The American Merchant Marine Veterans, a fraternal organization of the U.S. Merchant Marine of WWII is hosting its annual National Convention at MITAGS in Linthicum Heights, Maryland from May 5-8. The convention is meant to coincide with the 70-year anniversary of VE-Day May 8, 1945, which was the end of WWII in Europe. Don Marcus, President of the International Order of Master Mates and Pilots (MM&P), was the keynote speaker Wednesday evening and the following is his address to the convention:
For those WWII merchant marine veterans among us, we salute you and thank you for your sacrifices and your service that was in the very finest tradition of the U.S. Merchant Marine.
For those few of you who may be new to MITAGS, I would like to tell you that MITAGS is the training institution of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots. We are a completely non-profit institution, funded entirely by employer contributions into our training plan, tuition from non-MM&P students and revenue from conferences such as yours – so I thank you again for selecting MITAGS.
The history of our international conflicts is the history of the Merchant Marine, and the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are no different. Consistently through it all, the Merchant Marine has served dependably and without fanfare or complaint. Everyone here tonight understands the perfect and eloquent simplicity of our motto: “In Peace and War.”
In the modern era, perhaps the motto should more properly be “In Poverty or War” because we once again find our industry in the typical decline that follows outbreaks of peace. Feast or famine is the rule in the deep sea US Merchant Marine, but at this point in time the base line is so small that the point of no return may not be far away.
Today we carry less than 2% of our international maritime commerce aboard approximately 80 US flag merchant ships. Add to that less than 100 ocean going ships in the Jones Act commercial service and you have some 180 ships, at most, in the entire U.S. commercial merchant marine. Today, Military Sealift Command is the largest employer of US mariners, and even if you added the civil service crewed US naval auxiliary vessels and the contract mariner crewed vessels that are under charter to the US military, you would be very hard pressed to be able to come up with a grand total of much more than 260 large ocean-going vessels in fully operational service under US flag.
While dreams of a comprehensive national maritime policy have been floated from time to time, and while last year a symposium was held at MARAD on developing such a plan, the reality is that we are hanging on tooth and nail to protect the programs that sustain us.
The most publicized attack was, of course, that by former naval officer Senator John McCain. Senator McCain from land-locked Arizona apparently is of the mind that free trade extends to giving control of our ocean commerce and shipbuilding capacity to China and leaving our military dependent on flag of convenience carriers. The McCain amendment to eliminate the US build requirement never made it to a vote on the Senate floor, but he will be back and the attack against the Jones Act is relentless in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam.
With regards to MSP we have weathered various storms to date, including those caused by sequestration, thanks to our friends in Congress such as Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray, Elijah Cummings, Duncan Hunter, John Garamendi and numerous others, but more funding is required for the program or our 60 ship maritime security fleet will get smaller and the largest international players will pull out.
The role of labor cannot be over emphasized in this effort, but it is necessary to add the good fortune we have in our industry that labor and management alike are on the same page when it comes to these efforts. For us advocacy for our industry is like Mom and apple pie -- and it is a great blessing that in almost all circumstances we can present a unified from with management in these efforts.
There is a certain irony that the Lafollette Seaman’s Act was passed 100 years ago in March of 1915. This Act which was the lifetime achievement of that great labor leader Andrew Furuseth, of the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific, was intended not only to set working and living conditions aboard ship and free seaman from the legalized system of brutality that existed aboard some (NON-MM&P officered) ships of the time, but it was also intended to protect jobs for American mariners by requiring that English speaking mariners form 75 percent of the crew.
One-hundred years later, while working conditions and standards aboard U.S.-flagged vessels are arguably second to none, the U.S. foreign trade merchant marine has almost entirely vanished and been replaced by the corrupt Flag of Convenience system, which was first experimented with almost directly as a result from the Seaman’s Act of 1915 and effective regulation of US shipping and organizational efforts of US maritime labor.
Today, the Flag of Convenience system to varying degrees exploits labor, dodges regulatory compliance, avoids taxes and even, in extreme cases avoids criminal responsibilities by hiding the identity of vessel ownership.
We will not be turning back the clock. In fact, the Flag of Convenience system put us at “ground zero” of a global corporate system that has 100 years later run roughshod over countless American jobs. We must all recognize that “Free Trade” is not “free” when it destroys American jobs at sea and ashore and threatens to reduce our middle class way of life to poverty.
So here at MM&P and in maritime labor generally, we are in changing times and must answer the call to protect our industry, our jobs and the ideals that we hold dear.
We must work hard to ensure that our sons and daughters will have the same opportunities to make their living in the very fine and honorable profession that we have chosen. We must not let the heroic efforts of those that have gone before us – some of whom are in this room tonight – be squandered by short-sighed politicians or by the greedy corporate plunderers that seek to control the world’s economy.
Thank you for your attention and best wishes to you all.