There’s nothing positive about potential cuts to the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP), but I’ll say this: The timing of a proposed $20 million reduction by a House committee last month gave our industry an immediate, widespread chance to point out the dangers of such a move.
That’s because the House took its action one day before the annual maritime congressional “Sail-In.” Needless to say, Sail-In participants (including SIU officials) had a timely issue to discuss in the 173 meetings that took place May 7 with senators, congressional representatives and their staffs.
I’m confident we’ll come out on top in this fight by securing the full funding amount for MSP. The military wants full funding, the administration wants full funding, and the program enjoys solid bipartisan support.
Still, there are lessons to be learned from this latest attack on our industry. It reinforces why we have events like the Sail-In in the first place, and why it’s so important for rank-and-file Seafarers to be politically active. The proposed MSP cuts are a sobering example; if we weren’t fighting to protect the program, at least six or seven ships would be cut, along with lots of SIU jobs.
I know we beat the SPAD drum a lot, but that’s because your jobs are at stake. Your support of the union’s voluntary political action fund is vital. It helps give us a chance to state our views in the nation’s capital and at other levels of government, too. If you’re already contributing to SPAD, thank you. If you’re not on board, I’d ask you to reconsider, especially with this being an election year.
The monetary support of pro-maritime candidates is important, but it’s not our only tool. Grassroots activities also mean handing out flyers, doing precinct walks, working the phones, getting out the vote, and engaging in basic educational discussions with your families and friends and neighbors. It means meeting with your elected officials at all levels. Please do whatever you can to help the cause this year when your port agent or patrolman asks for help – and on Election Day, vote your job.
While we’re on the subject of politics, I should mention that the SIU is doing its part to continue protecting the Jones Act as well as fighting to preserve and strengthen cargo preference laws, including the Food for Peace program. This may sound like old news but believe me, it’s literally a daily battle.
Attacks on the Jones Act would almost be laughable if they didn’t threaten SIU jobs along with U.S. national and economic security. One attempt that has resurfaced lately is to blame rising fuel prices on the Jones Act (a law that requires cargo moving between domestic ports to be carried on vessels that are crewed, built, owned and flagged American). But it already has been proven that if there’s any impact on fuel prices from the nation’s freight cabotage law, it’s so small that it’s barely measurable.
The bottom line is that we aren’t letting our guard down but I’m reasonably confident that the Jones Act is in good shape.
The same cannot be said of Food for Peace, which remains in the crosshairs. This may be an oversimplification, but attacks on this program boil down to one big lie repeated and repeated until it gets traction. The falsehood is that making direct cash payments to foreign governments would feed more people than delivering U.S.-grown commodities on U.S.-flag ships. There’s no evidence – none – to support such a claim, and in fact there’s ample evidence from our own government that turning Food for Peace into a cash program would mean little or no accountability. Bags and containers of food can be traced to make sure they get to the right places. Bundles of money have a way of disappearing. Stay tuned, and be assured we’re sparing no resource in this fight, not just because of jobs but because lives literally are at stake.
In an ideal world, one of these years, participants in the Sail-In would spend the whole day thanking people for supporting our industry. In the real world, while we do have plenty of folks on our side, we have to keep educating members of Congress about who we are and what we do – and why America needs us.
That’s what it takes to keep the U.S. Merchant Marine alive, and that’s a mission our union will support forever.