approaching.
The big area of apprehension at the moment is the Atlantic and Gulf waterfront, where the I.L.A. has been engaged in another pivotal round of contract talks. The question this year, as it has been every two years for the last decade, is whether the union will stop dragging its heels against the onrush of new technology. The eighty-day federal injunction, which will expire just before Christmas, provides a last chance for sanity on this issue.
In many respects the difficulty is that the I.L.A. is now learning how to be a union after many years of being an instrument of extortion and exploitation. In 1952 a scabby crew of latter-day pirates shuffled before the New York State Crime Commission and gave an account of conditions in the Port of New York that made such legendary hellholes as Calcutta and Marseilles sound like Newport on Regatta Day.
I.L.A. officials used to call strikes as frequently as a corner grocer opened his cash register, and for the same purpose — taking in money. Shipping tycoons blandly paid for the “goodwill” of union bigwigs; racketeers levied a tax on every ton of cargo that moved across the wharves; the shape-up system of hiring forced longshoremen to kick back two or three dollars from their daily wages or go without work; professional gamblers allied with union mobsters ran crooked dice games on the piers; bookmakers, policy collectors, and loan sharks operated under union license; pilferage mushroomed into a five-million-dollar-a-year business; public loading-the charging of special fees for getting goods on or off trucks —became a racket so rich that rival gangs turned the docks into battlegrounds for control of the loading privilege.
The disclosure of these abuses and a thousand others prompted the AFL to expel the I.L.A. It also impelled the states of New York and New Jersey to set up a Waterfront Commission to decontaminate the docks. There was no overnight transformation of the I.L.A., but one message did come through to both union and employers: the I.L.A. would have to start acting like a union or perish. The experience has been a painful one, and it is far from certain that the pain is over. Contracts are no longer for sale; they must be negotiated in good faith. And the I.L.A., still living down its sordid past, feels that the best way to demonstrate its incorruptibility is to set its demands high and give up nothing.
Gleason, its president, is a carry-over from the gang-ridden early days. A diamond sparkles in the French cuff of his custom-tailored shirt, but he is still as hard as he was when he followed his father down to the Chelsea docks to go to work for the first time at the age of fifteen. He helped engineer the I.L.A.’s return to the merged labor federation in 1960, and yet no one in the federation believed the union was coming back totally sanitized. Gang influence is still strong in many of its locals. But a hopeful new breed is emerging. In Brooklyn, once the domain of Anthony (“Tough Tony”) Anastasia, a new administration headed by his collegetrained son-in-law, Anthony Scotto, is trying to install a brand of welfare unionism in the Walter Reuther tradition. In the old “pistol local" on the luxury-line piers of Manhattan’s West Side, Johnny Bowers is making a similar attempt.
The hard line is still dominant at the bargaining table and even more in the I.L.A.’s frequent brushes with the State Department. The dock union is aggressively anti-Communist, a policy that it adopted under its old potentate “King joe" Ryan, when he was unsuccessfully fighting to keep Harry Bridges from leading West Coast longshoremen out of the I.L.A.
In those days there was a price on the I.L.A.’s patriotism. It would refuse to unload cargoes of Soviet goods because of its abhorrence of Russian slave labor. However, this antipathy had a strange way of vanishing when the shippers passed bundles of cash to the I.L.A. dock boss or someone higher up the union ladder. In recent years most of the I.L.A. excursions into unilateral determination of foreign policy have been in connection with unwillingness to load or unload ships blacklisted for trading with Castro’s Cuba. The National Labor Relations Board sought to enjoin such boycotts as illegal under the Taft-Hartley Act, but the United States Court of Appeals in Baltimore has upheld their legality.
The other big recent expression of the I.L.A.’s fervor for curbing the Kremlin was the refusal of its members to load American wheat for Russia, the maneuver that led to presidential intervention and the setting up of the committee to study the whole merchant marine. The government also was heavily involved in this year’s negotiations to end manpower waste on the docks and to establish a formula under which the fruits of greater efficiency could be equitably shared among the shipping companies, the workers, and the public.
The pattern, as has already been noted, was ready at hand on the West Coast, where Bridges is enjoying a respectability no one would have expected in the days when he was excoriated as “Harry the Hook" and considered Moscow’s most effective instrument for undermining the American way of life.
His agreement permits the shipping companies to install more efficient machinery and to abolish archaic work rules in return for the payment into a special trust fund of $29 million over a five-and-onehalf-year period. The pact guarantees that no regular worker will lose his job, even if it means he must be transferred to another pier or another port. He is also assured of at least thirty-five hours’ pay every week, early retirement benefits that may run as high as $320 a month at age sixty-two, and protection against speedup or overloads.
The Bridges formula is not, of course, a total answer to the job problem. It solves the displacement problem for those already in the union at the expense of those who want to get in. As automation proceeds, there will be a smaller and smaller total number of jobs on the piers. But members will be protected until they die, retire, or quit of their own accord. The employers, too, find the plan a protection against the upward spiral of costs that has complicated the problems of the merchant marine. The larger social problem of creating enough jobs for the millions of newcomers flooding into the labor market is not one either Bridges or the West Coast shippers think they can solve.
Bridges, at sixty-three, has become essentially a conservator. He is scornful of the rest of the labor movement for its docile acceptance of the easy life; his sole current enthusiasm seems to be for Jimmy Hoffa, whose tribulations he ascribes to the same militancy that used to get Bridges in trouble. Yet it is plain that Bridges himself has lost any real belief that he can do much to change the system. His automation plan is in the mainstream of welfare capitalism, closer in philosophy to the spirit of Henry Ford than of Karl Marx. It is probable that the story of his life will be very much that of all the rest of the dissimilar crew that leads maritime labor. For all the difference in their beginnings and in their upward roads, their final concern is with the protection of their members. And that means the protection of their industry as well.