SIU President Michael Sacco discusses the importance of promoting the American maritime industry
While the shared job of promoting the American maritime industry isn’t confined to Capitol Hill, longtime Seafarers know that the nation’s capital is still a vital location for grassroots activities. That is definitely the case for our union as the new Congress has gotten under way, and not just because (as of this writing) we’re preparing to participate in the annual maritime “Sail-In.”
Already, we have been promoting key maritime laws and programs as well as the rights of mariners. Before Congress had even been in session a full month, working with allies from throughout the industry, we’d delivered important messages to legislators and to the new administration concerning shore leave, the Jones Act, the Food for Peace program, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP), among other subjects.
If any of this seems repetitive to you, the rank-and-file Seafarer, that’s actually part of the point. There’s always going to be some turnover in the House and Senate, and the longest anyone can serve in the White House is eight years. New administrations also mean new personnel at the federal agencies that affect the industry. That means we’ve got a never-ending responsibility to make sure people know why our nation absolutely needs a strong, viable U.S. Merchant Marine.
Whether we’re working on our own, or with other maritime unions, or together with vessel operators and shipbuilders and others through coalitions like the American Maritime Partnership (AMP) and USA Maritime, it’s easy to get fired up about promoting U.S crews and U.S.-flag shipping. Our industry has a centuries-long history of critical service to the country. We’ve always had bipartisan support and the backing of military leaders because, I believe, it’s apparent we play a significant role in maintaining national, economic and homeland security.
But part of getting our message out there involves simply getting in the door first. That’s where rank-and-file support is so important. If there’s one thing you can believe about elected politicians, it’s that they listen to their constituents. It’s impossible for them to go along with the wishes of every single voter, but they and their staffs pay attention to what the voters are saying. I’m reminded of a recent article by a retired, long-serving U.S. congressman who went into detail about the ongoing importance of face-to-face meetings (whether in the home districts or in Washington, D.C.), traditional mail, email and phone calls. It all matters, and that’s why we ask for your grassroots support from time to time on key maritime and labor issues.
Campaigns also cost money, and our union’s voluntary political action fund (SPAD) remains a vital cog in our grassroots wheel. As I’ve said before, donating money doesn’t guarantee we’ll get what we want, but you’d better believe it boosts our chances of at least getting a meeting and having a chance to speak up for your jobs.
By the way, in these illustrations, I don’t mean to ignore other levels of government. We are active at the state and local levels, too, and in some cases direct contact from constituents may be even more useful at those levels.
After last Election Day, I think it’s fair to say there was more uncertainty than usual about what it all meant for the American maritime industry. It is still very, very early, but the first signs seem to indicate pro-maritime positions from the new administration. As many of you know, I’m particularly heartened by the confirmation of Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation. I also was pleased to hear President Trump voice support for the Ex-Im Bank, which helps maintain American-flag ships.
No matter how it all unfolds, we’re not waiting around, spectating. We are working with freshmen legislators as well as old friends, and with anyone else who can help maintain and grow the U.S. Merchant Marine. Whether we’re supporting our troops as the fourth arm of defense, or helping keep commerce moving by transporting commercial cargoes, we’re doing what we’ve always done and what we’ll always do: delivering the goods.