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C. Curtiss

Conflict Looms on West Coast

Maritime Federation Is Threatened with General Lockout

New Struggle Finds Workers Prepared

(18 January 1936)

From New Militant, Vol. II No. 3, 18 January 1936, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SAN FRANCISCO. – The year1936 is ushered in with the west coast waterfront daily becoming more tense. A storm is brewing that will, when it breaks, make the strike of 1934 seem like a gentle breeze.

A few of the salient facts:

Fifty-nine steam schooners are tied up, as the men refuse to work more than six hours per day. The bosses have retaliated with a lock-out. These ships ply coastwise between the northern lumber regions and San Francisco. The Seamen’s Union of San Francisco, differently than the so-called “left” as well as conservative labor leaders, is supporting the seamen of these steam schooners.

The Pennsylvania, a super luxurious liner, was tied up for several days as the east coast seamen refused to man her, unless they received the same rate of pay as is drawn by the sailors signing out of west coast ports. The Panama Pacific Line which owns the Pennsylvania, has signed an agreement with the Sailors Union of the Atlantic, which has a lower wage rate than the Pacific. Of course, this agreement was signed without the men being consulted.

Furnishing Scabs Union Cards

After being tied up for quite a number of days, a skeleton crew of unlicensed scabs was secured. It is said that the local appointee of Furesuth, the Grand Old Man of the Shipowners who is president of the International Seamen’s Union, gave these scabs union cards. It is sad to say, but the fact must be told: union men worked alongside of these scabs.

Four Luckenback freighters which had been tied up by job-action of the seamen, sailed on Saturday, Jan. 11, after the men had accepted the company offer of an increased basic rate, equalling the west coast scale.

Urges East Coast Action

The Sailor’s Union of San Francisco, at its last meeting, went on record recommending that the east coast sailors attempt to get at least the west coast rate of pay by job action, preferably on the east coast, and pledging support to all job action taken there, or here.

The Waterfront Machinists and the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers are on strike.

Lockout talk is common on the waterfront The growing strength of the unions, and resultant higher wages and shorter hours, eats into the income of the famished-for-profits capitalist class. The latter is going to attempt to smash the sole obstacle in their path to the garnering of huge dividends out of the only possible source, the backs of the workers. That obstacle is the union.

Follow Class Struggle Relief

The oncoming lockout or strike of the waterfront workers can and must be won. The workers are incomparably better situated than they were in 1934. Their organization is stronger. They have learned many lessons. The only thing standing between the workers and victory is treachery or incorrect leadership. The right wing class-collaborationists and the Stalinists are the specific dangers referred to. If, in spite of these, a class struggle policy will be instituted on the waterfront, victory is certain.

Let us see the attitude of the old guard of the labor fakers. Scharrenburg, erstwhile member of the Seamen’s Union, thrown out of there by the membership, and present secretary of the California Federation of Labor:

Scharrenburg’s Attack

“The Sailor’s Union has deliberately and flagrantly violated every agreement signed with the shipowners since last year’s strike and has repeatedly expressed bitter resentment when urged to respect such agreements.

“Only by a prompt declaration of war on the wrecking crew can we hope to re-establish the reputation of our international union as a responsible organization.

“One or more charters must be revoked ... I have weighed all objections and realize fully that Bridges’ maritime federation will doubtless go to bat for the union or unions that have their charter revoked.”

One thing becomes clear here: due to the militancy of the seamen and their vigorous defense of their living standards, they are under attack, not only of the employers,but also of the labor “leaders.” The convention of the International Seamen’s Union, in session at the time of this writing, will be the scene of an attempt of the reactionaries to either emasculate or expel these militant locals.

The Maritime Federation, founded in struggle, and much more amenable to mass pressure than the robot-like unions that once existed on the waterfront, is a constant threat to Scharrenburg and his ilk.

Again we repeat what we stated a few weeks ago: The struggle of the seamen can be won, if properly supported by the Maritime Federation! Unqualified support to the seamen, without any “ifs,” “buts,”or “insofars”!

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