(This is the first of three installments.)
August 19, 1946 – the birthday of the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
On that date, in the city of Chicago, American Federation of Labor (AFL) President William Green and Secretary-Treasurer George Meany, along with the 13 AFL vice presidents, affixed their signatures to the charter creating the MTD.
Receiving the document were Joseph P. Ryan of the Longshoremen (ILA); Harry Lundeberg of the Seafarers (SIU); W. L. Allen of the Commercial Telegraphers Union (now part of the Communications Workers of America); Charles F. Mays of the Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P); and Joseph P. Clark of the Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers (now part of the Service Employees International Union).
But the story starts five years earlier, at the 1941 AFL Convention in Seattle.
During that gathering, a delegate from the San Francisco Labor Council offered a resolution “that the American Federation of Labor, in convention assembled, go on record in favor of establishing a maritime council within the American Federation of Labor similar to the units now functioning for the metal trades, building trades and railroad departments.” The resolution was sent to the AFL Committee on Organization for consideration and review. However, the United States entered World War II a few months later and no action was taken.
Following the war, representatives from various maritime-related unions met in New York City in May 1946. They requested the AFL reconsider the 1941 resolution. Attending that meeting were officials from the SIU, ILA, MM&P, Sailors’ Union of the Pacific, Radio Officers, Teamsters and American Merchant Marine Staff Officers.
The first national Maritime Trades Council of the American Federation of Labor met in Chicago days before the charter was issued. With officials from the SIU, ILA, MM&P, Commercial Telegraphers and Firemen and Oilers – as well as the Teamsters – attending, the council unanimously called for the creation of the Maritime Trades Department.
At the MTD’s first convention in October 1946, John Owens of the ILA served as executive secretary. The preamble adopted by the body read: “We, as workers in the transportation industry, realizing the necessity of strong, unified action in our endeavor to raise our social and economic standards to coordinate our efforts in our struggle for our rights, and in order to protect our Unions from raids by dual Unions and hostile organizations such as the CIO and the Communist Party, and for the purpose of organizing all unorganized workers in the industry into the structure of the American Federation of Labor to the end that all workers in the Maritime Transportation Industry – in the ships, the docks and shoreside workers – will be organized under the American Federation of Labor, hereby dedicate ourselves to mutual aid, support and to direct our action through the medium of the Maritime Trades Department of the AFL.”
The year 1946 also brought a major blow to the U.S.-flag merchant fleet with passage of the Ship Sales Act. This legislation allowed many of the American cargo ships built to win World War II to be sold for pennies on the dollar to replenish foreign-flag operators, instigating the flag-of-convenience system that continues to plague maritime to this day.
In addition, the MTD began its never-ending campaign of support for the Jones Act (the nation’s freight cabotage law) and for cargo preference measures to make sure American goods are carried aboard U.S.-flag ships, crewed by American mariners and built in domestic yards.
In 1947, the department adopted a policy of chartering Port Maritime Councils (PMC), which over time became the grassroots backbone of the MTD. The first councils were established in Milwaukee; Cleveland; New Orleans; Duluth, MN; Ashland, WI; and Washington State (Columbia River). By 1948, new PMCs had started in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Puerto Rico and Savannah, GA.
The MTD reported to the 1948 AFL convention “its affiliated unions have given magnificent service to many other unions when other unions needed help. These men have been fighting on the picket line with and for many other unions in the general fight to keep our labor movement free and strong.”
By 1952, the AFL and the MTD realized that the department needed officers and a constitution. Meeting in Chicago in March, representatives from the SIU, ILA, MM&P, Commercial Telegraphers and Operating Engineers (IUOE) worked with Harry O’Reilly of the AFL to craft a constitution. After its approval, the MTD elected Brother Ryan as its first president, Lloyd Gardner of the SIU as secretary-treasurer, and Brother May as vice president to serve until the MTD met in convention in September. Those delegates reelected Ryan and Gardner to their posts while Jack McDonald of the IUOE became vice president.
In 1955, Harry Lundeberg of the SIU was elected MTD president after the ILA had been expelled from the AFL. That same year, talks between the AFL and CIO led to the merger of the two labor organizations, creating the AFL-CIO. Lundeberg served until his passing in 1957, when Paul Hall took the helm of both the MTD and the SIU.