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Marine Engineers’ Official Gives
Proof of Curran’s Strikebreaking

Trainer, N.Y. MEBA Head, Tells Militant Reporter
Full Facts of Export Line Strike

(May 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 20, 17 May 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Joseph Curran, president of the National Maritime Union (CIO), is guilty of attempting to break a bona-fide strike of the CIO Marine Engineers now striking the ships of the American Export Lines at the Jersey City docks.

Indisputable proof of this was presented to The Militant in an interview, last Monday afternoon, with Edward P. Trainer, secretary and business agent of Local 33, Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (CIO) which is conducting the strike.

Trainer not only proved that Curran is attempting to break a legitimate strike, but had documentary evidence which established beyond any doubt that Curran lied to the members of the NMU in order to get them to carry out Curran’s strikebreaking moves.

On May 1, Curran ordered members of the NMU to cross the picket line of the MEBA and man the S.S. Siboney, an American Export Line ship, which the marine engineers had struck on its arrival at the Jersey City dock on April 26.

The Siboney had been transferred recently from the Ward Line, with which the MEBA has a contract, to the American Export Line which has a company union for licensed men. When it took over the Siboney, the Export Line tried to force the ship’s MEBA staff into the company union.

This was the principal cause of the strike, which then spread to two other Export Line ships as the engineers on them, mostly MEBA men, joined the strike.

Curran Changes Alibi

“Curran has given two different excuses, both of which can’t be true, for violating our picket line,” said Trainer.

“Last week Curran issued a statement published in the NMU paper, The Pilot, that the engineers couldn’t maintain a picket line, that they were afraid to picket because of fear of company discrimination.

“But the week before that, Curran admitted were maintaining a picket line when he gave as his excuse for violating our picket line that we were paying the pickets.

“I asked Curran, ‘What should we do? Let them starve?’ Sure we paid the pickets, $7 a day. That’s what we have a strike fund for.

“The truth is that not a single engineer who walked off those three ships has returned to work.

“The company brought on strikebreakers and when the NMU unlicensed men went on board the Siboney they violated a legitimate union picket line in order to work with strikebreakers.”

Curran’s Lies Nailed

What about Curran’s claim that the company union was not the issue, and that the fight was over the question of the war bonuses, and that the bonus issue could be settled without a strike ? I asked Trainer.

“The issue is company unionism and nothing else,” he answered. “Sure we asked for improved conditions, including war bonuses, but these are not the main issues. The main thing is how can we get anything until the company agrees to discontinue the company union and recognize us. Even Curran has to admit that we’re fighting a company union set-up.”

But, I said, Curran claims in The Pilot that the company union has won an election and has been certified by the NLRB.

Trainer brought out a May 9 issue of the Pilot and together we read a paragraph in it, from a statement of the NMU National Office, which said:

“There is a company union organization among the officers of the Export Line which has been certified by the National Labor Relations Board, as an independent union. Because of this, the company claimed that before they could sign another contract, it would be necessary to hold another election.”

Well, what about it? I asked.

With a broad grin, Trainer handed me a letter from the NLRB, a copy of which he gave The Militant for publication. This letter is dated May 9, 1941, and is signed by Elinore M. Herrick, Regional Director, Second Region, NLRB. The letter is addressed to Trainer and reads:

“This will acknowledge your letter of May 5th in which you inquire as to the date the National Labor Relations Board designated the Brotherhood of Marine Officers as the bargaining agent for the marine engineers employed by the above company (Export Steamship Corp.)

“We have no record of any proceeding under Section 9 (c) of the act involving the Brotherhood of Marine Officers. The only matter affecting this union, of which we have a record, is an 8 (2) charge filed by you on February 4, 1939, which was dismissed on September 9, 1939, the dismissal being sustained by the Board on November 4th, 1939.”

Trainer said:

“So you see, there’s never been any election held, so the NLRB could never have certified the company union. This letter proves that Curran’s excuses for violating our picket line are absolutely phoney!”

Engineers Helped NMU

Trainer then told the story of how the MEBA had helped to found the NMU.

“Our union is one of the oldest in the country. And we’ve always been a militant outfit. We’ve conducted more strikes than any other maritime union in the country.

“In 1936 we began to make real headway. Right now we have over 300 contracts. And while our jurisdiction – licensed men – does not cover more than eight men on any ship, our membership is more than half as large as the NMU’s. And they have anywhere from 40 to 400 unlicensed men to organize on a ship.

“Our men went out in the Fall of ’36 on the West Coast along with the West Coast sailors. We began to picket the West Coast vessels when they arrived on the East Coast. When we went to the old – now dead – International Seamen’s Union and told them we were setting up picket lines on the inter-coastal vessels from the West Coast, Grange, Hunter and their other officials said they were going to crash the picket lines and that they were out to smash the West Coast Sailors and Harry Bridges’ union.

“That’s when we got together for the first time with Curran. It was over the question of the ISU attempt to break a picket line that we got together. Curran was representing the unlicensed men. They didn’t even have a regular union affiliation. We’d never heard of Curran before, never met him.

“Well, we went out on strike five days before Thanksgiving Day 1936. The engineers came out solid. Few of Curran’s men came off. But we gave the unlicensed men, who were trying to get their union started, 100 per cent backing.

First Export Line Fight

“And now,” said Trainer grimly, “We come to the story of the Export Line fight – the story that begins not in 1941, as the Pilot seems to indicate, but back in 1936.

