The continuing post-war decline of the U.S. maritime industry and the relentless buildup of the Soviet-flag fleet posed serious challenges to important American security interests. Given the fact that the maritime industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the world, the MTD began beefing up its Washington operations with the expressed thought of creating the kind of environment that would promote growth in the maritime industry.
During the early part of the 1960s, the MTD was successful in persuading the federal government to include maritime services in bilateral talks with the Soviet Union. It opposed federal reorganization schemes that it felt would blunt the voice of maritime workers. It delayed the closing of the U.S. Public Hospital System for nearly two decades and became a leading voice in the fight to secure a steady supply of cargo for American ships, which led to enactment of the historic Merchant Marine Act of Act of 1970, which generated more than 100 new maritime construction projects in U.S. shipyards.
The MTD came close to enacting another important maritime bill, the Energy Transportation Security Act, which would have set aside a certain percentage of petroleum and bulk cargoes for carriage aboard U.S.-flag vessels. Though the bill passed both houses of Congress, President Ford exercised his right to a pocket veto of the measure.
The 1960s and ‘70s were a time of significant social and political change. The MTD strongly supported organized labor’s efforts on civil rights and the enactment of such important programs as the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Medicare and Medicaid. MTD-affiliated unions continued to make progress in enhancing the retirement security of their members, winning important new benefits and deciphering the often byzantine requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a revolutionary piece of legislation that had profound effects on the way that multi-employer benefit plans were administered. On a grass roots level, MTD port maritime councils gave early and critical support to state laws granting public employees the right to be represented by unions.
Despite the continuing decline of America’s deep-sea fleet, the U.S. maritime industry was able to fulfill its historic mission of providing sealift support to U.S. troops in Vietnam. The demand for shipping in the late 1960s and early 1970s was so great in relation to the resources that were then available that MTD-affiliated unions upgraded their manpower programs and training facilities to meet their obligations.
The performance of the U.S.-flag merchant marine in Vietnam contrasted sharply with the tactics taken by some FOC registries during that era. For example, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, then President Nixon said that the United States would stand by Israel if its existence were threatened. The President of Liberia, which had the world’s largest FOC fleet, said that he would not allow any of the vessels flying his country’s flag (many of which were owned by U.S. companies or individuals) to deliver supplies to Israel, even if they were going to U.S. forces acting in defense of that nation.