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C. Thomas

Stalinists Block Vote on Tanker Agreement

(14 June 1948)


From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 24, 14 June 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


NEW YORK CITY – Over 3,000 members of the CIO National Maritime Union, attending a special meeting on June 7, were treated to a demonstration of organized obstruction when the Stalinists prevented a vote from being taken on a proposed Tanker agreement.

For a week prior to the meeting, the Stalinists circularized the union membership against the proposed agreement. The Stalinists knew prior to the New York meeting that the other ports had voted 1,649 to 636 in favor of acceptance. Of the 76 ships reporting, 73 had voted to accept. It was a foregone conclusion that the vote in New York would also show the same trend. That is why they were out to block a vote.

Several test votes taken at the opening of the New York membership meeting showed the trend. Before each meeting, the opposing factions distribute slates for the election of chairman and recording secretary. The Rank and File Caucus slate was elected over the Stalinist nominees by better than a two to one vote, with President Joseph Curran taking the chair.

To prevent a Stalinist filibuster, a motion was made and carried that both majority and minority points of view be presented, discussion closed 10 p.m. and a vote taken at that hour. At ten o’clock, when chairman Curran called for the vote, a sea of hands

shot up indicating an overwhelming affirmative vote for ratifying the agreement. At that point, the organized Stalinist gangs jammed the aisles, swarmed onto the platform and prevented the vote from being counted. As the union constitution calls for an actual count of the votes, the obstructive tactics of the Stalinists were effective in preventing a count.

The members were so enraged that an open riot was narrowly averted on several occasions. The management of the meeting hall called the cops and for the first time since the faction fight broke cut New York police were present at a NMU meeting to maintain order.

As to the tanker agreement itself it is necessary to penetrate the double-talk of the Stalinists to the real source of their opposition.

For months prior to negotiations they predicted the union would. have to strike to retain the hiring hall clause. The Taft-Hartley Law ostensibly outlaws the union hiring hall. And on the West Coast, the AFL Sailors’ Union of the Pacific accepted a compromise hiring clause, known as the Lundeberg formula, to get around the provisions of the Law.

One of the periodic Stalinist “unity” conferences condemned the Lundeberg formula under the slogan, “No compromise on the hiring hall.” Furthermore, at a meeting with the Tanker operators, a Stalinist spokesman declared the hiring hall to be the ONLY question in dispute that was of concern to the union. Taking them at their word the Tanker operators agreed to retain the hiring hall clause in the agreement as well as granting additional minor concessions including a five dollar per month wage increase. When this occurred the Stalinists promptly upped their demands. It was obvious that out of factional considerations they were determined to prevent Curran from gaining any credit for negotiating an acceptable agreement.

The great majority of NMU members feel that it would be disastrous to go into a strike with the union paralyzed by the bitter internal struggle. They look upon the Stalinists, who control the apparatus, as a lame duck leadership which will be ousted once the election ballots are counted. But the election period does not terminate until June 30, while the contract terminates on June 15.

The one question that can rally the entire membership is preservation of the hiring hall, which is the very foundation of the union. The dry cargo operators, organized in the American Merchant Marine Institute, have refused to renew the present hiring clause. In the meantime, President Truman has appointed a “Fact Finding Board” to investigate and report back on whethei’ a shipping strike would constitute a “national emergency.” The position taken by Curran is that signing the Tanker agreement granting the hiring hall would split the shipowner front and strengthen the union in its struggle with the AMMI.

To complicate the dispute the Stalinists have involved the NMU in another of their “unity” maneuvers. One of their aims is to utilize the NMU to salvage the position of the Stalinist-control-led unions on the West Coast which have become increasingly isolated as a result of 11 years of Stalinist maneuvers.

The Marine Firemen of the Pacific Coast, ‘previously independent’ have set up a committee to solicit terms for affiliation to the AFL. The CIO Marine Engineers Beneficial Association voted at their recent convention to seek AFL affiliation. The Radio Operators split from the CIO American Communications Association and a section on the West Coast voted to affiliate to the AFL International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. All of these unions had been in the Stalinist dominated Committee for Maritime Unity which collapsed after the 1946 strike. This is the balance sheet of 11 years of Stalinist fake “unity” maneuvers and duplicity.

The NMU is carrying the ball on the fight to preserve the hiring hall today. If they win, it will regain ground lost by the Lundeberg hiring formula on the West Coast. Whatever happens on the Tanker agreement, the question of the hiring hall still remains open. The fight for the hiring hall remains a life and death struggle for the organized seafaring men.


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