The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941

By Walter Galenson | Go to book overview
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13
The Maritime Industry 1

The American maritime industry, which is taken to include all activities directly connected with shipping, does not bulk large as a contributor either to employment or to national income. Gross receipts from shipping constitute less than one-half of 1 per cent of national income. 2 In 1938, the number of workers engaged as seamen, deepsea fishermen, and longshoremen was estimated roughly at 300,000. Of these, 140,000 were unlicensed seamen, with most of the remainder engaged in stevedoring work. 3

Maritime workers are sharply divided into two groups, those who work aboard ship (offshore personnel), and those who work on shore. The shipboard workers fall into two main groups, licensed and unlicensed personnel. Among the former are officers, engineers, and others who possess special skill and training. Both the seamen and the longshoremen are also classified, on the basis of their home port or place of work, into workers on inland waterways, the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the Great Lakes. All these subdivisions are of great significance for trade union structure.

If industrial size were the sole selection criterion, it might not be necessary to include the maritime industry in a general labor history. But as every student of the labor movement knows, some of the most notable events in the history of American trade unionism centered about the efforts of seamen and longshoremen to organize. The seamen and longshoremen have occupied a special niche in the labor movement of every country. Both have been problem groups, generally radical in their political orientation, prone to take direct action rather than to engage in collective bargaining. Each of the groups is able, by withholding its labor, to inflict considerable damage upon the economy, so that maritime labor disputes have attracted considerable public attention.

The history of maritime unionism naturally divides itself into four distinct parts: East and West Coast longshore work, and East and West Coast offshore work. Within each, the offshore sector in particular, there are fur

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