“Five days after we pulled out on strike, on Thanksgiving Day 1936, the Export Line offered the MEBA a closed shop contract and a 15 per cent wage increase if we’d sign without Curran. We flatly refused to sign unless the company also signed with Curran’s organization.

“As a result of this, we finally lost out on the Export Line, because Curran’s organization then couldn’t enforce its strike against the Export Line. But we did stick it out together with Curran and won five joint contracts on other lines.

“We stood by the unlicensed men even when they couldn’t really be called a union. The companies held out two days in those negotiations on this account. All the unlicensed men could call themselves was the ‘Strike Strategy Committee.’ It took the lawyers a couple of hours to decide what to call them in the contract. And they finally called them the ‘Strike Strategy Committee.’ That was the embryo NMU.

“Well, when we lost the strike on the Export Lines in ’36–’37, the strikebreakers took the places of our union men. These strikebreakers were the ones who formed the nucleus of the company union – we call it the ‘Mystic Knights of the Sea’ – that is the Brotherhood of Marine Officers. But strikebreakers never did make satisfactory engineers, so the company had to take back some of our men. But 44 of our men never did get back.

Curran’s Gratitude

“In ’37 ... there was a scarcity of unlicensed men. Three months after the ’36–’37 strike, Curran pulled another strike on the Export Lines. Through the strike and an NLRB appeal, the NMU won recognition. But when we went to Curran to give us support in getting recognition for the MEBA on the Export Lines, he refused to do anything for us.

“We’ve had our case before the NLRB over three years now. But because of the political tie-up of the company, which is owned by the Lehman banking interests, with the NLRB officials, Mrs. Herrick threw our case out of the second Region board. This board under her has a company union bias to begin with. The figures show that this one board has certified four-fifths of the total company unions certified in the entire country. We appealed to Washington, which ordered another hearing before the regional board again.

“We’ve won any number of cases with one-tenth the evidence we had against the Export Lines, But Mrs. Herrick deliberately stalled us off for nine or ten months before calling another hearing. By then most of our witnesses were working and not available. They were all out to sea.

“That’s the kind of set-up we were up against and we knew that the only way we could crack the company union set-up was by striking the line. And that’s what we finally did when the proper occasion arose.”

Danger to NMU

Trainer repeatedly stressed the fact that Curran’s present strikebreaking actions are paving the way for the shipowners to strike deadly blows at the NMU itself.

“The heaviest defeats of the NMU – not only defeats, but complete annihilation – have occurred on those lines where the owners have succeeded in first forcing the licensed men into company unions. That’s what happened on the tanker ships of Standard Oil of New York and New Jersey, Tidewater and Texas Company. That’s what happened out on the West Coast with Standard Oil of California and the Union Oil Company.

”And that’s exactly what the Export Line is aiming to do. When Curran sends his men through our picket line in this Export strike he’s helping to cut the throat of his own union.

“Curran can’t point to a single company where the unlicensed seamen have been forced into a company union set-up, where the licensed men had not been forced in first.”

Curran Ducks Hearing

The MEBA has asked for a hearing on the dispute with Curran before the New Jersey CIO state body, in addition to wiring a protest against Curran’s actions to Philip Murray, CIO president. The hearing is asked before the Jersey council because the strike is within New Jersey.

Trainer has already sent a statement of the MEBA’s case to the Jersey CIO body, which asked Curran to make a reply. But Curran has as yet failed to comply with this request.

Instead, Curran tried to get the MEBA to accept as a substitute for the Jersey hearing an appearance before the Greater New York Industrial Council – a preposterous proposition since the New York council has no jurisdiction in the matter. This body, in which many CIO unions do not participate, is Stalinist-controlled and through it Curran could, of course, give himself a clean bill of health.

Trainer stated that the MEBA had withdrawn from the New York council in protest against its failure to condemn Curran’s strikebreaking. “They’re a too well oiled machine,” he said.

Curran had previously asked him to appear for a “hearing” before an NMU meeting, Trainer informed me.

And then he laughed heartily.

“That’s not the kind of hearing we want. I didn’t intend to go to any one-sided meeting. Curran was just offering me a Moscow Trial.”

Why Curran Finked

Toward the end of the interview, Trainer showed me a mimeographed Statement on the MEBA-American Export Line Dispute issued by the National Council of the NMU. He pointed out one paragraph and said, “This tells the whole story.” The paragraph read:

“We called to Mr. Trainer’s attention the fact that a meeting had been arranged between the American Merchant Marine Institute and the NMU to discuss the war bonuses. The dispute on the Export Lines prevented this meeting from materializing because the companies claimed that the refusal of the unlicensed personnel to sail these ships constituted a violation of contract. They stated that until such time as the dispute was straightened out, they would not meet with the NMU to discuss the important question of war bonuses.”

Trainer rapped the document with his knuckles.

“That’s the way Curran’s paid us back for our refusal to sign a contract on the Export Lines without a contract being given the unlicensed men in the ’36–’37 strike. The companies want the Export strike ‘straightened out.’ So Curran obliges them by strikebreaking.

“This is a clear case of Curran sacrificing the interests of the striking MEBA men in return for some quick concessions for his own members. It’s pretty significant that within 24 hours of his violating our picket lines, after his return from a conference with the ship-owners in Washington, that increases for the NMU men were announced on a number of lines, including the American-West African and the East African.

“There was a good reason why the owners were willing to make this deal. They have always wanted to break up the industrial set-up on the ships, the cooperation between the different crafts and between the licensed and unlicensed men. By creating a rift between us now, the employers hope to be able to hit the NMU later.”

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