Jobs and Politics

Seafarers Log, September 2010

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Michael Sacco, PresidentIn early August, I spoke to SIU members and apprentices during the monthly membership meeting at our affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Md., and asked them what they thought were the union’s three biggest goals for this year. Someone answered “Jobs, jobs, jobs!”


That response shows that Seafarers understand the union’s priorities. We can discuss details all day long, but without shipboard jobs, the particulars don’t mean anything. Maintaining good jobs and securing new ones lets us build on what we have earned over the years. Throughout our nearly 72-year history, we have secured good pay and benefits, safe working conditions, and the opportunity to select where to sail and on what ships to serve. It’s a unique lifestyle and one that many, many SIU members say has enabled them to provide well for their families. Brothers and sisters, that’s the union way and that’s what we have fought for, collectively, for decades.


The flip side is that with good jobs, the details matter quite a bit. For instance, and as many Seafarers know, laws like the Jones Act and initiatives such as cargo preference and the Maritime Security Program are the very foundations of the modern U.S. Merchant Marine. They are time-tested winners – programs that aid America’s national and economic security while helping maintain a viable U.S.-flag fleet and a manpower pool of well-trained, dependable U.S. mariners.


So why does that matter to rank-and-file members? Look no further than the recent attacks on the Jones Act, which I’ve written about the last two months. It’s up to us and to the rest of the maritime community to elect politicians who’ll support our industry. As we know all too well, in addition to relying on programs like cargo preference and laws like the Jones Act, the U.S.

Merchant Marine is heavily regulated. Our livelihoods depend not just on knowing how to do our jobs, but also on having a pro-maritime Congress and administration.


And with that in mind, I urge all Seafarers and their families to make sure you’re registered to vote and to back pro-maritime, pro-worker candidates on Election Day. Having people in office who support maritime makes all the difference when it comes to our efforts to provide jobs and job security for SIU members. The same thing is true at the state and local levels of government. It is vital for us to support the candidates who support our issues and our line of work.


By the way, depending on whether you’re reading this column online or in our printed newspaper, you may have noticed an article about President Obama’s meeting in early August with the AFL-CIO Executive Council. I am on that council, I was there for his remarks, and I had a chance to speak with him very briefly afterward.


Everyone knows this is a tough time for elected officials, including the ones in the White House. But I believe President Obama and Vice President Biden are committed to America’s working families. Not only that, they are both very supportive of the labor movement. They believe in unions and they aren’t afraid to say so.


That doesn’t mean we’ll get everything we want, but it does mean we’ll have a seat at the table with this administration. It means our voices will be heard, and that’s really all we can ask.


At the same time, our unofficial motto when it comes to grassroots activities hasn’t changed. We support those who support maritime, regardless of political party. That’s our bottom line.


As we look toward November 2 and toward future elections, we should also keep in mind the enormous amount of money that goes into the campaigns. Money is a big part of the equation, and candidates aren’t shy about asking for contributions.


That’s just the way it is. Unions like ours have to decide which candidates to support, whether it’s financially or through some combination of grassroots activities like leafleting and precinct walks and phone banks. That doesn’t mean we can buy our way to success, but the way things are nowadays, if you don’t participate, good luck getting in the door once the elections are over.


Please keep that in mind when you’re deciding whether to contribute to the SIU’s voluntary fund, the Seafarers Political Action Donation (SPAD). I certainly realize these are tough economic times, but SPAD helps us deliver your message on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

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