President's Column

 

November 2013

 

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After 75 Years, SIU Still Going Strong

 

SIU President Michael Sacco describes the union’s essence as the organization’s 75th anniversary year winds down.

 

In our union’s infancy, people who were just learning about the SIU usually did so through word of mouth, pamphlets, demonstrations and meetings. Today, most people first hear of us through the Internet, where a basic description starting on our home page serves as a snapshot.

 

There was nothing wrong with the old ways in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and there’s nothing wrong with how it is now. In the Internet age, it’s the same for most organizations – your website is your first impression.

 

But there’s a difference between making an introduction and capturing the essence of a union. As our organization’s 75th anniversary year winds down, if I could only have one shot at truly defining the SIU, I’d turn to the rank-and-file members and listen to them.

 

More specifically, I am thinking of the graduation speeches year after year from many of the upgraders at our affiliated school in Piney Point, Md. The fact that most of those speeches are similar doesn’t detract from their power or sincerity. In fact, it heightens and sharpens and reinforces the message.

 

The gist is usually the same. Members describe how the SIU gave them a chance for a better way of life. In some cases, they talk about the second chance they got through our union and our school. They express the satisfaction of working hard in a viable career that helps them raise a family, buy a home, put their kids through school. They describe living the American Dream, and taking pride in that fact their work supports U.S. national and economic security.

 

That’s who we are: a gateway to the American Dream.

 

That doesn’t mean it’s always a love affair or that it’s easy. We’re not perfect – no one is – and our members aren’t shy about voicing concerns. But they are also the most loyal, reliable, productive mariners on Earth. In my eyes, SIU members are second to none.

 

No review of our identity would be complete without mentioning our ongoing role as America’s fourth arm of defense. Seafarers have served in every conflict since World War II, supporting our troops across the globe, risking their lives by sailing in harm’s way to deliver the goods. That’s who we are as well.

 

We are also, of course, part of the broader labor movement, and we are no less dedicated to promoting workers’ rights than we are in working on maritime-specific issues. It’s no secret that organized labor has taken some hard punches lately, but we, like those who came before us, can and will turn it around.

 

Education is going to be a key part of our rebound. Besides our country’s outdated labor laws and sophisticated union-busting, I think our challenge simply begins with getting people to wake up to reality. I’ve heard and read many times that unions had a purpose back in the day, but people don’t need them anymore. That is an incredibly naïve outlook. As proud and grateful as I am for the SIU’s fantastic working relationships with our contracted companies, it is crazy to rely on benevolence for all the things that sustain a good, family-wage job.

 

But, too many people don’t know any better. They think that things like workplace safety regulations, benefits, good pay scales, retirement care, paid holidays and vacations and overtime pay either fell out of the sky or were always there. In the labor movement, we know they were secured through the money, marbles and chalk of generations past. We’ve got to do much better at spreading that message.

 

My final thought for this month, and for our milestone anniversary, is a personal one. It’s been said that the truly happy man is one who loves his work. Brothers and sisters, for the last 25 years, I have had the honor of serving as your president, and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. Thank you for your support. Thank you for asking questions and for speaking up when you see better ways to do things. Thank you for always answering the call, no matter the voyage or campaign. Thank you for having so much confidence in me, and in the staff who help me make the SIU the greatest union in the world.

 

Like I said, we’re not perfect. But we are a winning team, we are a family, and as long as we stick together, in the long run I know we will remain on top.

 

Happy 75th Anniversary!

 

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